The Science of Digital Home Building


Building a website is very much like building a house. The future homeowner clearly has a vision and an expectation about how it will look (and perform, of course) upon completion.

Rarely, however, does it turn out as anticipated if you don't know what you're doing.

Anyone that's ever dug a foundation, hung their own drywall or built a staircase knows that a real house does not just appear one day out of the virtual blue, at least not one that will stand the test of time. There's no difference when it comes to a company's website home either. It takes work and, often, the best houses (like the best websites) require sophisticated technological execution.

EXTRA: Slow Speed Kills

Webpage load time is one of the most discussed topics in search engine optimization. Discover the most common reasons for slow loading sites now, and the elements that nfluence a site's speed and overall performance.

Most search engine optimization professionals spend a great deal of time on marketing and development tactics (e.g. content creation and link building), which are important to success with SEO. But these techniques still rely greatly on the stability of a variety of technical variables, considerations and decisions that may have been made before they (the marketing-minded SEO) ever even showed up at the digital door. 

This month's Mastering Search column explores several of the primary technical issues of websites today and how Internet professionals can build an SEO-friendly home for their digital brands from the ground up - providing some much needed, timetested experience to attract a few visitors along the way. Without focusing on these important issues, your digital enterprise might ultimately come crumbling down around you.

Strap on your tool belt, tighten your hard hat and punch that time clock - we're about to get technical with your search engine optimization initiatives. Also, make sure to follow the links to Website Magazine for additional details on these important technical SEO considerations.

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Survey the Area

You wouldn't build a house on a plot of land that was in a swamp or on the edge of a cliff without knowing if the area was prone to flooding or earthquakes, right? The same holds true for your website. Survey the area first, and you'll avoid problems in the future.

External Survey: While it could be argued that content is the true foundation of a well-optimized SEO strategy, in reality, it is the infrastructure (in tandem with all the other components including application software and the quality and linkability of content) that likely matters far more. To develop a technically sound SEO presence for a website, start by surveying/ evaluating your Web host. You might be surprised at what you find. For example, is your host running the latest version of its OS software? If not, it may be vulnerable to an attack. Learn more about how to select a hosting provider for an optimized SEO campaign.

Internal Survey: SEOs can bring traffic in, but they can't always make them stay. The digital experience that is created by Web designers plays a significant role in the success of an enterprise and in the work of search optimization professionals. Dig into analytics to explore key metrics including bounce and exit rate as well as time-on-site, which can reveal just how engaging or unengaging a site is and how much site-wide modification will be needed to achieve greater visibility. Discover other top technical SEO performance indicators here.

Website Architecture

You'd have to be brave (or an artist) to build a house without a blueprint, but don't make the mistake of building a website (or redesigning one) without the digital equivalent - a wireframe; the plan SEO workers must follow as they start nailing all those website elements together.

WebsiteMagazine has discussed the topic of architecture at great length, most recently in the Dec. 2012 Mastering Search column, "Maximizing Site Architecture for SEO"  where the importance and role of a virtual construction plan, proven time and again to create meaningful, engaging experiences for users, was discussed.

The ultimate aim of website architecture (e.g. a wireframe) is to establish the scope of the digital project at hand - not just the anticipated size, but also its functionality to improve visibility.

Return to the home building example - how many floors will your house have; will there be a basement, a garage, a pool? If you're building a house this information is important to know. Now translate that to building a website - how many sections will be needed (how many audiences do you serve); and will there be secure areas?

Just like you wouldn't want a bathroom in the kitchen, you don't want your content articles buried four folders deep from the root of your server. Wireframes help SEOs visualize the organization of their website, prioritize the most valuable content and improve search engines' access to this potentially valuable data.

Software's SEO Friendliness

SEO need not be complicated, but sometimes it is and by no fault of our own. The software choices made can directly impact success with SEO, making selection of these vital website components very important.

Most of the popular software platforms - be they for ecommerce or content management - claim to be SEO friendly. For the most part, they are, but not always. Use the following criteria to determine if your brand is putting its best digital foot forward in regard to the software it uses to achieve SEO friendliness.

Some of the basic controls at your digital disposal should include SEO-friendly URLs, command over the titles of individual pages, an option to set up and maintain redirects (301 and 302 - this option may be available through your Web hosting provider), the ability to set a canonical URL for each page (very important for ecommerce merchants), the automatic production of XML sitemap and robots.txt files, as well as the opportunity to include authorship markup, alt tags and markup, where necessary.

Sitemaps in particular deserve a great deal of attention from SEOs, as they can help a brand more quickly expose newly created content or discover content that's been previously inaccessible.

Every builder - be they of homes or websites - has their challenges. When you have a plan in place, start with the right tools and construct elements the right way - greater, more impressive visibility is only a few clicks away.