I know what you’re thinking, what in the world do these web topics have to do with Lucky Charms?

Thanks for asking. By the end of this article, the analogy grenade will have gone off and you’ll have an “Ah, yeah” moment.

Well-done, search-friendly web design needs to be reinforced as (a) many clients are unaware of the importance when seeking an agency and (b) there are many designers and agencies out there who don’t subscribe to the practice of melding the two together.

An analogy, such as the one you are about to experience, no matter how immature it may seem, will hopefully make things clearer and easier to “stomach” in the end.

Now, there is no technical, direct comparison of good, search-friendly web design & development to Lucky Charms, only those of the indirect kind. But, they beg to be made for argument’s sake, insight and a little fun.

Let’s get to it.

FIRST, WHY BE SEARCH ENGINE FRIENDLY?

I like to think of building a website to be somewhat akin to erecting a fancy billboard out in the middle of nowhere. Forget the Kevin Costner movie where the spirits say “build it and they will come.” The Internet landscape, as magical as it can seem, doesn’t quite work like that.

A reason being, a huge percentage of Internet users start their sessions from a search engine. Most likely they return to their search engine of choice before finishing up what they sat at the keyboard to do in the first place.

That billboard you built in the middle of nowhere will most likely remain the middle of Internet nowhere, unless of course, your designers, developers and SEO people work in concert with your goals to begin with. That is not to say things can’t be fixed, but it’s a safe bet to make that one should launch a site that is search engine friendly to begin with, instead of applying slow-acting bandaids or worse yet, starting from scratch.

Being search engine friendly helps visitors find you. Being search engine friendly helps build and populate roads that run past your billboard. That way, your message gets seen. That was the point, right?

HEY, WHAT ABOUT THE LUCKY CHARMS?

Lucky Charms? Okay, here we go. Stay with me.

General Mills has been feeding hungry kids (and adult children) for decades with some sweet treats in the morning. We know them as breakfast cereals. They “nice them up” by expounding how good for you they are—something like 12 VITAMINS AND MINERALS. With all of that, it must be a healthy addition to any morning routine. Just in case that didn’t get mom and dad to pour bowl after hearty bowl of the good stuff, an endearing character and bright colors to dazzle the eyes and minds of children fills their psyches to no end. Yum.

Little does the packaging do to explain about all the sugars and additives that fill each unhealthy morsel. Again, yum.

Lucky Charms is one such breakfast meal. Let us use the adult child as our example. The ‘charms’ have enough fuel to rocket you into hyperspace, or at least until the lunchtime crash. Tiny bits of colorless oat (ooh, look, they are healthy!) are surrounded in the bowl by sugary powderpuff marshmallow bits in colorful shapes: clovers, pots of gold, stars, hearts, horseshoes, moons, rainbows and balloons.

You fill your bowl carefully, not spilling (and if you do, you eat the colorful sugary ones and knock the oats to the floor, only to be swept under the rug) and then generously add your wholesome milk.

You’re certainly welcome to make your own comparisons (and leave them as comments below), but hear me out as I make my own. See if you agree.

Some designers and agencies are quick to deliver flashy, colorful, chock-full of wow websites. They ‘nice them up’ and sell you every reason why the site is world-class. They might even give you a list of reasons why it is the greatest thing since the inception of your Internet slice of bread. This my friends, is the bowl of Lucky Charms. You know you want the site. You’ve wanted it badly for a long time. The designers knocked you dead with the sugary sweetness of it’s appearance and provided 12 reasons why it smacks of goodness. It rockets you into hyperspace through all the excitement, but, like the Charms themselves, you’ll eventually crash.

WHY?

Unless your site was designed and developed with search engine friendly best-practices, you’ve essentially purchased a nice looking billboard and erected it in an empty field. Do you hear the crickets? I do.

MORAL OF THE STORY PART 1

Let the possibly contrived list of healthy reasons why the website is the cat’s meow fall right off the table. The colorful bits of cool and excitement over take and this is the website to beat all websites. Right? Wrong.

Moral: Better to be savvy than sorry

Don’t forsake the reason why you wanted a website in the first place just for the wow factor. In fact, you can have a wow factor and still find success on the Internet. How? Read on.

GOOD WEB DESIGN AND SEO (SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION)

If you’re even slightly Internet savvy you’ve probably heard of SEO (search engine optimization) as a great marketing tool. And, it is. However, SEO isn’t relegated to the marketing department alone. In fact, web design and development are serious contenders in the process of optimizing a site from the ground up.

Traffic (and in many cases high volumes of traffic) can easily be lost without a search friendly design.

Poorly constructed sites (including design, navigation, usability and poor development coding) can work against you in regards to search engine inclusion and visitor usability.

If your website is not being found in search results, your missing an enormous chunk of your possible target audience.

MORAL OF THE STORY Part 2

Some research indicates that there are designers and agencies who (a) don’t know what SEO is and (b) some don’t think optimization is a part of the design & development process.

Moral: A bunch of baloney might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

SOME VITAL VITAMINS & MINERALS FOR WEB DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT
(Search-friendly Web design & development tidbits)

CLEAN THE CODE PIPES

A cleanly coded and structured website will work wonders for you when it comes to search engine spiders. They will have an easier time crawling your site and will probably be able to crawl it quickly and comprehensively so as to not stop short of indexing as many pages as possible.

HOME PAGE

Since search engines gravitate to the homepage first and then follow links from the homepage to crawl deeper into the site, make sure that (a) your linking structure is presented and coded in a way that the search engines can understand. While some of the big players in the search game are getting better at reading flash, continue to consider them as a text-based spider. When it comes to navigation, are any of the interior pages further than 3 clicks away from the homepage? If so, ask your design/developer why and how he/she intends to have those deep pages indexed initially, especially without inbound links pointing to those pages at or around launch.

SITEMAP

Does your site have both an HTML and XML sitemap? Hope so, for usability and search engine friendliness.

HOLDING THE VISITOR’S HAND

A clean, crisp, well-designed page should guide the user in a certain sequence of viewing events so as to drive both the message and the experience of the site in a certain direction. Design elements on a site are carefully placed in order to convey information and usability. When done correctly the site design should be both ‘sticky’ and further navigation essential & encouraged.

FULL-FLASH SITES

Of course, a full-flash site has historically been a no-no when considering SEO. A good developer should be able to explain how a flash site, theoretically, can be indexed. But, it might be about time that full-flash sites get hip to the fact that Google and the like are getting hip to alt sites. While creating and directing an engine to an alt site for spidering seems like a viable route to take, a trend is to realize that Google realizes there are essentially two versions of the site. This may send up a little red flag with the search engines, even if the content is essentially the same.

KEEP IT CLEAN!

The design should be clean, simple, organized and optimized. Look at headings, alt tags, meta descriptions, title tags and content. Learn a little about on-page optimization and see that your designer and developer are focusing attention on these items.

ANTIQUATED ANCHOR TEXT

Through design and development, use descriptive, varied keywords as your anchor text rather than the wildly out-dated ‘click here’.

FLASH MENUS & AJAX-DRIVEN NAVIGATION

The search engines won’t follow your flash menus or Ajax-driven navigation unless you provide an alternative for them. Is your developer/designer preparing for this?

SPLASH

Is your splash page holding your site back from being included in the search engine index? Ask your designer / developer for examples of how he/she intends to remedy this potential wall.

So, no ill will towards Lucky Charms, I like them. Do yourself a service and leave them at home and leave behind the bells and whistles of web design and development unless they are meaningful, utilitarian and search engine friendly.

~ Joe Schaefer heads up Internet Marketing efforts at Overit Media, a web design & development company in Albany, NY.