Our article "Is Your Website Designed Properly?" deals with the design and usability aspects of your website. This article discusses ways to get your website noticed (or ignored) by search engines.
Determining how the search engines see your website is more difficult than determining the design or usability. This is because much of what determines this is in the coding behind the website, which the user never sees. If this code is written incorrectly, search engines may ignore your page. Unless you're a web designer, you won't understand most of the code behind your website. However, there are a few elements you can look at and determine if they are set up correctly. Of course, there are MANY other things that determine SEO friendliness; the ones listed below are only a very small handful of those you may be able to check yourself. You should consult with an experienced web designer and/or SEO consultant for more comprehensive help, preferably one that can provide you with a website analysis report (done by hand, not automated).
To view the code behind your website, go to your website and hit Ctrl+U on your keyboard. Or right-click on the background of a page (not an image), and select "View Source" or "View Page Source". Or select "View" from the browser menu and view the source that way (each browser is different).
The very first element of the page (line 1) MUST be a doctype declaration. This tells the browser what version of html code is used on the page. If this line is missing, or is set up with the wrong doctype, your site may still render correctly, but search engines may penalize the site. A doctype declaration starts with something like this: <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC...
Website Title and Description
ALL websites should utilize the title and meta description tags. These two elements make up the text of your actual search engine listing, so obviously they are very important! In addition, the page title appears at the top of the browser when you are on the site, as well as describes the site when you bookmark it. The title and description always appear at the top of the page under the "html" and "head" elements. Look for the following:
<title>Actual Title Goes Here</title>
<meta name="description" content="Actual Description Goes Here">
("Og" tags such as "og:title" and "og:description" do not count, as they are only used for Facebook)
The title and description content should describe in detail what your website is about, using relevant keywords. If the tags are there, but they contain no information ("empty tags"), this is the same as having no tags at all. If your title only shows your company name, you could have trouble ranking in the search engines for your keywords. See more details about the title and description tags in my article entitled Google Search Website Ranking Factors.
Images, Flash, and PDFs
In general, search engines can't read images or Adobe Flash, and many Adobe PDF files. Flash and PDF's should always be used sparingly, not only for this reason but also because some users are not able to view Flash or PDF files at all, and some devices do not natively support Adobe. Images, however, are important for the user experience. In order to be found on search engines, they must include the "alt" tag (see next paragraph). Images should never be used to replace text. Some web designers that are not comfortable or familiar with coding may find it easier to design the site in a program such a Photoshop, which provides complete control over the layout and positioning of page elements. The problem occurs when the text elements of a website are actually images instead of text. Search engines cannot read images, so a site made up primarily of images could end up being invisible to search engines. A web designer can tell you for sure if your site is made up of too many images or Flash, or read more at Is Your Website Text Actually an Image?.
Image Alt Tags
Images use the "img" tag, so look for tags that say <img src="x"> where "x" is the name of the image, often ending in jpg, gif, or png. Within that image tag should be an "alt" tag. Since search engines don't know what's inside an image, the alt tag is a way to describe the image to search engines. So the image tag should actually read something like this: <img src="x" alt="image description here" />. Image tags without the alt tag are missing a great opportunity for that image to appear in search engine results. However, even image alt tags cannot help a site that is designed with more images than text, as sites with very little text could get ignored by search engines.
Make sure your site uses "clean URL's". Clean URL's are simple, whereas complicated URL's confuse search engines. Consider the two URL's:
Which do you think the search engines will be able to index more efficiently? Complicated URL's are often the norm with template sites and content management systems, such as free website builders, Dex Media, WordPress, and Joomla sites. Manually coded sites using basic html and css often have the benefit of clean URL's since the designer names the pages rather than leaving it up an automated process.
If you see a lot of tags on the page that say <tr> or <td>, this means that the layout of the page was built with tables. In the early years of web development (late 1990's through about 2005), web designers relied on pure html to create the layout of the website. The easiest way to position elements on the page was using tables. Now css coding is used to position and format elements. The use of tables for the layout means that either the site is very old, or the designer does not know proper coding techniques. Either way, sites utilizing tables for the layout may not rank as well as those utilizing proper css.
Backlinks are links on other websites that point back to your website. The more backlinks you have from reputable, quality websites, the more popular you look to search engines, and the higher you can rank. See more about backlinks in my articles Google Search Ranking Factors and Google Webmaster Tools.