While most discussions of search engine optimization (SEO) focus on things like content creation and link building rather than design, the look and layout of your website has an important role to play in how well it fares in the search engine rankings.
Whether you’re building a new website from scratch or planning a website redesign project for one you already have, SEO web design should be a consideration when trying to improve your online presence.
What is SEO Web Design?
Search engine optimization web design is an approach to building a website that takes search engine optimization (SEO) into account from day one.
Website design is one of the most important steps in creating a website that’s intuitive for visitors, pleasing to the eye, and accomplishes your main goals for the website. For most websites, one of those goals will be attracting new visitors.
Whether you have an in-house team that designs your website, hire a professional graphic designer, or do it yourself using a tool like a website builder, for your design process to meet that goal, you need to be thinking about SEO throughout the design process.
Does Website Design Affect SEO?
It sure does! If you’ve read up on SEO, you may be confused since most of the tips you read seemed to have little to do with design. But web design matters in SEO because user experience (UX) is a big part of SEO.
Web design plays a big role in how visitors interact with a website, which is an important indicator to Google of the site’s quality. Your website’s design also establishes the website’s basic structure, which relates to how Google reads the site.
If you don’t start thinking about SEO until after your website has been designed, you’ll miss out on some key opportunities to improve how well the website is optimized for search. You’ll be stuck making big, time-consuming changes after the fact to fix SEO problems you could have avoided to begin with.
Is SEO Necessary for My Website?
If you want people to find and visit your website, then yes. SEO is one of the most powerful ways to increase visibility for your website and drive more relevant traffic. It’s one of the best ways to show up at the moment people are looking for what you have to offer.
If you’re hesitant about prioritizing SEO web design because you’re dragging your feet on SEO altogether, your web design is a good place to start your SEO efforts.
10 SEO Web Design Tips to Follow
All SEO web design tips relate to two main goals: improving the user experience of your website, and helping Google’s search engine algorithms to understand what the site is about. Here are ten steps to take during the web design process to improve SEO.
1. Plan your site architecture out in advance.
One of the first steps to take during your web design project—before you design your first page—is to create a clearly defined website architecture. Your website architecture is the organizing structure behind your website—it’s how all your different pages will connect to each other.
A good website architecture accomplishes a few key things:
- It establishes a hierarchy in the way your website is designed that signals to both visitors and Google which pages are most important. For example, the top of the hierarchy is your Home page, followed by the pages in your main menu, then by any subcategories or individual pages grouped underneath those.
- It helps you group related pages together in a way that makes it easier for visitors to find pages they’re interested in, and for Google to better understand the content of each page based on those it’s grouped with.
- It ensures you minimize clicks between pages. By thinking through how all your web pages will connect with each other, you can design your website so that visitors can easily navigate from one page to the next as needed. A good goal is for every page to be within three clicks or less of every other.
Clarifying how you’ll organize your website in advance will not only help you build a more intuitive site to begin with, it creates a structure that helps you stay more organized as your website grows over time.
2. Prioritize intuitive navigation in your design.
Your site architecture is a good step in this direction, but it’s just one part of making your website intuitive for visitors. When you’re building out your website, continually think about what your customers will be thinking and doing on each page they land on. You want it to be easy for them to find what they’re looking for every step of the way.
- Making sure your main menu lists the most important pages visitors are likely to visit on the site.
- Creating categories and subcategories based on the way your target audience are most likely to browse.
- Making sure those category and subcategory pages employ the keywords your research shows people use when searching for the type of products or information on them.
- Including links on each webpage to other, related pages that a visitor to the page may be interested in as well.
- Including a clear call-to-action on each page, so it’s obvious to visitors how to take the next step.
- Having a search bar somewhere on each page, so that visitors who know exactly what they’re looking for have a quicker way to get there than browsing between pages.
The goal in this step is to try to get inside your visitors’ heads and imagine what steps they’ll want to take as they move through your website, and how they’d go about making them. When building the site, that requires guesswork and imagination. But you can confirm (or correct) your initial assumptions by doing user testing before the site launches.
3. Define a standard, SEO-friendly URL structure.
When a search engine algorithm is trying to determine what a web page is about, one of the main places it looks is the URL. The URL is the main address for each page of your site on the web. Every URL on your site starts with your main domain name (e.g. www.yourname.com). For each page (other than your home page), that will be followed by additional characters unique to the page.
For SEO purposes, you should always customize the URL you use for every webpage on your site based on the keywords you want that page to rank for. But beyond writing a custom URL for each page, you also want to create a larger SEO-friendly URL structure for how to name URLs on your website.
Refer back to the site architecture you developed here. The categories and subcategories you defined can become a part of the URL structure you develop, which gives you a way to incorporate more relevant keywords into your URLs, keeping them useful and intuitive for visitors.
For example, if one of your main categories was Pets, with a subcategory of Dogs, your URL structure for each page included in that section of the website would start with www.yourwebsite.com/pets/dogs. Then you would follow that up with the main keyword for the specific page, such as www.yourwebsite.com/pets/dogs/dog-food.
