Now... I've neglected design for a while, focused on the "development" of existing sites. And its not just me that has been doing this, and there is a valid reason... there is less money in web design & development so less people are willing to spend money on a new site when a few changes will make the companies existing site last another year or so. Anyway with the recession (hopefully) in decline, I wanted to help the designers of the world with some ideas for SEO best practice.
Rule 1 - NEVER Cheat
Think about this... if you walked into a top university (anywhere in the world) where there are hundreds of professors, do you think you could outsmart them all? ... if you said "yes" you lied ... The answer is and ALWAYS will be NO. And its the same with Google. Google has rooms all over the world (in the various GooglePlex) full of PHd employees, they write the algorithms which Google run! So you can't outsmart Google... or any other Search Engine NOW or EVER!
Rule 2 - CONTENT is King
Before you design, get your content right...its not a design users are searching for its information! So this MUST always be top of your list of importance. If your site doesn't have information people want they won't visit. Think of your information layout being a pyramid.... start with the H1 tag and have your first paragraph explain the rest of your pages content. Then move down with more heading tags. See my post on making Copy your Salesman
Rule 3 - STICK with Your Keywords
When you are defining a site with a client ask them for their themes... these should (in theory) become your keywords/phrases. Stick to them like glue ... each page should be themed independantly but this should change on a regular basis... doing so will make a search engine "shifty" and may cause a search engine not to trust you.
Rule 4 - CLEAN code is Searchable Code
Using clean "semantic" code does not mean you are a professional...it simply means that both humans and search engines can access your pages more easily... oh and it makes your site a damn site more accessible. So use H-tags, P tags, UL / OL and LI tags ...blockquote and em (for italics) oh and strong (for bolder text). Also don't overuse DIV tags. By keeping your code semantic, using semantic elements you can use CSS (externally) to style your site and make it look how you want.
Rule 5 - NAVIGATION for All
I will keep it simple... Navigation is key, place your main navigation where you'd expect to see it... top of the page or on the left ... follow the "unwritten rules of design" ... make sure both your navigation and other links have meaningful anchor text. This means don't use "click here" or "see more" as links. Further to this avoid flash for navigation ... use clean code... more info can be found in my perfect seo navigation article.
Rule 6 - TITLE are the winners
Ok ... meta tags do some of the work (in theory), and the content does the rest right??? Wrong! you forget what is easily one of the most important factors on a site...the title tag. Think about this next time you are coding a page or writing its content... when you search on any search engine how often do you look at the description? not very is my bet. I bet you like over 95% of other search engine users only look at the titles of the search results. So use your title tag to make an impact!
Rule 7 - ALTERNATIVE text / tags
You are a blind user, you visit a site full of images (a picture speaks a thousand words), these images explain the content a little better but you can't see them... and they don't have an alternative text nor a caption... they are useless to you and now the site makes no sense. With this in mind next time you have an image or graphic..or flash file that explains anything make sure you give a text alternative... oh I almost forgot a search engine won't view your images like a human (it sweeps for content and images separately for its indexing, it doesn't relate them.) So alternative tags will help your SEO efforts.
Rule 8 - DESIGN friendly URLs
Whether dynamic or not, all sites should have SEO / User friendly url's this means not having /p?=1234?34 or anything like this but rather /real-seo as a url following the domain. There are several ways to do this, some CMS systems (like wordpress) will automatically do this for you, alternatively you can use a .htaccess file or hard-code the file names. ... Get to know about the 10 rules of perfect urls.
Rule 9 - SITEMAPs ... both human and robots can read
Often overlooked by designers and developers alike the Sitemap. Ok, it can be forgiven for a site not to have a human readable sitemap... you don't always need one for humans! you navigation should do the job for you. However you MUST create a sitemap for search engines and other web programs ... there are any number of sitemap generator tools around for you to try. ... once you get a sitemap submit it to the search engines as well as have it in your main directory.
Rule 10 - RULES are only Rules if you break them
Most SEO's will hate me for this (and i know i am in for a nasty time when this is published) most of the above will stand good for many years, but everything changes... so don't trust what you read on every SEO website. If you break a rule above that is fine...just try not too...google won't penalise you for most of them... though cheating or being black-hat may see you being in trouble and having a need to explain yourself.