Website design and organic search performance are intrinsically linked, which is to say that design has an observable effect on a website’s ability to rank well for relevant terms. This can become problematic for companies with isolated teams, where design and marketing don’t work closely together, or in cases where marketing is only brought onto a project after a site has already been launched. Sites designed without SEO in mind can cause ranking issues down the line.
At our digital agency, we work with clients across industries to design and develop websites that are built with SEO best practices in mind. We combine a designer’s eye with proper marketing and SEO strategies to design and redesign projects from the beginning, resulting in websites that are as beautiful as they are SEO-friendly. From this experience, we’ve gained a lot of insight into the interplay between a site’s design and its ability to rank well in organic search.
Below we cover 4 methods to ensure your design is helping, as opposed to hindering, your SEO efforts.
1 – Know your usability factors
The goal of search engines is to provide the best results they possibly can to users who search on their platforms. This is the best way to ensure customer satisfaction and keep users coming back. More users equal more advertisers, and more advertisers equal more profits.
What this means on a practical level is that search engines will reward sites that offer great experiences to users. The last thing they want is to place a site in the first position of the results page and have a user click on that site only to realize that it’s frustrating or difficult to use. Poor usability translates to a bad user experience with the search engine. Good usability translates to user satisfaction with both the website in question and the search engine that included it in the results.
Good user experience will bear itself out in longer time spent on a page/site, higher volumes of inbound links, and a healthy amount of social shares. These factors are seen as indications of quality and therefore are rewarded by search engines. Of course, by now we all know that it’s not enough to focus solely on desktop usability – mobile usability has an equally important role to play in the overall picture of user experience. Mobile-friendliness is an absolute must if you’re hoping to make gains in organic search visibility, and it should be a primary design focus.
Urban Outfitters website showcases excellent usability, with a streamlined layout of tabs broadcasting their offerings which allows for users to find what they’re looking for effortlessly, Photo Credit: Urban Outfitters
2 – Design for content discoverability
In order for content to be crawled and indexed by search engines, it needs to be discoverable. Search engines, though sophisticated, are limited to discovering content through links. If the proper links to your content don’t exist, or they’re buried or broken, your content won’t be discovered and it will be impossible to get your site’s pages to rank.
Your goal from a design perspective is to create a site architecture that is intuitive for users to engage with, while your goal from an SEO perspective is to create an architecture that allows pages to be crawled and distributes internal links judiciously. Fortunately, these goals are aligned and can be achieved simultaneously. Prioritize your most important content high up in the architecture – this will include top level service or product categories, which should also map directly to your priority keyword themes. From there, create subcategories and individual product or service pages.
A search for ‘craft beer’ on bing results, Guinness has mastered content discoverability through SEO, Photo Credit: bing
3 – Plan for high quality content
The content on your website is what tells search engines what each page is about. Where it once was enough to stuff landing pages full of keywords to achieve rankings, modern SEO is all about quality content.
In order to create content that can truly be called high quality; you need to begin planning for it before the design phase or redesign is underway. For each page you’re creating you should ask yourself: what purpose does this page serve? What do users want/need to know about this topic? What types of content are necessary to convey our message as effectively as possible? The answers to these questions should be used to inform the design of the site because the design of it must be conceived to accommodate the content you’ve deemed necessary. The alternative means wedging content in after the fact, when ideas about the design may have already become entrenched and difficult to alter.
4 – Be vigilant during a redesign
A redesign can be a dangerous time for the SEO value of a website. A website redesign that’s done without the input of a search expert puts the company at risk of losing much of the SEO value it’s spent years building. Not realizing this, many companies waltz blindly into a redesign, only discovering their error when their organic traffic takes a nosedive.
Before you begin the redesign process, you should crawl your site to come up with a view of the current site, including all the pages on the site and relevant information associated with them (eg; current rankings, existing title tags). Are any of these pages outdated or redundant? If so, where can they be redirected in your new architecture? Which of the current site pages rank highly for your target keywords? Comb through all of your content to make sure that none of it gets left behind in the redesign – it’s essential that high value content is maintained on the new site. If you’re changing URL structure make sure to do a redirect map and have redirects in place at the time the new site goes live.
Many companies aren’t aware of the extent to which design influences SEO. They’ll spend all their time to trying to create content that attracts links and social shares, and never think about the fact that their content is barely readable on mobile, or that pages buried deep in their site architecture have never been indexed at all. Being aware of the ways in which design and SEO are linked will help ensure your site has every opportunity to rank for the key terms and themes that matter to your business.