SEO or search engine optimisation is the practice of impacting a website’s ranking in SERPs to try to increase qualified traffic to a relevant page whereas web design is the process of creating a design that can then be turned into a website. On the face of it these are two very different types of activity, however, in reality, the two are so intertwined that every web designer should be highly literate in SEO and every SEO consultant should have a strong understanding of UX and design.
- In short, yes. SEO is important for web design!
The problem is, there are still too many web designers who have very limited understanding about SEO – and too many who think they know about SEO – and there are too many SEO consultants who talk about web design as though it’s something that they don’t need to be involved in.
And when business owners and marketers think about SEO, they generally think about it as something that should be implemented after a web design has been created and in many cases after the initial round of web development has been signed off.
I want everyone thinking about building a website to consider that they’re building a virtual shop or showroom. A website is at the very heart of everything you’re going to do online and in the same way you would put a great deal of thought into creating a new shop or showroom – both in terms of its location and the more physical aspects of what it looks like, the products placed there and how the visitors flow around – you should put at least the same amount of consideration into your website. Perhaps more…
Over the past 16 years of my career, I’ve been involved in the web design, web development and launch of hundreds, maybe thousands of websites. I first built and launched a site of my own in 2000. As a marketing professional heading up various marketing functions I’ve also been involved in managing the process of planning and launching some seriously successful and well-known websites. However, at various points in my career, I have been guilty of thinking of web design and SEO as being separate practices that can be considered separately. I’ve learned a lot over the years!
So let’s run through a fairly typical scenario. Regularly we get phone calls or speak to marketers and business owners who tell us about this amazing, beautiful and creative websites they’ve had built, but it’s not generating leads. In fact, it’s not even ranking. And now they want to speak with an SEO agency who can help them to get it ranking. One of the team here at GrowTraffic will then have the process of looking at the website and coming back to them with some suggestions. If they are happy with our suggestions, the business owner or marketer will then ask us to carry out a more in-depth SEO audit from where we will develop a strategy and plan. This happens all the time. It’s not ideal but is part of our business as usual activity.
The thing is – and we try to be honest about this – SEO should be completely built into a website from the ground up. It shouldn’t be something that’s tacked on afterwards. If you’ve not hard-wired your website for SEO from the very beginning there is every chance you will have to spend a lot of money on rebuilding and redeveloping your website and there’s every chance you won’t reach your objectives in the timescale you originally anticipated.
I’m not going to hit you with the basics of SEO here. I’ll leave that for another blog to cover. However, there are some things to remember even before you start designing. When you speak to a creative, you’re going to get a load of funky ideas about your new website design, but one of the key questions you should be asking is what’s your budget to build the new website and what technology are you going to use?
I know what you’re thinking, and it’s the argument that many designers would make: anything that can be imagined on paper (or on screen) should be able to be created as a website. In many cases and senses, this is a noble web design aspiration. However, there are a number of things to consider.
The first thing to say is that the technology you build your website in may limit the implementation of certain design aspirations. Probably the most popular content management system is WordPress and it is by far one of the most versatile pieces of software available to web developers. In addition, whilst CSS and HTML have been greatly improved over the years there is still plenty of things you can’t actually do with web coding. Different content management systems and different programming languages can all affect the ability of your website to rank. So straight away it should be apparent that web design can’t simply be entered into without thinking about SEO.
Other things that need to be considered in the web design phases – and I’m thinking here about an actual design phase rather than simply grabbing an off the shelf theme – is the crawlability and link architecture of your website. You’ve got to signpost the important content on your website relevant pages on your site. From an SEO perspective, it’s so important to make sure you tell Google what’s important via the links on your site. It’s important to create silos and virtual silos through a well thought out navigation structure and deep interlinking. Links can impact how a website looks and many web designers try to minimise them whereas the best strategy is to incorporate them in the design from the very beginning.
If we go back to the analogy of creating a new shop or showroom, you are likely to create some kind of point-of-sale signage or sales banners or signpost a specific area of your physical location to get people there quicker. It’s the same online.
And it’s not just the case of creating a few links here or there. If you want to get this right, you are going to want to sit down and plan out your user journeys to really understand all the different points of entry to the site and how a user will find the pages you want them to. And when thinking about points of entry I’m not just thinking about the pages they enter the site, but also the reasons they are finding your site. What are their pain points? How does your website help those pain points? Which pages will do this? And where do you want the visitor to go from there?
It’s only with a deep understanding of the wants and needs of your customers, and the way they will interact with your website that a designer can create a deeply intuitive navigation structure.
User signals are increasingly becoming important as ranking signals for Google and other search engines. And the SERPs generally have a historical bias in order to maintain stability in the That means if you launch a website and the content isn’t easy to find, if the site isn’t easy to navigate or if it’s designed in a way that the user doesn’t expect, you can expect them to leave the site quickly, which could suggest to Google that your site doesn’t deserve to rank for the keywords that delivered the user to the site. At best this could lead to pogo-sticking. At worst this could result in your website being dropped from the rankings.
Many people talk about web design as the process of designing a website and then building it. In fact, when I speak to people about web design, that’s often what I’m talking about. In this sense, there are other reasons why SEO should be the foundation of your web design process.
Before you start designing and coding a new website you should know the overall keywords you want your website to target. When uploading files the files should be named with SEO in mind, that means rather than calling an image image1.jpg you should be giving it a keyword rich, descriptive filename. Similarly, when creating the HTML and CSS markup you should be incorporating the keywords, thereby ensuring the targeting is completely embedded in the very structure of the website. On top of this, you’re going to want to use structured markup to let Google know what every element of the page is about.
This is what SEO web design is all about. And it’s something that many very talented and creative web designers consider less important or have a very limited understanding of. These are the things that are also very difficult to retrofit to a website.
So to summarise, SEO is important for web design if you want to give your website the best chance to rank well for the long term without the need to revisit the optimisation or even being forced to rebuild your website in the short to medium term.