Search engine optimisation (often called SEO) is a frequently mentioned phrase when talking about website design. In simple terms, SEO is making sure that your website is structured and written in a way that helps the search engines categorise your web pages to then return them to people searching for related content online.
Google's own Webmaster Guidelines offer a straight forward message - design your website for visitors, not for search engines. If your website pages are full of relevant and engaging content, and are well structured with use of good navigation, then this is the best way to improve how well your website performs in search results.
There is a never-ending move in recent years to find methods that trick search engines into ranking your website higher up the search results, however on the other side of the coin, the search engines are also getting more intelligent and each new update from Google, Bing, Yahoo etc. sees more websites drop off the search results due to use of such tricks. These tricks are often referred to as 'Black Hat SEO'.
Black Hat SEO covers a wide range of methods that some web designers and search engine optimisation companies use to try and trick the search engines into ranking their websites better in search results. These tricks include, but are not limited to:
All the major search engines are getting better and better at spotting when these techniques are used. Whilst initially they may see your website jump up the search results, it is highly likely that in the longer term your website could disappear from the results altogether! As the search engines continue to improve and address such poor techniques, the more chance of your website being affected.
With so many positive 'White Hat SEO' techniques that can be used, there really is no reason that any website designer or SEO 'professional' should be using any of the above techniques when creating or performing SEO on your website.
When looking for a website designer for your business, check out their previous work and see if you can spot any of these techniques - if you can, question whether this person or company is one you wish to deal with, it really could have a negative impact on how well your website performs online, and is not worth the risk!