For many people, the worlds of web design and SEO seem to be two entirely separate fields. Many business owners assume that SEO is something that you do after you’ve created your website.
Web design is all about pretty visuals and functional websites; SEO, on the other hand, focuses on driving traffic for lead generation. However, SEO and web design should work in tandem to support the same goals—a marketing strategy that prioritizes lead generation. You get better results and bolster marketing efforts if you integrate SEO throughout the web design process.
If this is news to you, you’re not alone. Many businesses treat SEO and web design as two separate competencies when the two strategies should be developed together.
While SEO focuses on improving your search rank, it’s more than using the right tags and metadata. Multiple factors can impact your website’s SEO strategy—from what visitors see when they land on your website to the structural design that allows them to navigate and interact with it. Even the way you format page links can have an impact on how easy it is to find your pages and how relevant they appear to algorithmic web crawlers.
Page URLs Matter- Information Architecture and SEO
Information architecture refers to navigation and URL formatting. While this concept includes a navigation bar that’s legible and easy for website visitors to use, it also refers to the actual formatting of your site's URLs (also known as page links).
Page links are often ignored when planning for SEO, but they can easily help your business to rank higher if done properly. Be intentional with your page links and approach your website build process as if you were a consumer coming to your website for the first time.
Here’s a multiple-choice quiz: If you own Joe’s Pizza Shop, and you have a website called joespizza.com, which menu page makes more sense from an SEO perspective:
Let's review each proposed URL structure in turn:
- Food is too generic: someone searching for ice cream may find this page for example, but obviously is not looking for pizza.
- The second link is definitely better, but “yummy pizza” may be too niche a keyword.
- The third URL is the most optimized because it targets specific keywords that could be relevant to someone looking for pizza shops that serve more than a basic cheese pizza.
- Hopefully we can all agree that the last link is problematic. That random numeric string is irrelevant. There’s nothing beyond the root domain for a search engine web crawler to recognize.
For SEO, you need links that are properly structured and web crawler-friendly. The sample URL joespizza.com/menu/specialty-pizzas is the most SEO-friendly. So, if you never gave much thought to how your page links are structured, it’s a good idea during the web design process to go back through existing pages to discover where there’s room for improvement.
Balance Text to Be SEO-Friendly
Leveraging SEO means that you need to create a website that, while aesthetically pleasing, is also web crawler-friendly. And a common area where SEO and web design butt heads is with content.
Content helps to drive keyword strategies, but it can also trip up SEO goals if it’s not properly structured. In this regard, web crawlers and humans are a bit similar.
1. Break Up Walls of Text
Large chunks of text that aren’t properly broken up don’t just turn off living, breathing website visitors. They can also be ignored by crawlers. Walls of text can be intimidating for visitors, especially if it’s their first time visiting your website. Break up your content into digestible segments.
2. Take Advantage of Headers
Along with being natural breaks, headers serve as a table of contents for your text. For those who skim your pages, they provide a general guide of what’s discussed in the content. It’s even more important to leverage headers as an opportunity to insert relevant keywords—to be noticed by web crawlers.
3. Balance Text and Visual Content
Beyond being nice to look at and effective at grabbing people’s attention, visual content is another opportunity to boost SEO. Images and video should be properly tagged with "alt" text, where you can include relevant keywords that can improve page rank.
4. Don’t Forget the CTAs
The whole reason you’re driving traffic to your website is to encourage people to take an action. So, while it’s important to have visual buttons that encourage the same behavior, in-line call-to-action (CTA) text links sprinkled throughout your content can also be helpful. The last thing you want is to draw someone in with alluring copy and then leave them scrolling to the bottom or top to take the next step. On that note... don't forget to...
Make Sure Content Is Relevant and Original
Every business can benefit from having relevant copy on its website. In the early days of SEO it was a lot like the Wild West, with black-hat tactics being used frequently. Pretty much anything was an acceptable strategy if it brought eyeballs to a website. This included people copying and pasting content from other websites or sources and passing it off as original on their own pages.
Many websites at the time started keyword stuffing to boost their rankings. This normally manifested as content that was unnaturally full of keywords. Or for people who wanted to fly under the radar, blank spaces on pages were repurposed as keyword hiding places with content written in white text (or the same color as the background) so that it wasn’t visible to visitors but registered with search engines.
Eventually, search engines got hip to the tricks and began to create algorithms that ignored what we now consider spammy content. Overt keyword stuffing hurts your website ranks.
Copying and pasting from other websites—even with permission—will also hurt you. Depending on how your domain authority stacks up against the original poster, your page may be viewed as duplicate content and eliminated from search results. So, when you create a content strategy, make sure you create original work.
