David C. Dalton
Web Application & Database Development, Responsive Website Design, Programming & SEO Services
Many of the problems I see with sites that come in to me for optimization could have been solved the first time the site was built. Honestly, even though I make a living fixing other developer’s mistakes I feel sorry for the clients who have to pay twice for something they didn’t have to. If these clients are anything like me it makes them crazy to have to "pay for the same real estate twice".
What’s Organic Search Engine Optimization 3 - URLs and File Names
Before we get to the "meat and potatoes" of your website (the content) there are two other things we must look at that will, without fail, get your rankings up. They are both within the URL of your page. Just in case you aren’t familiar with the term the URL is what shows up in the location bar of the browser. The URL consists of your domain name and the name of the file that is loaded in to the browser. Both pieces of the URL are big time important to search engine rankings and should never be overlooked!
Your Domain Name
Usually by the time a client has contacted me about optimization picking a domain is old news. I’m hoping some of the readers here will file this information away for the next time they decide on a domain because it can really make a difference! I know choosing a domain name can be a pain to begin with but I’m going to make it just a bit more painful. If there is any way possible to get one or two of your primary keywords into the domain for heaven’s sake do it!
I guess the best example of this I’ve ever seen is my dear friend Theresa over at permanentcosmeticsbytheresa.com. Yes that domain is a mouthful and I usually end up misspelling it but it has lead her to some of the best rankings I’ve ever seen, with about half the amount of work I normally have to put into a site! Of course I helped in many other ways and yes I griped every time I had to type that thing out but for the simple fact that the words permanent and cosmetics are in her domain name (her primary keywords) has significantly helped. Now you may say, "But it’s too long and people won’t remember it". Actually Theresa has told me about 75% of her new clients come in from search engines so in that way they don’t need to remember it! And if you have a great service like Theresa has customers will be darn sure to remember it once they have found you.
I have also been asked many times about using hyphens (-) in domain names. Time was when I hated them but I have really come around 180 on this one. I now use them all the time to find good keyword rich domains. Do you have to use them to get the keywords in? Nope, there is literally no difference between www.keyword-rich-domain.com and www.keywordrichdomain.com. The spiders are smart enough to find the keywords within your domain. So why use them? Simple, lets say keywordrichdomain.com has been taken (pretty common actually) but you really want those keywords, try these combos: keyword-richdomain.com, keywordrich-domain.com and keyword-rich-domain.com. Chances are you will find something.
Using hyphens in the domain does have some disadvantages if you are planning to market your site via anything besides the internet though. It is one giant pain to tell someone your domain is keyword [hyphen] rich [hyphen] domain.com. I personally use these in sites where 99% of my marketing is aimed at, and most of the traffic comes in from, the search engines just for this reason. I do think you will be seeing more and more domains like this though as it has become next to impossible to find great keyword rich domains that are available or not being sold for some stupid amount of money.
Your Page - file names
The names some developers use to name each page on a website never ceases to amaze me. Things like about.html or s.html make me want to track down the developer and break their computer! Seriously now, is it THAT hard to give the file a descriptive name? No it’s not, it is shear laziness on the developers part and if your developer or coder is doing this tell them to stop NOW!
The file name you give to each page should reflect that page’s content (and keywords) in every way, hence it should contain a FEW of the primary keywords for that page! So how do we name them? How about keyword-rich-pagename.html? You will notice I use hyphens between the keywords, again this is not mandatory. I do that because in my server side application I strip out the hyphens and use the words in my page titles, meta tags and sometimes heading tags. Just a habit I got into and never broke. That being said though you should NEVER use underscores (_) to separate words in your files. Many search engine spiders do not recognize an underscore as a word separator!
One final word of warning on the use of hyphens in file names and domains. Don’t get crazy with the amount of hyphens you use as this can (and will) set off spam alarms with the spiders! I usually try to keep the total amount of hyphens down to a maximum of 6, including the domain name, any folder name and the page name. And before anyone comments on this site and its file name I know I’m pushing it but I am doing so much server side manipulation of files I really can’t help it. Hopefully the spiders will take pity on me and overlook my minor infraction of my own rule!
Since next to no one uses plain old HTML files any more I would be amiss if the subject of dynamic urls was overlooked. The use of special characters within a URL can indeed cause some major problems with some of the search engines. It has been rumored that if a spider feels it may get into a recursive loop of urls it will run for the hills. The type of url I am referring to is something like this:
That URL in fact is the exact URL of this page. OK, so you just looked at the location bar and said "Wait one minute here, that’s not in the location bar" and you would be right. To eliminate special characters such as ?, & and to remove unwanted variable names (like folderName and pageName) which we don’t want cluttering up our URL and diluting our keyword density I use what is known as an Apache mod_rewrite script. This is how you eliminate those nasty dynamic URLs, turning them into static appearing URLs and soothing the spiders nerves! Using this mod_rewrite my URLs look like this:
Much better! The mod_rewrite works behind the scenes to convert that pretty, spider friendly URL into the mess you see above and then feeds the "messy" URL to my application, all automatically. As long as your server runs Apache as the web server (90% of the servers out there do) you more than likely have access to this module. There are also other scripts out there for use on Windows™ machines that work almost exactly the same. Now, I’m not here to give you a lesson in Apache scripting so I will stop there. If you or your developer don’t know how to use it I suggest a good Apache book, but then again you could always just hire me too! ;-)