A few days ago I reported on how BrowseRank goes beyond PageRank to rank websites according to user behavior. Modern search engines tend to rank websites by relevancy and importance, and of course their algorithms can be gamed. The concept of BrowseRank, which I have been mentioning to clients already for two years, would add a third and almost more important measurement – usefulness. This, too, can be gamed. However, most of the gaming would also work to your visitor’s advantage, so the Web will be a better place for it.
In preparation for BrowseRank and perhaps other search engine measures of website usefulness, this is the first in a series of posts that will help you make your website appear useful in the eyes of the search engines. You will probably find that these are things you should be doing anyway to increase conversions and profits, but that is not my area of expertise, so here we will look at them from an SEO perspective.
STRATEGY #1 – Design a website that says “Quality” the minute a visitor lands there.
This might seem soooooo obvious, but it needs to be said. As obvious as it might seem, I come daily across dozens of websites that say “Amateur” or “Crap”. Here are a few tips to make your website look like a professional website that can be trusted.
- Get a professional design that looks at least somewhat modern and in a style that suits your products and target audience.
- Lose the square corners. Some corners are OK, but if your design is based on boxes, it looks like a basement job.
- No Adsense-type ads. Yuck! Honestly, that is the biggest sign of a low-quality website. A run of Adsense across the bottom is not bad, but the more prominent the PPC ads the cheaper the site appears. By the way, ads are OK. The more they look like content or part of the website, the better. Adsense style ads just look cheap.
- Keep it clean. Clutter looks as bad on a website as it looks here on my desk. (But I don’t have a webcam to display this disaster to the world, so don’t display a mess on your website!)
- Make sure your web pages look good in various browsers and in various screen resolutions. If 70% of people see a superb website and the other 30% see garbled images and text, they will bounce back to the search engine … which tells the engine that your website is not very useful (and it isn’t if it can’t easily be read by 30% of searchers).
- Make sure your website is available, which means good hosting. I am never shy about recommending Phastnet web hosting. This blog is hosted there and I have been migrating my sites to them over the years because of the five-star service I get when I need it.
- Make sure your code is working properly. Seeing a PHP error makes the site look broken. I don’t buy from someone who might be selling me broken goods.
- Avoid overly flashy design. If your visuals call attention to themselves and distract from your message, you will lose people.
- Avoid automatic audio playing. I can guarantee you that 99% of people browsing from a cubicle, as well as others in shared space, will zip back to the search engine in no time flat. That sends a pretty bad signal to the search engines.
- Nix the cover page, especially one that shows a slide show on start-up. And if you think people can easily scroll to the bottom to click the “skip intro”, it’s easier still to click the “back” button and choose a new website that does not place a barrier to its visitors.
Those are my top 10 web design tips for helping visitors see quality in your website. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments below. Following these tips is not enough to make them stay on your website, but at least they won’t leave because the design scares them away. In future “episodes”, I will share with you some additional strategies to help the search engines view your website as “useful”.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have some top quality SEO web designers on our team.Written by David Leonhardt
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