Web Design & SEO: 7 Crucial Elements of SEO-Friendly Design
When it comes to designing (or redesigning) a website, many businesses focus heavily on factors like typography, color schemes, imagery, and how interactive elements can help convey their brand identity.
SEO is often treated as a secondary consideration — something to be addressed after launching the new site.
This is a mistake.
As we’ll see, designing a site with SEO in mind can save you a ton of time and money in the long run and ensures your site is primed for traffic and conversions from the get-go.
In this post, we’ll explain why web design and SEO are so closely related, cover the benefits of nailing your site design, and break down the steps you should take to create a site that’s both search engine and user-friendly.
But first, what exactly do we mean by SEO-friendly web design?
SEO-friendly web design has two main goals:
- To make it as easy as possible for search engines to crawl, interpret, and index the website’s content.
- To ensure the website provides a seamless user experience, allowing visitors to find the information they want without any friction.
Web design and SEO are two vital ingredients involved in building any successful website.
But aren’t the two completely different things? After all, web design is all about creating attractive and functional websites. Meanwhile, SEO focuses on making sites accessible to search engines and generating content and links that maximize ranking potential.
The reality is the two activities complement one another.
On the one hand, thoughtful web design improves user experience and the ability of search engines to crawl your site. This has a direct, positive impact on your site’s ability to rank well.
On the other hand, SEO is what drives users to your site in the first place. There’s no use having a flashy website if there’s no one there to see it. And the more visitors you draw to your site, the more your web design can work at generating leads and customers.
If we haven’t yet convinced you that SEO-friendly web design is essential, perhaps these benefits will sway you:
Fast load times, intuitive navigation, and a simple checkout process are all ways to make your user experience as effortless as possible.
The better the user experience, the longer your visitors will hang around, the likelier they’ll be to share your content, and the happier they’ll be to return to your site in the future.
But if your web design is poor, you’ll struggle to retain the traffic you’ve earned.
For Google to rank your website in its SERPs, it first needs to be able to discover what your site is about. Designing a site that enables crawlers to move freely from one page to the next allows search engines to list your pages for relevant search queries.
Moreover, creating a great web user experience can also directly affect your rankings. Google’s algorithm now takes into account usability factors such as load speed, visual stability, and mobile responsiveness when deciding where to rank different pages.
An easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing website reflects positively on your brand. It shows users that you’re committed to delivering a great user experience. This, in turn, makes them more inclined to trust you and associate your overall brand with high quality.
Conversely, if your site is clunky and confusing, why wouldn’t visitors conclude your products and services are also substandard?
When you design a site with SEO in mind from the beginning, you can avoid costly site modifications down the road.
Building a site based solely on conventional design principles can lead to some costly oversights, like suboptimal navigation, broken links, and load speed issues.
Plus, some digital technologies just don’t jibe well with SEO. For example, back when websites used Flash for effects and animations, search engines had a lot of trouble deciphering the content. As a result, these sites missed out on untold potential rankings.
Now we’re clear on the importance of building SEO-friendly websites, let’s look at what you should consider next time you pull out the drawing board.
If you’re planning a website redesign, it’s vital that you first carry out a thorough site audit to avoid losing your hard-earned SEO gains when the new site launches.
You’ll need to crawl all your pages and build a detailed picture of your site’s current performance. For example, you should document all the keywords each page ranks for (and how well they rank for them), where those pages link to, what metadata they contain, and so on.
This is also an opportunity to identify any redundant pages and specify where to redirect them on the new site.
For this reason, your website needs to look and function as well on mobile as it does on desktop devices.
The key here is to implement responsive design, which adapts the screen layout to the user’s device.
This is a big one.
Your website architecture dictates how your pages connect to one another. A well-optimized site structure makes it easy for users and search engine crawlers to find their way around your site and distributes link equity from one page to the next.
Here are some best practices for creating an SEO-optimized site structure:
- Adopt a shallow site architecture: This allows users and search engines to reach any page in just a few steps.