That URL does the double work of telling Google that the web page is specifically about dog food, and that it also relates more generally to dogs and pets—other words the algorithm understands to be related to each other.
4. Design for site speed.
Your web design is just one factor in how fast your website will be, along with your web hosting package and the plugins you use. But many decisions you make in the design stage can affect how fast your site will load for visitors.
A fast loading time creates a better user experience and is one of the ranking factors the search engine algorithms take into account. When designing your website, consider ways to improve site speed, such as:
- Minimizing features that slow down loading time, like animation or large, high-resolution images
- Reducing the number of http requests you have on each page
- Only using necessary widgets, to keep external scripts to a minimum
Sometimes design elements that seem really cool can bog down your website, inadvertently causing slower load times and a worse experience. Be thoughtful about everything you include on the site and measure how its effect on loading times balances against whatever value it offers.
5. Use a responsive design for your website..
More than half of all website visits now come from people browsing the web on their mobile phones. Where it was natural just a few years ago to assume most of your visitors would be viewing your website on a full-size computer, now the majority of people who find you will do so on the small screen of a smartphone.
For the sake of both your mobile visitors and the search engines that care about their experience, your web design should aim to work just as well on mobile devices as on desktops. That usually means designing a responsive website that avoids flash, and has big enough buttons for people to easily select them on a touchscreen. Using a responsive web design will ensure that everyone in your target audience can have an enjoyable experience while visiting your site.
6. Consider visual hierarchy for every page.
What people see when they land on a webpage on your site depends on how large their screen and browser window are. In other words, a lot of users will only see a small portion of the whole page. When you’re designing each page, think carefully of what you want them to see in the first seconds they’re on the page
To ensure your visitors get what they need and, hopefully, stick around past the first few seconds, design your pages so that the most important information is high up so all visitors see it faster.
7. Focus on indexable content.
One of the challenges of SEO web design is that a lot of the visual components of design don’t translate well to how search engine algorithms read a website. For example, the algorithm can’t translate the information inside an image or an animation, even though it may communicate something clear to a human visitor. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use visuals in your web design, just that you should think about how to make sure they can be indexed by search engines.
For any design elements that are visual rather than textual, you need to tell Google what they are. That means:
- You should skip using flash animation entirely, since it’s not indexable and not supported on all devices.
- If you include videos on your website, fill in all available metadata with your target keyword, including the title and description. And include a transcript on the site.
- For all images on your website, fill in the metadata with your keyword (more on that in the next step)
Web design necessarily includes visuals. You can’t get around it. And you wouldn’t want to, they add to the experience your visitors have on the site. But for the parts of the site the search engines can’t see, you want to do your best to tell them what they’re missing and take those extra opportunities to include relevant keywords.
8. Optimize images.
Every website will include images, and most websites will have quite a few. Image files play a big role in your web design, and optimizing them is therefore a key step in SEO web design. There are two main things you need to do when thinking about image SEO:
- Keep them as small as possible without risking visual quality. Any images that are big will take a long time to load, and the more large images you add to your website, the more likely you are to start experiencing site speed issues. Use compression tools or plugins to ensure your images don’t take up any more storage space than they have to, while still looking good. And go with .jpg over .png files, as they take up less space.
- Optimize image metadata. Every image you add to your website provides a few opportunities to include your target keyword(s) for the page. Before you load it to the site, give the image file a name that includes your keyword. You can also add image alt tags in the page HTML that the search engines see, but visitors don’t. And you can add a caption (which visitors will see), if it’s something that will also add to the visitor experience.
9. Avoid webpage clutter.
This isn’t a design issue Google has weighed in on directly, but it’s one that relates to UX and therefore can hurt you.
If your page is cluttered and overwhelms your visitors, they’re likely to quickly click away rather than sticking around to see what you have to say. Visual clutter looks unattractive and unprofessional. And when people who come to your website leave quickly, you end up with a high bounce rate, which tells Google your website is low quality.
10. Don’t use auto-play video.
Videos can be a useful part of web design in many contexts, but if you force them on your visitors, you could lose them. Google doesn’t outright penalize auto-play videos in the rankings.
But think about any time you’ve been browsing the web at work or in a public place and a loud video started suddenly blaring when you clicked on a page. What’s your automatic reaction? Probably to close out the tab. If people are annoyed by something on your page and quickly leave, that signals to Google that they don’t like what they found there.
And videos can slow a page down, leading to issues with site speed. If you’re going to use videos in your web design, give visitors a choice to click play. Or if there’s a reason auto-play feels important to you, at least have it auto-play on mute with the option to click for sound.
There’s More to SEO Than Web Design
Incorporating these tips during your web design process will start you off on the right foot when it comes to SEO marketing. But they’re just that: a start. Good on-page SEO requires a lot of work beyond what you do during the web design stage.
If you want your website to get a high volume of relevant traffic from the search engines, but you don’t know how to improve SEO for your website on your own, hire skilled SEO professionals to do the work for you. It will save you untold hours of time and effort, while helping you achieve results faster.
To learn more about our SEO services and web hosting packages, contact the experts at HostGator today.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.