Everyone creating a website, regardless of whether it is a blog, professional site, or shopping cart, should keep Google and SEO in mind right from the start.
Almost every aspect of building a site from choosing a domain, Web hosting company, website builder or CMS, Web design, through to page layout and color scheme, can affect the way Google ranks a site.
While it is never good policy to rely only on organic search traffic from Google, the fact remains that it is one of the largest (if not the largest) sources of traffic on the Web.
By making the right decisions early on, you can help to ensure that your website avoids algorithmic or manual penalties (including ones that may already exist on a domain), and drives plenty of juicy traffic from Google search (and other search engines, I guess).
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This article will list some of the most important Web design, hosting and general tips that you may not have considered - hopefully, it will spare you the agony of going without decent page rankings and Web traffic down the line.
1. Choose a penalty-free domain name
What if a domain name used to exist and is now being sold off because it is viewed as a webspam domain, and has accrued multiple penalties from Google?
While your genuine work and great content would eventually overcome any pre-existing algorithmic or manual penalties on a domain, is there much point in starting the race from a few steps back?
To ensure a decent quality domain name, free of penalties:
- Research and register a domain with a recognized registrar
- Research the domain history before purchasing
- See if it is indexed by Google using the site operator (i.e. site:yourdomain.com)
Point 3, in particular, will give you a good bit of insight into how Google currently views that domain. If it has existed before and it is not indexed at all then that is probably a good sign that Google has removed it entirely.
The site: search operator restricts Google results to a specific domain.
If you purchase a domain that has an existing penalty it can be very difficult to have it removed. Google doesn't want to make it easy for spammers to recover so they aren't simply going to lift the penalty because it "looks" like someone new has taken it over - otherwise spammers would get very good at doing precisely that.
2. Visual Web design vs. SEO Web design
When you hear the phrase "Web design" it's important to understand that there is much more to it than how the site looks. From an SEO perspective, Web design is more about how the site looks to Google.
The most important part of designing a website is creating a pleasing and professional website for visitors that is also fast, free of errors, intuitive and logical, with great SEO built-in.
Having worked on a few startups myself, I can attest to the fact that what Web designers refer to as Web design, is in fact, a house of horrors "under the hood". A website that is designed to look beautiful (full of images, and animations), but turns out to be slow, will ultimately frustrate visitors and lead to less traffic from the search engines.
3. Choose the right Web platform
The online world is highly competitive to say the least. There is not really much time for you to spend a year developing a website. It is important to get up and running with a high quality website as fast as possible so that you can focus on growing the site.
The best way to create a website from scratch without requiring expensive Web development or a long, steep learning curve (i.e. teching yourself PHP, MySQL, HTML, and CSS), is to use a good website builder.
Choose a leading website builder that specializes in the type of website you need.
There is plenty of advice and reviews on all the top website builders at our complete beginner's guide to website builders.
4. HTTP response codes
Google cares about the response codes that a website returns. It takes these into account when deciding which pages to include in its index, and which to exclude or ignore.
It's important to test your website to ensure that when a non-existent page is accessed (type in a page that doesn't exist in the URL of your site domain), the server returns a 404 page not found response code.
Sometimes websites attempt to redirect visitors to a different page, and return other response codes that may fool Google into thinking the page does exist. This can lead to all sorts of SEO shenanigans, including possibly a penalty, drop in page rankings, and a drop in Web traffic.
That's not to say the website can't return some useful information for human visitors. Try alter the URL of this page by one or more characters and refresh. The server will return a 404 response, but also a page of search results related to the words in the URL (perfect for helping people find the content they are after).
5. Set canonical URLs
A canonical META tag helps Google to determine which version of a page to return in search results. Google does its best to do this automatically - but fails.
Setting canonicals is extremely important for any site that uses parameters because Google will, if at all possible, index every combination of every parameter that exists. Without correctly set canonicals it is possible that multiple versions of the same page are included in the index leading to more SEO shenanigans.
Most good Web platforms come with facilities to specify and set canonical URLs, so you shouldn't need to alter the HTML or underlying code to set these correctly. More about how to monitor and manage websites for this type of issue at 5 top SEO tips that might save your business.
6. Avoid sitewide links
Google wants websites to link to other pages and resources that are directly relevant to the content they are found in. Sitewide links are generally frowned upon and can be construed as paid links by Google.
A paid link is basically any link that is not part of the natural flow of a piece of content.
If you insist on placing sitewide links on a site, then ensure that they have the rel="nofollow" attribute set.
Nofollow tells Google that you don't intend to pass page rankings to the target page. In other words, you aren't trying to manipulate the search rankings and results, which is against Google guidelines. In fact, any and all page links that are paid (i.e. affiliate links, paid reviews, advertising, etc), should be nofollowed.
7. Reduce ads
Google understands that advertising is a normal part of the Web's economy. However, it has been determined that sites that offer a high ratio of ads to content, or, have a high ratio of advertising to content above the fold, offer a poor user experience.
Called the top heavy algorithm, if Google finds that your site has too many ads towards the top of the page, it will drop rankings, and Web traffic will suffer as a result.
8. Avoid thin content
Don't bother creating thin pages that don't have a substantial amount of unique and original content - this applies to eCommerce product pages in particular. Google won't rank pages that have cut and pasted product descriptions or other content, or offer little in the way of new or unique information.
This makes it hard for eCommerce sites with many products to rank, but those are the facts. It is far better to have a smaller, high quality site than a large thin site.
9. Speed, reliability & performance
Take this seriously. All other things being equal, a website that is faster, has less down time and can generally give visitors the information they are after faster, will rank higher and be more successful.
Don't put yourself at a disadvantage by choosing the cheapest Web hosting package possible. In fact, website speed and reliability should be one of your top priorities when it comes to choosing a Web host and Web platform.
One of the best insurance policies against extended downtime, is selecting a good Web hosting package with quality support. Big businesses can go for managed servers, but smaller ones can also find Web hosts that pride themselves on providing great support.
Check out the following articles and resources to help you find the right hosting package and Web platform:
So those are the most important tips I can think of to create a site that Google loves - and one that will hopefully go on to get plenty of traffic and generates lots of money.
What Web design and development tips do you have to help people succeed online? Share your advice in the comments.