Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Web design warning signs: #6 - No sitemap

Sitemaps have two separate but related functions in Web design. An HTML sitemap on your site can help your users see the extent of your content and navigate easily. An XML sitemap helps search engines correctly index the structure of your site. Your Web designers should not only include both types of sitemaps, they should also have a plan for keeping them updated, especially if your site content is dynamic.

HTML Sitemaps
On each of the Praetorian Group’s sites, there is a link to the sitemap in the footer of every page. This lets users jump directly to a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the site, to see how it is organized. For example: shows which pages are sub pages of each other, which pages are product pages versus news pages, and so on.

Especially if your site is large or your content changes frequently, users may look for a sitemap page to help orient themselves or locate specific sections.

XML Sitemaps
An XML sitemap is based on a specific protocol – it is a codified way for search engines to learn about what is on your site. Each entry in the XML file shows a URL on your site and optional information such as when that URL was last updated, and how frequently it is updated. This helps search engines find your pages and know how often to check them for new content.

Although many search engines will crawl HTML sitemaps, your designer should be familiar with the XML sitemap format required for this type of sitemap, and the various ways to submit it to search engines. Details are available on

Working with your Designer on Sitemaps
Because they reflect the underlying structure of your site, sitemaps shouldn’t be considered a secondary part of your Web design process. Some designers recommend starting by giving your designer a chart or “wire frame” showing the main sections and sub-sections of your site – this is a basic sitemap, and can grow into the HTML sitemap that will appear on your site.

For both the HTML and XML sitemaps, ask your designer how and when the sitemap will be updated. If you are able to add pages to your site without your designer, those changes should ideally be automatically reflected in both sitemaps. If they aren’t, make sure your Web designer has a plan for doing ongoing manual updating of both sitemaps.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Web design warning signs: #7 - No distinct titles or meta descriptions

Distinct page titles and meta tags are two of the most important elements that search engines like Google and YAHOO! rely on to differentiate the pages on your site and present them to their users in search results. If your design company is building the HTML and coding your Web site, make sure they have a plan for including descriptive titles and meta tags on each page. Or, if you are using a content management make sure they support distinct title and meta tags.

Page Titles

Titles are the text that displays in the user’s browser bar when they come to your page. Every page should have a browser title that reflects the most important content of the page. This is useful for your readers, who will see the title when your Web page is minimized or viewed in a tab, and search engines, which read titles to help determine the topic of the page.

Ideally, the title of each of your pages should be different. For example, the title of is simply “ThinkOnlineNow”. But the title of an individual post page (such as includes the title of the post, “ThinkOnlineNow: Web design warning signs: #8 – No discussion of SEO strategy”. Using “ThinkOnlineNow” as the title of every page would not be as effective.

Meta Tags

Meta Tags are included in the code of your Web pages, but are not displayed on your Web page when viewed through a browser. They allow you to include a short description and a set of keywords for each of your pages. Search engines take the meta description and keywords of your page into account when determining its rank for various search terms. The meta description will be displayed when your page appears in a search engine results listing.

For example, the ‘Body Armor’ page on uses meta descriptions and keywords that include different words relating to body armor, the names of body armor manufacturers, and other terms users might search for when they want to research police body armor. Meta tags are specified in the header section of the HTML:
<meta name="keywords" content="Body Armor, Law Enforcement Body Armor,Police Body Armor, Police vests, Protective body armor, bullet proof vest, kevlar body armor, kevlar vest, kevlar vests, police armor, police protective gear, police under armor, swat body armor, swat bullet proof vest">

<meta name="description" content="Research and buy Body Armor for law enforcement and police. Find products, videos, companies, articles, press releases and tips.">
The description above appears in a Google results listing:

(Click to enlarge)

This text is designed to help people understand what the page is about when they find it via a search engine.

As your designer builds your site’s HTML, they will need to include both titles and meta tags. If they are not familiar with the content of your site, they should either provide you with a way to submit this information for each page, or automatically generate titles and meta tags based on the content the page. Note that meta descriptions are the most important element. There is debate as to whether search engines currently put much weight on meta keywords. You can likely get away with a standard set of keywords that you use across your site and make minor modifications for important pages.

If you plan to expand your site, it is important to work out a system with your designer to ensure that future pages always include distinct titles, descriptions and address meta tags.

Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs