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Eventually, every small business should update their website. Maybe you have a new logo, or you finally coordinated all your marketing materials on a single font style and color palate. Maybe you just finally wanted to breathe some new life into your website that was last updated in 1998! Whatever the reason, it's time to update your site. Here are some quick requirements that you REALLY SHOULD require of your web designer so that you don't suffer in your SEO efforts.

For all the following examples, let's go with the case study of a plumber. So the site we are re-designing is for a small business owner running a plumbing business. These are the requirements that the owner MUST pass onto his/her web designer.
Please note: Business owner.. you may not understand some of the things I talk about below... that's ok. It doesn't matter. However, your web designer SHOULD know and just follow the advice. If he/she doesn't know, then fire them and get a designer who does.

1. Name your pages strategically

First of all, your home page must be index.<something>. I would HIGHLY recommend you name your pages with a .php extension, even if you don't have any PHP code in your page. It does not hurt your site any for a page to be named index.php even if there is no PHP code running... however, it will be difficult later on if, say, you wanted to add a contact form on your home page. Then you'd HAVE to rename the file from index.html to index.php (which causes problems later). So just start with a .php extension for all your pages. (Note: this is assuming you are on a Linux web server... if you are running your website from a Microsoft IIS web server, then I'm truly sorry)
Secondly, you should have a few keyword phrases in mind for how people will find your site. In our example, we'd want to go with "plumber", "plumbing", and then also your county and city name. There are others like "bathroom plumbing", "kitchen plumbing", or others, but that's a job for your SEO, not your designer. For now, stick with the basic industry and geography.

So, name the pages of your website with some keywords, where appropriate. For instance, if our plumbing website had a service area page, then why not make several! Name one www.example.com/[county]plumbing.php I live in Pinellas County, Florida, so my page would be www.example.com/pinellas-plumbing.php, and then fill in some content that is unique about my Pinellas county service area.
To sum up point one, strategically name your pages with .php and plug your main keywords in the filename of the page when appropriate.

2. Title Tags - Unique and keyword plugged

Every page should have what's called a Title Tag. This dictates what is displayed in the title bar of your browser, and usually what is displayed in the link in your search results. Your title tag should plug a keyword or two. So, instead of your Contact page just saying "Contact Us" in your title tag, you should say "Contact Pinellas County Plumber - Joe's Plumbing, (800) 555-1234, joe @ example.com". Don't you think that's a better title tag than simply "Contact Us"?

Another VERY important factor is that every page has a UNIQUE title tag. Google wants to see every page have a unique title tag. Just do it because that's what Google wants, and what Google wants gets ranked highly.

3. Description Meta Tag - Unique and keyword plugged

Just like you should have keyword plugged and unique Title Tags, you should also have unique, keyword plugged Description Meta Tags!
The description meta tag should be unique because Google wants them to be unique. Just do it. No two pages should have the same title or description meta tags.

Also, you should plug your important keywords in the description meta tags. Continuing our Plumber case study, we might end up with the following for our home page.

<title>Pinellas County, FL Plumbing - Joe's Plumbing - Tampa Bay, FL</title>
<meta name="description" content="Joe's Plumbing for your Plumbing needs in the Tampa Bay, FL
area, serving Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. A Certified, Licensed Plumber" />

Notice the sprinkling of the keyword "plumbing" and the city and county name. You don't want to overdo the keyword plugging, then it becomes "keyword stuffing" which is considered spam and you'll get penalized by Google.

4. Page Hierarchy - Proper use of H and P tags

Ok, here's what I've learned about web designers. They are more concerned with design than practicality, and they are lazy. Web designers may disagree with this statement, but it's been proven to me many, many times over. I'll bring this full-circle in a moment.
Alright, to my point. Page hierarchy is very important to search engines. It communicates the structure of your page to know what content is most important, in a hierarchical structure. The HTML specifications use H and P tags (mainly... there are more but we're sticking to the basics here) to communicate hierarchy. An H tag stands for Heading. P tag stands for Paragraph. It should be obvious that Headings carry more content weight than a Paragraph. So, when you're creating content, use Headings to kind of summarize what the following paragraph will be talking about. I used that principle in this article, as a matter of fact! Each of the factors are H3 tags and the paragraphs below them are encapsulated in P tags.

Here's the reason... if you correspond your keyword plugging in your H and P tags, you'll communicate to search engines what the focus, or relevance of this page should be about. So instead of letting Google just try to figure out what this page is about, you'll be gently 'suggesting' what keywords this page should rank for by properly using effective page hierarchy, H and P tags.
Finally, (this is arguable, and just my preference) I think you should only use a single H1 tag, a couple of H2 tags, and an appropriate number of H3 tags.

One more thing... DO NOT use H tags for things like Menu headers. That is a complete waste of an H tag if it just says "Menu" or "Navigation". So, only use H tags to communicate content relevancy. If you have to style a Menu header, use a CSS class, like <div class="menuheader">Menu</div>.

Full circle... web designers are often lazy and they mainly care about style over content. They want your site to look cool, or pretty, so they blaze over these things like effective page hierarchy. So hold your designer to the fire and make sure they practice good content hierarchy. If they try to argue that style is more important, pull a Donald Trump... "You're Fired!" Your website's visibility for the search engines is far more important than how cool the page looks.

5. Use CSS Style Sheets - Separate Design and Content

Finally, you should insist that your web designer uses valid XHTML + CSS standards. If the person you are going to hire does not know what XHTML + CSS is, then don't hire them! Seriously!
In a nutshell, XHTML + CSS is a way of keeping the style (or look) of your website separate from the content of your site. The best way to explain this is to show you. Visit CSS Zen Garden for a perfect example. Click Select A Design to the right and notice how the entire look and style of the site changes... however, it's the same HTML and content. They simply changed the CSS style sheet attached to the document.

Why is this important? I'm glad you asked. Say two years from now, you want to redesign your site AGAIN. Instead of hiring and paying someone to start from scratch, all you need is someone to design you a new CSS style sheet! You can leave the HTML (content) alone. If your HTML is properly separated from your style to begin with, you can completely change the look of your site simply by changing one line of code.

Besides the ease of redesign, I believe that properly using XHTML + CSS standards helps your SEO effort as well. Most XHTML + CSS websites are very "lean and mean". This means that there is MUCH less actual code in your page. This means it's easier to use effective content hierarchy, and ultimately, there's less characters that the Google Bot has to sift through to find the relevant content on your site!

Final note: insist that your web designer NOT use tables. If you see a <table> tag anywhere in your site, you should dump the designer. One exception I would make to this rule is for contact forms, or web forms. Sometimes, the only way to make a form look good is using tables. The only other exception to this rule is tabular data. If you're displaying rows of information or data on some page, then that's ok too. Otherwise, designers need to stop using tables. That's so 1990's

Summary

To summarize... If you are a business owner and thinking about redesigning your website, make sure your designer follows these 5 requirements.

  1. Page naming strategy
  2. Unique and keyword plugged title tags
  3. Unique and keyword plugged description meta tags
  4. An effective page hierarchy
  5. Use CSS to separate design and content

If you follow these recommendations, first of all, you will be on your way to your page being ranked highly, as is. Secondly, should you pursue professional and in-depth Search Engine Optimization services, you'll minimize the time and struggle your SEO pro will have to take on. Who knows? They might even cut you a break in the price if all the basics are handled on your site! Often, the first several months of an SEO taking on a new client is simply making these basic changes.

When you hire your web designer to redesign your site, insist on following these 5 simple recommendations and you'll save yourself time, effort, and money in the long run.

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