It seems like search engine optimization has been around forever, but it’s only become a well-known strategy in the last 3-4 years. Prior to that, many business owners had never heard the term SEO, or even realized how big of a role search engines played in referring new clients. SEO has actually been around much longer than 3-4 years, but business owners weren’t interested in SEO then like they are now.
The sad fact is, because of the prevalence of unscrupulous or inexperienced SEOs, many people have a bad view of SEO. We’ve heard business owners say, “I don’t want my website to read like a keyword mess. I want it to have a natural language and a layout my potential customers can understand.” Many digital marketers agree with this statement. A properly optimized website should not be in opposition to the end user’s experience. In fact, a great website design provides an excellent experience for online users and gives search engines, like Google and Bing, the information needed to categorize the website content.
Design Elements for SEO and Users
When it comes to website development, it’s important to keep both the end user and search engines in mind. It’s almost impossible to find a website developer who is also a master of SEO and user interface best practices, so we have identified essential design elements that create a great balance for SEO and the users.
Define Clear Page Hierarchy and Structure
Have you ever walked into a store where everything is a mess and it’s hard to find what you want? A website without a clear page hierarchy and structure is like the messy store. By creating a simple website map, identifying main pages, and designing around the customer, a website becomes an orderly digital place where information is easy to find.
Before developing a website, create a clearly defined site map. A site map is a visual image of all the website’s pages and subpages. Many developers call these parent and child pages since it looks like a family tree. The site map dictates the top-level navigation pages. The top-level pages should always be the most important pages with the best information for users and search engines. For a business, these typically include the home, services, industries served, about, contact, and resources pages.
Everyone Likes Responsive Design
Google and other search engines have stated that websites built with responsive designs are favored over non-responsive websites. Why do search engines say this? End users want responsive design and search engines are competing to serve up the best results.
People are accessing websites on their phones, tablets, and laptops and don’t have the patience to try to navigate on a static website. Users tend to quickly leave non-responsive websites that won’t display properly and search engines pay attention to that behavior. A responsive website that displays well on all types of devices and has easy click-to-call or “email us” options pleases end users, which pleases search engines.
Consistency Builds Credibility
Having a Stop sign right next to a Yield sign sends a mixed message. Mixed messages are confusing and create distrust. A consistent design across a firm’s digital presence is essential to building trust and sending the right message. Consistency begins with the colors used in the design. The color palate should work well together and be coherent in the images, buttons, scroll bars, and graphics.
Language isn’t always considered part of web design, but don’t images and headers often have words? How about call-to-action buttons and contact forms? Defining and using the same terminology across things like headers, subheaders, images, graphics, forms, buttons, footers, etc. will ensure that your end user can easily read and navigate your website. Also, consistent language makes sure search engines see the complete picture about a company.
While a website tells a story about your firm, it must have visual components to keep the user engaged. As such, adding images and graphics positively impacts search rankings. However, a mishmash of images with different themes, colors, and messages creates confusing visuals. Consistency does not mean using images with only people or images of only landscapes. Rather, it means images that represent the overall brand and values.
Page Layout Supports Usability
A lot of information needs to be included on a website but a website starts to look “cluttered” if too much information is added. Additionally, the more information on a website, the less intuitive the layout becomes. To avoid the common issue of clutter and to keep the layout intuitive, we’ve come up with a general page layout to help the user find information.
First, have clearly defined headers and subheaders. These tell visitors what they are looking at and define what the page is about for a search engine. Contact information should be easy to find on every webpage. Typically, it’s marked off from the rest of the page so it’s easy to identify, in some cases this is either at the top of the page or in the footer. The main content should be organized on the website. Since the content is there to educate and persuade, it needs to be easy to see and read. The font needs to be viewable by search engines and web visitors.
Lastly, many people want to connect with businesses on social media, so it’s important to link social media to a website. A linked social presence also provides great backlinks to the website, builds credibility with search engines, and can increase the listings on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Properly engineered websites create a great user experience while also improving SEO. SEO best practices are based on user trends and preferences, so in many cases, optimizing a website for search engines is also optimizing the website for the end users.