Create a website Google loves. Pic by eflon

Create a Website Google Loves

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).

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:

  1. Research and register a domain with a recognized registrar
  2. Research the domain history before purchasing
  3. 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.

Pitching ideas and startups

I recently attended the final round of pitches for twelve early stage, local tech startups, and was privileged to witness a new generation of exciting and en

original entrepreneur ideas

"Are you looking for a great entrepreneurial idea to start your new business?" If you are an entrepreneur looking to start a small or home based bus

Don't hesitate, start your business today

Check out our top 3 reasons why there's never been a better time to set up an online business than right now.

If you've got an idea that you think will succeed but are hesitating because you are worried about failing and losing money, then get ready to be inspired to start today - right now even.

Sure, the economy is not great, but there are signs of growth, and successful people didn't get that way by sitting around waiting for the economy to improve.

Logo design tips

Designing a great logo for your startup can be one of the most important (and frustrating) challenges you take on.

It's easy to set up your own email on a good Web hosting account

A lot of small business owners find that they need a corporate email address on their own work domain, but aren't entirely sure what is required to set things in motion, beyond needing a domain name.

And while using something like mycompany @ gmail.com might be sufficient for the first few weeks, you'll want something more professional going forward - because it promotes you better.

Also, given how much spam arrives from the free email systems, it's unlikely anyone will take email from a hotmail address seriously.

Real world elevator pitch example. Pic by Joe Penniston

Our earlier article on how to pitch big new clients touched on the importance of a good

drop shipping introduction

Looking for a great home based startup idea to provide a secondary income (or primary, if it goes well)? Combine an eCommerce website with drop shipping facilities to lower costs and start earning from day one.

Drop shipping is a technique used by many home based and small business owners to fulfil orders and deliver products without having to handle warehousing, packaging and transport.

Instead, a drop shipping company takes care of this aspect of the business (often delivering directly from the factory), allowing you to focus on marketing and growing the store.

Gap in the market startups. Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Being an entrepreneur is one of the best vocations in the world because it encourages you to view everything as an opportunity for innovation.

Getting great PR for your startup in the media, on social media websites and blogs is crucial to driving enough business to keep you afloat.

There are a range of skills and techniques you must learn in order to use your marketing and PR resources with maximum efficiency.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs tend to have limited budgets to spend on marketing campaigns, so it's important to identify those areas that are most likely to bear fruit early on.

In particular, efforts that create lasting and cumulative benefits such as blogging (for on-site SEO, organic search traffic, authority and PageRank) and building up social contacts (off-site SEO, marketing, business contacts) are important.

Fun ideas to make money

Making money online with a fun sidehustle is a dream for a lot of people even if it isn't as easy to achieve as most of them would like.

WAH with your own freelance writing job. Pic by Evelina Ander

Believe it or not, it is entirely possible to hire yourself as a freelance writer and turn that part-time job into a successful business that earns decent mo

University business startup competitions. Pic by tableatny

Starting a business can be a daunting task - often made all the more difficult by a small advertising/marketing budget and an insufficient network of contact

Our goal is to provide you with free, unique tips & insights into the world of small business. To support ourselves we use ads and affiliate relationships. We may, or may not, earn a small commission (at no cost to you) as a result purchases you make via links clicked on SME Pals.