Review: Building Findable Websites

Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO and Beyond by Aarron Walter is a book that I’ve got a lot out of. Its full of useful material which should be of real practical help to people involved in any facet of a web project. It has a refreshingly holistic approach which looks at website findability in the widest possible manner, avoiding the narrowly doctrinaire perspective of some writings on web standards, SEO or accessibility and including lots of examples which are immediately useful in the real world.

His wide-ranging remit means that the book will probably be most appreciated by webmasters or web project managers whose roles involve them needing to straddle a range of disciplines. Web developers, designers or SEO gurus may perceive some of it as unfocused as it switches rapidly between generalist explanations and low-level technical examples, with topics covered ranging over coding, server administration, marketing tips and WordPress implementations. However, this variety appealed to me and should ensure that most readers are going to learn at least something new about areas they may not know so much about.

After introducing the author’s concept of findability as a discipline, the book starts by discussing markup strategies. The importance of web standards and accessibility are predictably emphasised, but there’s also a spirited defence of the benefits of web standards for SEO which is interesting. The book then moves into a discussion of server-side strategies for findability with advice on domain names, search engine friendly URLs, redirects, 404 pages, optimizing performance and controlling search engine indexing.

The middle section of the book discusses content creation for findability and then includes a whole chapter on findability for blogs. This was probably my favourite single section and includes lots of specific stuff about using WordPress. There’s then a chapter on adding search to your site. This discusses a range of options, including both free and paid-for solutions. For me personally, the most useful tip in the book was on page 156 in this section. Here you can find out how to implement Google Custom Search Engine so that users who don’t have JavaScript won’t get an empty search results page, without having to direct all users to search results hosted on Google’s site. The apparent reliance on JavaScript had been putting me off using Google CSE where I wanted to integrate it into my own sites, so this was really useful to me.

The book continues with a look at solving findability problems with JavaScript, Flash and audio / video content. It then moves onto an overview of mailing lists before concluding with a chapter on “Putting Findability Into Practice”, emphasising the need to adapt the techniques introduced in the book to the specific needs of your own projects.

In general, the book’s got a nice readable style. The expected experience level of readers is pitched at “Intermediate to Advanced” according to the back cover and people just starting out may find some of the more technical stuff a bit daunting. However, there’s a decent effort made to explain even the more complicated concepts and beginners could still learn a lot. Good references are included to further reading and also to some relevant podcasts – which is something I really appreciate when authors include.

The companion site is a great addition to the published book. It includes a comprehensive list of links to useful resources and a further five chapters of the book available free. I thought the chapter on web traffic analysis was a particularly good introduction to the topic, but all of the free chapters are worth reading. There is also a Findability Strategy Checklist which acts as a quick reference for the topics covered in the book. This is a nice practical tool which could be useful for any web project.

Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO and Beyond is by Aarron Walter and is published by New Riders.

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