Use a Good Keyword Strategy
Every business can benefit from having relevant copy on its website. Keywords are the difference between a discoverable website and one that doesn’t support an SEO strategy. If you’re focused on creating relevant content, this is a natural area where proper keyword implementation makes sense. Even if you’re in a visual industry, consider incorporating a blog so that you have something for search engines to find.
Conducting Keyword Research
This is a critical step that many people fail to do properly. Research keywords that are relevant for your business but aren’t so competitive as to be impossible for your brand to rank when using them.
For example, if you own a shoe store in Atlanta, “shoes” might seem like a natural keyword to include. But if you perform a keyword search, you’ll see that the word is so competitive, the likelihood of capturing a page-one slot in an internet search is slim.
On the other hand, if your shoe store is located in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, and you include “Buckhead shoe stores” as a keyword, you’ll have a higher chance of getting better SEO results.
Next, be mindful of keyword density. Don’t go crazy trying to force a keyword—whether it’s a single word or a phrase—into content where it doesn’t make sense. Your audience can tell that it’s unnatural, and Google can too.
If you've done your job properly, good content serves as a natural SEO device.
Keywords alone aren’t enough for you to rank in search. Especially with Google, the aim is to present consumers with the most relevant content possible that provides real value. Hence, a random string of keywords won’t cut it.
Experts agree that at least 300 words of worthwhile content that are comfortably sprinkled with useful keywords is a good benchmark. In terms of keyword density, you should target a density range of one to two percent per 100 words. In other words, in a 500-word post, your total number of keywords shouldn’t exceed five to ten placements. However, these ranges can vary across industries.
Also, note that headers can be excellent places to incorporate keywords as long as they’re relevant. While search engines do see general text on a page, headers get extra attention.
While you’re building out that pretty website, don’t forget to take care of the structural requirements that make SEO effective. Although tinkering with the backend is the least exciting aspect of web design, ignoring it is a serious SEO misstep.
1. Use Meta Descriptions That Are Relevant
Be sure to review metadata, title tags, schema markup, and the removal of duplicate content. While Google maintains that meta descriptions don’t impact your search rank, there’s evidence that they can determine whether someone clicks your link. Be sure that the description is relevant for the page and is compelling enough to encourage customers to do more than scroll past your search listing.
2. Title Tags Shouldn’t Be Overlooked
Similar to meta descriptions, title tags aren’t something that consumers are going to interact with when they land on your website. But, in search results, title tags matter. While you don’t need to go crazy dedicating hours of research to them, just remember that they should serve as a relevant description of what someone can expect to see when visiting specific pages across your website. An optimized title tag could be the difference between ranking on page one or appearing on page five.
3. Consider Your Schema Markup
Similar to meta descriptions, schema markup is another HTML tool that can make your website more discoverable to search engines. Unlike many of the other on-page SEO tactics, schema markup can be more challenging to master. So, this is probably one task that you should leave to the pros if you’re unfamiliar with it.
4. Pay Attention to Load Speeds and Glitches
Another aspect of structural SEO integration is to ensure that your website is user friendly. A website that doesn’t perform properly will have high bounce rates. Pages that take forever to load will turn off potential customers.
Similarly, media that fails to load, and pages that annoyingly refresh and shift while scrolling, are problematic. Make it a point to target fast loading times and remove any unnecessary elements, plug-ins, or add-ons that create a glitchy page experience.
All of the examples mentioned above are great opportunities to insert relevant keywords to improve search.
While general consumers will never see the hard work that goes into optimizing your backend, this process is critical and will be seen by search engines and their crawlers. Likewise, remove dead links and duplicate content. This ensures that you don’t give visitors a reason to head to your competitors. Even more importantly, you won’t be penalized with a lowered rank by search engines either.
Prioritize Mobile in Your Design
We can’t say it enough, mobile matters. Mobile browsing has outperformed desktop usage both domestically and globally for years now. This means that for most businesses, people are coming to your website through a smartphone or tablet as opposed to a computer. If your website isn't optimized for mobile, you’re missing out on the ability to connect with people where they are.
Google actually prioritizes mobile page results over desktop ones. Thanks to responsive design, a web design strategy that embraces mobile functionality is very doable, and it ensures that your website can meet the display needs of countless digital devices. Look for responsive design themes during the build-out process. These are adaptive to any range of devices and screen sizes, which ensures that your website looks consistent regardless of how people reach it.
Creating an SEO-Friendly Website Doesn’t Have to be Difficult
SEO shouldn’t be the last to-do on your web design checklist: incorporate it from the beginning of the design process to make sure that it’s implemented properly. It will make a big difference in creating a website that is a lead generation tool. While there are a variety of technical aspects that must be balanced, SEO-friendly web design doesn’t have to be a contentious or a difficult process.
The Creative Momentum has always kept SEO central to our web development process and can help you create a website that supports your growth goals.