To Fail and to Unfail: Web Design and SEO’s Love-Hate Relationship

At this point you are probably at least a little bit familiar with search engine optimization, or SEO for short. Still, if you are unclear of exactly what it means, SEO is basically a way in which you can improve the visibility of your website in search engines.

The theory is, when most people are using their favorite search engine to find something on the Internet, they are only going to click on the top results. In order to get your site visited, you want it to pop up in the top of search engine results. Otherwise, it’s almost like your website doesn’t exist.

Maybe you don’t know, but there’s a bit of a rivalry between website designers and SEO specialists. Not all of them seem to be able to happily co-exist together. Some website designers believe designing a website with SEO inhibits their artistic freedom. They may not even take SEO into consideration as an integral part of the process.

SEO experts generally say web designers make web design more difficult. Specialists in SEO contend, website designers don’t understand SEO and in some cases refuse to incorporate it into their designs.

Forgetting about this turf war between SEO specialists and website designers, maybe the focus of all web designing should be on what the customer wants. Isn’t it important to have both an attractive, easy to navigate website AND one that will rank high on search engines.

The best designers and SEO specialists will work together to develop a design that is as appealing to the viewer as it is to the search engines. Besides, what good is a beautifully created website if no one ever sees it.

So, how do you succeed at designing a website that doesn’t work against your SEO? There are some design decisions you should avoid making.

Design pitfalls for SEO

  1. Java- Search engines are not able to read Java. This means anytime you use Java as part of your website design, it’s as if there is no content on the page.
  2. Images for navigation- If you use only images for links, search engines will get too caught up processing color to determine the image’s purpose.
  3. Substituting images for content- Using graphics to illustrate your headers will lower your SEO. Typing headers in header text, emphasizes their importance to search engines.
  4. Neglecting to use headers- Not including any headers will hurt SEO, because there will not be a hierarchy for the content on your page.
  5. Duplicate content- All the content on your website should be original. If search engines read the same content over and over, this will damage your SEO.

Just as there are design elements you should avoid as to not hurt SEO, there are components you can add to a solid website design to help boost your SEO.

 Bringing together Design & SEO
Since solid design and SEO really need to go hand in hand to make a successful website, it’s important to have a good idea of the elements that go into each.

  1. Think mobile first. With the popularity of hand held computing, websites need to be developed with a mobile strategy in mind. Responsive website design allows you to create a website for multiple platforms. This also gives you one URL for both your mobile and main website, which is a benefit for SEO.
  2. Build a website that takes 5 seconds or less to load on a mobile device. Chances are, if someone has to wait longer than that for a page to load, they’ll move on to another site.
  3. Create URLs that include keywords and are SEO friendly. Likewise, images should have descriptive file names and contain keywords.
  4. Understand not only the importance of keywords in your content, but also the best placement for them. 

Designing a website is more than thinking about what the end user wants to see when they sit down at their computer. A lot of users are not even sitting at computers anymore. They’ve got tablets and mobile phones in hand and are searching for things online while commuting on the train or walking down the street looking for a specific store. This means both your website design and SEO needs to adapt to how people use the Internet.

Not only are the ideas of fresh, innovative website design constantly evolving but so are the rules of SEO. It’s no longer good enough to have your webpages choke full of keywords and phrases. The content has to be meaningful, current and engaging for the audience.

The battle between website designers and SEO specialists is sure to rage on for some time to come. Still, when thinking about the convergence of great website design and SEO, this quote from Duane Forrester of Bing makes the most sense: “If you want to wow the search engines, you have to wow your customers. Build a site that they want and can use.” Good design shouldn’t be cluttered or complicated. It’s clean, easy to navigate and useful to the user. That makes for a good website and strong SEO.