01: Clear Navigation
Keep your site navigation hierarchy as flat and clear as possible. The more sub categories/folders you have (or the deeper your hierarchy is), the harder it will be for search engines to index all your pages. A flat hierarchy also helps search engines view more of your pages as “important”, thus giving them more weight in the search rankings.
The navigation design is important as well; Using images for your text can often ruin the ability for a search engine to properly crawl your site. Most font-replacement technologies (FLIR, SIFR, Cufon, CSS3, Embedded Fonts, etc.) are SEO friendly though, so this doesn’t mean that you have to stick to Arial or Times New Roman. The key is designing with “ease of use” in mind. Avoid nesting navigation or using non-traditional UI elements without discussing it with a developer first.
02: Design Your Titles & Subtitles
One of the most important elements of on-page optimization is having titles and subtitles with target keywords phrases. The most commonly used tags by SEO strategists are H1′s, H2′s and the tags. When creating and SEO friendly website layout, make sure you have spots for these tags on each and every page… and style them properly.
03: Create Custom Landing Pages
Sites will often include custom landing pages for special events.
The phrase “content is king” is commonly spoken in the marketing and SEO community. Without content, a site has little value in the eyes of the search engine. Most search strategists want lots of unique content on every page and will often create many custom landing pages with unique content that are all optimized for different keywords. Creating a “landing page design template” for projects that are really seeking to maximize their search engine rankings is a fantastic idea.
04: Image SEO Tactics
Images can be a great source of search traffic and they also provide search strategists with better on-site optimization. Every page should have a spot for an image, which should be worked into the content mentioned above. These images should have optimized file names, alt tags and titles that include the target keyword phrase.
Oh, one other note on images: Never use an image in place of text when you can help it! Text that’s embedded in an image might be readable for human visitors to your site, but search engines won’t see it. Whenever possible, use images with descriptive text to give the search engines something to find.
05: Deep Linking
Internal linking, also known as “deep linking”, is another common practice by search strategists.. For instance, if the site is going to have several category levels, SEO strategists suggest that you include links to all of the sub-categories on each main category page. The sidebar is usually a good place to drop this kind of “link list”, but it’s also common to add links in the footer on important SEO landing pages.
These links are important for SEO because they help search engines understand what pages are about. Target keyword phrases should always be used when deep linking to other pages.
Where this comes to play in design: I often see site owners try to add these elements after the design phase… which usually results in ugly link-lists that feel completely out of place. Providing a simple design template that they should abide by if they choose to add things like this in the future will help prevent them from ruining your hard work!
06: Site Maps
Every website should have an HTML and XML sitemap (also known as an “archive” page). These sitemaps help search engines crawl/index your site and help users to find content. In addition to a basic XML document, it is especially important to have a well designed HTML sitemap for large websites.
As an added benefit, these sitemap pages can make your site design more usable. Navigating large sites can often be tricky and many people use sitemaps to pinpoint what they are looking for. So, when creating a website it’s highly advisable that you design a custom layout just for the sitemap. This design template should be capable of displaying possibly 100′s of links in an organized fashion, so do your best to plan for a well organized and easy to read layout.
07: Social Media
Social media is another very popular marketing method that actually has an impact on SEO. Search engines are starting to use social media popularity as a signal for how relevant and important content is on the web. By integrating social media “share” buttons into your design, you can help increase the relevance of content to search engines. It’s also common to have icons somewhere linking to the main profiles of Twitter, Facebook and other social profiles on a website. The more “social” traffic that a site can generate, the higher that site will show up in search rankings.