- Implement an intuitive navigation menu: Your top-level navigation menu should provide users with an immediate sense of your site’s layout, allowing them to find the page they need as quickly as possible. That said, you should avoid cluttering the menu with too many options. If you have an especially big website, consider using faceted navigation.
- Prioritize internal links: Internal links enable users and search engines to traverse your site. Make sure you embed your links inside relevant, keyword-rich anchor text, so the context of the linked-to page is clear. It’s also a good idea to frequently point internal links to your most authoritative pages so they receive even more link equity (further increasing their ability to rank).
- Stick to a simple URL structure: Your URLs should follow a simple, consistent pattern reflecting your site’s structure. For example: https://brandname.com/category/sub-category/page-title
- Create XML and HTML sitemaps: Sitemaps are like directories for your website, listing all your pages and the relationships between them. An XML sitemap helps search engines understand how your site is organized, while an HTML sitemap gives users another way to find what they’re looking for.
A carefully-planned site architecture will enable search spiders to crawl your pages. Still, you also need to ensure your content exists in a format that search engines can easily understand.
In other words, most of your content should be in HTML text format — at least under the hood. For example, you should add descriptive alt text to any images so Google knows what they’re depicting.
Page load speed significantly impacts user experience and can affect your rankings. According to Google, bounce rates increase 32% when load time increases from 1 to 3 seconds.
So there’s no two ways about it: designing a lightning-fast website should be a top priority.
Some of the main tactics for increasing loading times include:
- Compressing your images
- Making CSS and JS files smaller
- Limiting redirects and HTTP requests
- Using a CDN
- Upgrading your web host
You can easily diagnose load speed issues and identify fixes using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool.
Another critical aspect of creating a better user experience is presenting content in an easy-to-digest format.
Readers are quickly put off by intimidating blocks of text or a page littered with hyperlinks.
So when designing the layout of your pages — particularly blogs and articles — consider the following tips:
- Use a clear font
- Organize your content into headings and subheadings (this helps readers find the information they want quickly)
- Use numbered and bulleted lists, tables, and charts when presenting collections of data
- Separate paragraphs with white space
- Keep sentences as lean as possible
- Break up text with relevant images, graphics, and videos
Remember, the better the reading experience, the more likely your visitors will stick around.
Meta tags are pieces of HTML code that provide search engines with important information about your pages and how they should appear in the search results.
Optimizing your meta tags helps make your search listing stand out in the search results, which can help increase your organic click-through rate.
Some of the most important meta tags to optimize include:
- Title tag: This is the title of your page which gives search users a preview of what your page is about. It’s also a confirmed ranking factor.
- Meta description: This is the descriptive text that appears beneath your page title in the search results, giving users a little more information about what’s on your page.
- Header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.): Header tags allow you to structure your pages so users and search engines can understand your content more easily.
Since the two activities are so interlinked, it’s impossible to say that web design is more important than SEO or vice versa.
Without good SEO, well-designed websites would have virtually no visitors to convert. Likewise, without good web design, conversions will remain low no matter how much traffic organic search sends your way.
Most web designers aren’t SEO specialists, and most SEO specialists aren’t web designers.
That said, you can find professionals out there who market themselves as experts in both. While this may be accurate in some special cases, it’s important to remember that web design and SEO are two distinct (albeit related) fields with steep learning curves.
For this reason, you’re usually better off hiring a web design expert and an SEO expert to work together when building your site. Of course, you don’t have to reach out to different vendors to achieve this. Many digital marketing agencies offer web design and SEO as part of their services.
Yes. Content written in HTML format is easy for search engines to interpret. HTML elements such as title tags, header tags, and meta descriptions allow search engines to understand what different pages are about.
Web design and SEO work together to create successful websites that cater to the needs of users and search engines alike. Neither activity is complete without the other.
We’ve seen there are several things to consider when designing an SEO-ready website, from implementing responsive design to creating intuitive navigation menus to ensuring pages load as quickly as possible.
So next time you design or redesign a website for your business, be sure to put the tips above into practice. And remember, if you want to outsource your next web design project to experienced professionals who understand the importance of SEO, work with HigherVisibility!