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Now that we’ve established some ground rules for ensuring proper navigation and content on your website in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we can begin to examine how your website directories are laid out and how it can play a big role in search engine rankings.

11. Avoid splash pages if at all possible

Search engines determine the importance of the content on your website by doing just that – reading the content of the site, starting with the homepage.  If the most important first page of the site is nothing but a graphic or intro animation and perhaps an option to choose either English or French, then there’s nothing substantial there for a search engine to grab on to and that will in turn hurt your ranking.  Many content management systems now can detect what language operating system your visitor is using and default to that language.

12. Spell-check that bad boy

Not only do spelling mistakes look bad and unprofessional but they can also affect how search engines index your content if the quality is poor and key search terms in the content are misspelled.  Additionally, to reiterate a previous point about broken links, a simple spelling mistake within a link renders it pretty much as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

Fantastic. Now I get to read over this article 9,000 more times to make sure there's no spelling mistakes.

13. Include a search if necessary

A search box on your website isn’t always necessary.  If your website is as simple as some product and contact information, then the site is probably going to be pretty easy to get around.  However, as soon as your site begins getting into pages of content that go several clicks deep, adding a search is going to save you a whole lot of inquiries.  If someone is having trouble finding something on a website, the first place they’re trained to go to is the search box.  If there’s no search, the next place they’re going to go is straight to the source – you.  Prepare yourself for a flood of emails and calls from people who are still trying to find the “Any” key.

14. Avoid complex URL structures

Search engines don’t just scan the content on your website in order to determine its quality.  They also look at how your site is structured and how you’ve named files and directories.  Think of your site structure as a family tree.  You’d start with yourself (the content) placed in a folder called “parents” (a sub directory), placed under your grandparents (a main directory), etc.  A website should work much the same way.  When you visit a website and end up on a news article for example, the web address should include keywords indicating where they are and it should read something like http://www.mywebsite.com/news/article.htm. This allows search engines to effectively map out the structure of your site without running into a bunch of wacky file names that they have no idea what to do with.

15. Use Alt and title tags for images

A small but often overlooked detail in optimizing your website for search engines is to take advantage of the tags that the nerds of our forefathers gave us for indexing web content.  When placing images in your website, make sure to fill out the image title and alt tags so that search engines can develop a functioning description for the image.  Don’t just stuff them with keywords either.  Blind users typically have software that reads a web page aloud, so try to include a proper description that isn’t going to confuse the bejesus out of them.

"…and Lassie went to the park to play with Billy... Image Description: Lassie, Billy, fun, park, Viagra…"

The behind-the-scenes structure of your website can be just as important to search engines as the content that you put into it, so make sure you don’t ignore it, and keep it as simple as you can.  By avoiding some of the mistakes we’ve outlined above you can make sure that your website structure is as fool-proof as possible for any search engine to find.  In the final part of this series we’ll take a peek at the look of your website.

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