Why Web Design is Critical for SEO

By Simon Ensor
SEO , Web Design 08.01.2018

When you hear people talk about search engine optimisation you are most likely going to hear them talk about content and links. It’s no surprise considering that Google themselves have said that content and links are two of the three most important ranking factors (Rankbrain being the third). However, whilst these three may well garner the most attention, you are also likely to hear that there are ‘over 200 factors’ that influence a website’s ability to rank in the SERPs. These can range from title tags to preparing for Google’s upcoming mobile first index. You may even hear someone touch upon integrated marketing campaigns where adwords or social media marketers work alongside the SEO team to deliver results.

It shows progress. Over the past decade Search Engine Optimisation has moved out of the shadows and into mainstream thought. It was only a matter of time as Google attempts to take over the world! Anyway, global domination aside, it means that the search results have become an ever more competitive arena, requiring SEOs to utilise all of the tools available to them.

Enter website design.

In a recent Whiteboard Friday, Rand Fishkin talked about how structuring the content on your web pages can help to deliver SEO results which got us thinking about how we utilise web design to create a more successful SEO campaign. So here goes, four reasons why not utilising your web design team for SEO can be disastrous.

SEO is about conversions

If you have read our article “Why Keyword Rankings are Misleading for SEO” you know that whilst ranking highly for your given keywords is great, it isn’t the true litmus test of a successful campaign. For agencies and in house teams alike, if ranking highly doesn’t result in the end business goal being achieved then you could argue that the campaign has not been successful. If you subscribe to this theory (as we do), then addressing issues within your website’s design is a critical factor for any SEO campaign.

This subject is somewhat of a rabbit hole. There are a lot of factors that go into creating a website and individual web pages that have high conversion rates including UX/UI, use of imagery, site speed and use of content. The point is that without analysing website pages and the user flow throughout your website you run the risk of not capitalising on the hard won organic search traffic.

Regardless, investing in conversion rate optimisation is not specific to organic search traffic. If your buyer personas have been accurately identified, altering the design of your web pages will help convert traffic from multiple sources. Especially if your teams are talking to each other as part of an integrated marketing strategy!

Onsite Optimisation

A recent study showed that agencies and in house SEO teams alike valued technical onsite optimisation as the most influential factor for campaigns. Don’t worry, content and link building featured highly as well! The point is that if both your website designers and developers do not have a clear view of the onsite optimisation that will be implemented on the site, you run the very real risk of having to go back and redo parts of the site to include them. Worse, a site that does not have the functionality to include crucial onsite optimisation.

A classic example of this was touched on by Drew Hendricks for A few years ago, Parallax websites were all the rage but they were rubbish for SEO. The lack of clearer website structures and individual page URLs to target specific search terms with highly targeted content meant that performing search engine optimisation on a parallax website was notoriously difficult. Difficult but not impossible, but difficult nonetheless.

User and Usage Data

Google keep their cards close to their chest when it comes to the exact metrics that they take into account when ranking websites. They do give away some of the core information but not all of it. However, there is a school of thought in the SEO world that user and usage data is utilised by Google in their ranking algorithm, although some may argue that Google would only take into account data directly related to the SERPs such as CTR and ‘pogosticking’.

Whether you believe that Google heavily factor in user and usage data or do so only to a limited extent, it is still worth addressing these as part of your SEO and therefore your web design. In the same vein as producing conversions, you don’t want to see high bounce rates or low time on page as part of the analytics for your site.

If you are redesigning your website you can use Google Analytics data from your previous site to highlight issues to avoid in the new site, or if it is a fresh site, ensure that the correct amount of thought has been given to the user experience (especially above the fold).

Don’t Wait!

Take our word for it. If you are creating a brand new website or redesigning your current site, it is far easier to bake some of the actionables from this article into your design process rather than looking to address them further down the line. You have a clean slate to work on, allowing designers and marketers to work together to create a website that not only looks great but also delivers on your wider marketing strategy.

There will have to be compromises. There always are. Designers and SEOs often bump heads when it comes to the amount of content, heavy imagery or video that can reduce load speeds and call-to-actions that can have an effect on the true aesthetics of the site. If you can manage these compromises you will avoid a beautiful website that receives less organic traffic because of its inability to rank or a website that ranks well but fails to convert its traffic.

Leave it till later and the whole story becomes messy. Implementing changes to a website after it has been designed not only costs more in both time and money but will also deliver a poorer quality product than if these considerations had been part of the strategy from the very beginning!

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