SEO Techniques Web Developers Need to Learn Part 1

Sep 27, 2011
Miscellaneous
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Web developers are hired to make things work on a web site. SEO is often considered an afterthought that is often someone else’s responsibility.

However web developers can do quite a bit to help, or harm, a company’s optimization efforts.

To help visitors find web sites more easily, many organizations are bringing SEO professionals in during the planning phase of a new website.

If you are working without the input of someone who specializes in SEO, these tips can help guide you along the path to search engine bliss.

Basic Little Things

While you may be a highly skilled web developer, you may not be well versed in the word of search engine optimization. If you think that filling the meta keyword tag or jamming a keyword into the first 100 words as often as possible will help your site, keep reading.

If you are familiar with some basic SEO techniques, stay tuned. Part two will get a bit more advanced.

Keyword rich folder structure

When laying out the plans for a new website many developers use folders as a way to better organize files but nothing more. An SEO will actually take this opportunity to get the targeted keywords in front of the search engines once again.

For example, if a company is targeting the keyword kids’ shoes it may be natural for the developer to place all pictures of children’s shoes into an images folder. However, if the folder were named, kids shoes pictures it gets the keyword into the URL another time. For example, www.domainname.com/kids-shoes-pictures/red-hitops.png is much more search engine friendly than www.domainname/images/img0122.png. The search engine won’t know what you are referring to in the latter file.

This should be applied to other files as well, not just images.

A distant cousin of this tip is to make sure that your URLs are search engine friendly. Some applications, like WordPress, have a default permalink that looks a little like this: http://www.domainname.com?p=123. That says little about that page to your visitor and even less to the search engines. Be a nice person and make sure that your website’s URLs are a bit friendlier.

NB – Do not overdo it when it comes to your URLs. Long overly long URLs with parameter/value pairs are not good for SEO and not well liked by humans either.

Bad Image Optimization

Most websites and blogs are filled with images because they really make a site stand out. Unfortunately most developers miss out on yet another way they can help their site’s search engine ranking.

For a test, go to Google images and search for some pictures on any topic you choose. Note how many of these images have file names that are just a string of letters and/or numbers. Probably quite a few. There are even more, I am sure, that use only a single word as the file name.

Using targeted keywords when naming images to be used on your sites can certainly help improve on how favorably the search engines view your site. As can the alt tag. Using a good description for your alt tag, that contains your keywords, will help your website’s usability and optimization.

Too Much HTML, Too Little CSS

Most developers have moved out of the nineties and use CSS to design the aesthetics of a website. However, there are times when HTML is used in lieu of a style sheet and it shouldn’t. Ever.

When a search engine spider crawls a website, it sees CSS as the design elements of the site and HTML as the content elements. If HTML is used for both, the search engines get confused.

Oh, and there are people who advise using CSS to hide keywords in things like headings so that you can use an image with the text in it. The thought is that you get the cool design that goes along with the image without losing the SEO benefit of keywords in the content.

Never. Never. Never. Never hide keywords using CSS or anything else. Even if you have the best intentions this is one of the oldest black hat SEO tricks in the books and the search engines don’t look to kindly on this practice.

In part two of this series we will look at the more intermediate SEO tips you can apply to help make your site a friend of the search engines.

Author: Jeff Orloff
Jeff is the editor of Developer Drive. He also works as a freelance writer and blogger as well as a technology coordinator for a school district.
  • Czar Castro

    I will bookmark this article and will share this to my network of SEO services

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comments both of you. I hope more developers see that making these habits when we are creating sites will help across the board. SEO is really becoming more complex so it needs to be a shared responsibility.

  • Anonymous

    Cant say anything else but nice job. This can definitely help out a lot of web developers who dont really have an understanding on what SEO means.

  • http://twitter.com/jwdunne James W Dunne

    The article is okay but you’re missing out on stuff that should be mentioned from the outset.

    One big thing would be the page title. Each page should have a unique title which contains relevant keywords. This is probably one of the most fundamental activities of on-page optimisation, especially since it has a direct affect on rankings.

    Another thing to be aware of is the hierarchy of the content. The main heading, the h1 tag, should also contain a relevant keyword – usually the main one you are targeting. From this, the content should follow a logical sub-heading hierarchy.

    Having a keyword rich URL is probably most beneficial when doing link building where your anchor text is the URL itself. If involved in such things, the domain name carries more weight with keywords. This makes sense due to Google’s emphasis on brands – after all the brand name is usually the domain name. Selecting a good domain name, preferably keyword rich, is imperative and should not be an after-thought.

    Another responsibility a good web developer will have is detecting and eliminating 404s. There are tools that check for this and I wouldn’t rely on Google WMT (though this gives good insight on 404s from external sites). Management of 404s is very important – I’ve heard some SEOs claim that a large number of 404s usually indicates that there is something wrong with the site and lacking in quality.

    Finally, I would say that proper redirects are something a web developer should be very aware of. When removing a page, you must 301 redirect it to the next relevant page. Disregarding the points above, a 404 will kill any benefit from links to the missing page. A 301 will pass approx. 98% of the juice.

    • Anonymous

      Great points James, especially about the 404 pages and 301 redirects. I actually plan on covering those in the next part to this article.

      Your points about page titles and tags within the content are important SEO techniques that should be incorporated however I was focusing more on the developer side of things and less on what the content creator would do with each web page they write.

      Keep an eye out for part two!

      • http://twitter.com/jwdunne James W Dunne

        I believe a developer should invest time learning how to pick appropriate keywords out from a page. If you’re a freelance developer, this could potentially add a lot of value to your service and you could charge more.

        I anticipate part 2.

  • http://www.missiontoread.com/ Rie Conley

    Thanks for the advice about images. I haven’t thought about that just the content itself.

    • Anonymous

      Images are a great way to get more references to important keywords throughout your site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ciriusmex Olivier Rouhaud

    Hello, good article, very basic indeed but those are important things. I was looking for part two without success, could you give me the link (if it exists…)?

    Thank you!