February 15, 2011, 8:32 AM

Good site design is key to search engine optimization

Boosting organic search results requires clean site design.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Lead Photo

Eric Enge speaking at IRWD 2011.

Original content is key to generating links to a retail web site, and those links are critical to boosting a site’s position in search engine results, speakers explained Monday at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference.

Roughly 72% of how search engines generate their rankings is based on external factors—external links to the site (66%) and social media (6%), according to search engine optimization software provider SEOmoz. That means retailers have to prioritize how users see their sites when looking at their site design and give them a reason to link to their pages, Eric Enge, Stone Temple Consulting president, told attendees at the conference.

 People don’t tend to link to a site just to make you money,” he said in a session entitled “Joined at the hip: Site design and search engine rankings.” “You have to do things to encourage links to your page.”

One way to garner links is to offer original content, such as a unique description or a special promotion on a product page.

For online-only textbook retailer eCampus.com, its original offerings include images, unique product descriptions and user reviews that bolster its organic ranking. While search engine spiders—the crawlers that comb through the content from web sites and add it to search engine indexes—cannot usually decipher images, retailers can circumvent that problem by using a descriptive image name, as well as what is known as an image alt attribute, a description of an image originally intended to enable the blind to navigate the web. ECampus began focusing heavily on search engine optimization in 2009, when it decided its pay-per-click efforts were cutting too deeply into its bottom line, said Mark Carson, vice president of marketing, during the session. Beyond original content, the retailer also examined the visibility of various internal links within its site. For instance, it added a tag cloud at the bottom of its home page that features some of the most popular phrases consumers search for, such as “textbook rental,” “used textbooks” and “textbook buyback.”

Similarly the site’s home page features anchor text—the text that appears when a site visitor hovers over a hyperlink—that includes some of the most popular search words, such as Buy Textbooks, Sell Textbooks, that lead consumers to the site.

“We want to capture the most popular search words so when students search where they can rent textbooks, we’ll be as high as we can in the results,” said Carson.

By paying heed to how the spiders from Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines crawled its site and indexed content, the online retailer redesigned its pages and improved its natural search results by eliminating unnecessary Flash elements on the home page that the spiders couldn’t read.

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