What determines where yours or any website ranks on the search engines can often seem like a confusing, complex and frustrating list of variables and factors – then add that each search engine has its own rules and ways that it ranks all the websites out there. The algorithms are the Holy Grail of the search engine world and web designers, webmasters, SEO specialists and web marketing people can sometimes look like Monty Python's band of merry men stumbling over each other as they embark on their own search for the algorithmic Grail. None of us know exactly what Google and Yahoo and the others use to put one site above another – we have figured out the critical factors but there remains many nuances that the major search engines use to rank sites.
As for some of those critical factors, the way that your site is structured matters quite a bit and that's the point of this exercise. Site structure, studies indicate, matter between 30-40% of the total equation for how search engines rank your site. The remaining 60-70% is based off of what happens away from your site (backlinks, social weight, etc).
So, what can be done to structure your site in a way that the search engines will look favorably upon it?
Search engines send their spiders out every so often to crawl your site. The spiders or robots are undercover agents of Google, Yahoo and the rest. You don't know when they're coming, you just better hope they like what they see when they arrive.
They come to your domain name first (kind of like the street address or your house number). The more relevant, descriptive and easy to understand your domain is the better it is for SEO. If your domain includes an important keyword about your business and/or industry then you're making the job of the secret agent that much easier.
Tags!! One thing crawlers and the general public can both see is the Title Tag – the short descriptive sentence at the very top of the browser bar. It probably includes the name of the company, location and a few important details. A well-written Title Tag is very important. Underneath the public's eye are meta tags that include the Description Tag and Keyword Tag – the keywords are less important today than a few years ago but the description is important because it'll give the search engine user a quick summary of what your site is all about.Design the site so that the crawlers can report back to the engines about all the content of your site. They don't like Flash because they can't take notes on what the Flash graphics show and they don't like images unless they're tagged with descriptive text. Also, using headers (kind of like headlines in magazines/newspapers) help the robots understand your pages better. Headers (H1 and H2) keep things organized and help emphasize important sections or content.
Make sure the site flows smoothly without broken links or dead-end pages. You don't want this to be the case for the public when they visit your site and you definitely don't want these errors when the spiders crawl your site. Going page by page and checking all links should also entice you to optimize these interior pages just as much as the homepage is optimized. The search engines are indexing each page of your site and the more unique and interesting these pages are to the spiders the better. Use different titles, tags, content, etc. and think about ways to link internally from page to page within your site – the more internal links the better.
While adding keywords within the HTML code of your site doesn't have much important nowadays, using those keywords within your site is very important. Keywords should be integrated into navigation, page titles, and especially the written content. Having keyword density throughout your site will pay dividends for you from an SEO perspective.
Structuring the folders and file names that exist for your site will help search engines better understand and rank your site. Try to avoid long and confusing URLs like http://www.yourwebsite.com/pages/1nnx/esc_a12600599.htm and use something more descriptive for your folders and file names.
This list of 7 key factors for structuring your website for the search engines is not perfect and it isn't comprehensive. But it should give you a good idea of what may be missing on your site. We're all at the mercy of how search engines rank site, but thankfully, we do know enough to control what is on our own websites and be ready with a welcome mat and cup of coffee for when the secret search engine agents come to visit.