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Search Friendly = User Friendly

TORONTO -- The more things change, the more they stay the same, especially with search engines.

In a series of presentations at Search Engine Strategies Canada conference here, search optimization experts and representatives from the big four search engines emphasized that the basics of search optimization are the same as they always have been. It's about content, relevancy and thinking about the user.

"Is search engine optimization and good search design mutually exclusive? The answer is no," Gord Hotchkiss of search research firm Enquiro said. "Fundamentally, the basics only get truer over the years."

During a presentation about Search Engine Friendly design, Matt Bailey, a consultant with SEO (search engine optimization) firm Sitelogic, asked how many participants had ever actually bothered to visit Google's Webmaster guidelines page. Only half of the audience raised their hands.

Bailey and others reminded users that much of what they need to find out about how to get indexed by search engines is posted on the search engines themselves.

Bailey also urged attendees to follow the W3C accessibility standards, which are about more than just allowing those with physical challenges to experience a site.

"Search engine crawlers cannot see touch or feel and they don't eat cookies. All they can do is download pages, find text and follow links," Bailey said. "They are the most disabled users of your site."

CSS and validation with W3C markup standards are also good for search friendliness, according to Bailey. He explained that CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) help to separate the presentation layout from the actual content, which makes it easier for search engines to see the real content.

Google Search Evangelist Adam Lasnik noted that accessibility, CSS and W3C validation are nice things to have -- but not to expect they would improve search ranking alone.

"We don't give brownie points based upon validation," Lasnik said. "A site's got to be badly broken to choke the googlebot."

Lasnik told the audience that naturally good sites get natural links and user-friendliness leads to Google-goodness.

"Design your site for someone who is impatient and goal driven, skeptical and possibly cranky -- on a wonky slow connection -- oh and sight impaired -- and you're likely to please the googlebot too."