What came first, the website design or the SEO?
If you’re undertaking a new website design and build project, one of the key things you need to consider is search engine optimisation (SEO). Not only does your website need to look good, but it also has to perform well for your site to get found in organic search results.
SEO is a strategy used to improve your website rankings and it is a key element of designing and building your website. There has, however, been constant friction between website design and SEO.
What’s good for SEO is not always good for design. SEO relies on creating high-quality content, using relevant meta fields to incorporate your keywords, and typically, providing a lot of in-depth information on a specific topic.
Designers tend to hate copy. Instead, they prefer to focus on making a website look great through images, graphics, and white space.
During a website design and build project, there can often be a lot of conflict between an SEO agency and a website design agency. This can lead to issues with the final product and you could end up with a website that doesn’t look great but is well optimised for search engines or that looks really great but that no one will ever find it.
That’s why it’s important that both need to work in harmony.
What is SEO?
Before we delve into the importance of marrying SEO and website design, it’s best to understand the importance of both in isolation.
SEO is the practice of making your website readily accessible to search engines. It is a complicated discipline and one that has many different aspects as SEO professionals try to interpret thousands of potential ranking factors and understand which ones will have the biggest impact on the websites they are optimising.
Good SEO is built around understanding the keywords that are most relevant to your business. Once you have identified those keywords, you then need to optimise your content for those keywords both in your content’s main body and using the relevant meta fields with a particular focus on the page title, meta description, and schema markup fields.
SEO is an extremely important tactic for businesses large and small and should be prioritised during a website design and build project.
What is website design?
As the name suggests, website design is the process of designing websites that are displayed online. Until the mid-2010s, website designers would primarily focus on designing websites for desktop display, however, since the introduction of Google’s mobile-first indexing in July 2019, website designers have been primarily focused on designing for mobile, first, and then desktop after.
Website design is a crucial part of the overall user experience and is the way that a brand is portrayed online. The overall design and layout of your website is a critical aspect in getting users to do what you want them to do when they visit your website. This is especially true when considering the path to conversion. The colour of your call-to-action buttons, the positioning of your buttons, your navigation – all of these design elements can have a huge impact on the ways user’s interact with your website.
How website design and SEO need to work in harmony
The best practices for SEO have changed over the years. In days gone by, SEOs were able to manipulate rankings by carrying out ‘black hat’ tactics like link spamming, however, these days are long gone.
Instead, SEO has become more aligned with the best practices of website design – focus on the user.
Previously, ‘good’ website content would be written in a spammy way, littered with keywords that were simply spammed into the content. Now, the focus is all about the customer and writing content that is human-friendly first. It is still important to include the relevant keywords that have been identified as important to your business, however, these should be inserted into your content naturally rather than being the primary focus of your content piece.
In an ideal world, a website designer would work with an SEO during the design process. Whilst optimisation can be done post design and build, it’s much easier to design and develop an optimised site from the beginning.
This of course means that there will be compromises. Sometimes your designer will have to conceded and include more copy. Sometimes your SEO specialist will have to concede and agree to use a drop-down to display some of the lengthy content. By working together, however, you should end up with a website that not only looks good, but that also performs well and attracts visitors.
How does bad design impact SEO?
If you have a website that is poorly designed, your SEO will also suffer, even if you have optimised for your target keywords. That’s because the user experience on a poorly designed website is likely to make people bounce off the site and this can negatively impact your rankings.
If your website is not mobile-friendly, or if your content is slow to load, then you are creating barriers for people to engage with your website. By embracing good design practices, you will keep both your human customer happy and search engine crawlers.
What are the compromises SEOs make during website design?
One of the most common conflicts between a website designer and SEOs is content. SEOs always want more content. That’s because Google likes to see websites that are authoritative about a particular topic and typically that means more content. It also means the quality of content too but the likelihood is that a designer is going to push for less content so compromises have to be made to create a design that looks good and ticks all the SEO boxes.
There are many examples of major brands that have compromised on their website’s SEO to maximise the design potential.
Take the Adidas website here in Australia. Even a huge global brand like Adidas recognises that they are in a competitive market and they want to appear in the search results for terms like ‘sports store’ and ‘sports shop for women’ so they make sure that copy is included on the homepage. From a design perspective, however, it is tucked away at the bottom of the page, below all the nice imagery and graphics that really entice a user to do more – a perfect compromise.
Online casinos are in a super-competitive industry with many sites around the world competing for the same highly lucrative keywords. Website designers will want to focus on enticing graphics that draw a user’s eye and encourage them to click – essentially a conversion for that particular page. SEOs on the other hand want to make sure that they are optimising the copy for the keywords that people are searching for.
Betway Casino gets around this by using a ‘Read more’ button so they only have to show a small amount of copy to the user, however, the rest of that copy can be read by Google’s search spider and user for indexing purposes.
Above the ‘Read more’ button, we see two lines of copy. Below the line, we see a lot more:
This is a very common strategy and one that is used to great effect by designers to satisfy the needs of SEOs.
Another common tactic is to use a series of drop-down menus to help to keep the displayed copy to a minimum. That way, it’s down to the customer to choose if they want to read more about specific information on a webpage and typically a designer will choose to display only the primary piece of information. This can be seen on the leading supplement site, Two Islands who use drop-down navigation to keep their product information section to a minimum and keep the section nice a tidy alongside a product image:
Website design and SEO will always be in a constant state of conflict, however, there is no reason they can’t go hand in hand and work in harmony with a little compromise and some creative thinking.