Web design and SEO make a great team. An attractive website deserves great exposure, and a high-ranking website should look decent. Too often, though, companies choose one or the other, either because of lack of budget or lack of awareness. It seems like search engine optimization is typically the last one picked for the team—until the company starts to wonder why it doesn’t rank high in the search engine results pages. A designer can help a brand get set up for SEO success, and, in fact, it might be more important today than ever before. I’m going to show you how web design for SEO can be a home run.
Ideally, a website will be created with good design and SEO in mind. SEO requires perpetual conditioning through content generation. While content strategy must play a huge part in SEO, a site’s design and development is increasingly important. In the last 12 months, Google and other major search engines have started using HTML and style guides as signals to gauge a site’s relevance. These signals affect a site’s ability to rank and, in some instances, to remain in the search engines’ indexes all together. Google especially has been removing from the first page sites that focus solely on quantity rather than quality.
To design a website with SEO in mind, there are three core components to consider:
- Speed: Google (and your users!) want websites to be fast. If your website is slow, users will bounce—leave immediately. But did you know this is a signal that search engines use as well? Speed can help determine a page’s place in search engine results.
- Substance: The days of sloppy 100-word pages created solely to rank for competitive terms are behind us. Force your client or company to create pages that matter, and design a website with user experience in mind. High-ranking pages clearly communicate in depth on a specific subject.
- Scalability: If your design doesn’t have the potential to grow with a business, chances are you have limited its ability to rank for key phrases in the future.
Designing for speed
When designing for speed, heed these tips:
- Limit the use of Flash. It slows down the load time, and mobile products by Apple won’t be able to see the site at all.
- Compress your images. Images are a huge part of a website’s success, but be smart about the file sizes. Use web-optimized JPG or GIF files, not huge JPGs—and don’t even think about TIFs.
- Reduce server requests. Consider the amount of content you are using from external sources, such as widgets that pull in videos, feeds or other API-powered tools.
- Keep the page size down. I love long pages with lots of content. But most servers and browsers don’t.
Designing for substance
I already mentioned that 100-word pages aren’t dominating the top of the search engine result pages anymore. If you’re working with an existing site with hundreds of chunks of flimsy content, consider condensing them into rich pages that answer questions and inform the visitors. If you’re working on a new project, be sure to work with content generators to come up with a site map that serves users’ needs and organizes content well. The visitors referred by search engines will be much more likely to stay and return.
Well-written and well-designed pages are what build links, and links are fuel for rankings. Website content should use both images and text, and header tags are an important design element as well as a way to convey the importance of your content to search engines.
Designing for scalability
If you’re working with an existing website, you must design with the content management system (CMS) in mind. (WordPress is one of the most popular and flexible.) Content editors and brand mangers need to be able to easily update the site, and fresh content is crucial for ranking well in search engine results pages. Web designers need to be designing for growth and scalability when building a website for a client.
Especially if you’re working on an all-new project, you have to consider future content needs. Creating page templates for specific sections of the site will make it easy for those adding and updating content to follow the visual standards that enrich the content and the user experience. This also ensures that the website is crawlable and SEO-friendly.
Keeping these three simple web design for SEO concepts in mind when starting a web design project will help your client or company rank high in search engines and be more successful.