Even the most SEO obsessed web site owners still want a site that looks good. Design aesthetics play a huge role in the success or failure of any site. Elements of design can impact conversions, credibility, and engagement. But some designs can also limit a web site’s search engine accessibility. Great designers don’t necessarily need to be experts on SEO, but knowing a few key things can help you make a website that will be stylistically brilliant and SEO friendly.
Anchor text should use keywords and describe the page being linked to. Ambiguous texts like “click here” or “read more” aren’t ideal. Those phrases don’t send signals to search engine regarding what the page is about and therefore don’t help rankings in any way.
Clean code is extremely important. If a human that understands HTML can read it, so can a search engine. Using standard tags like H tags and going easy on the DIV’s are good practices for SEO. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, have all the fun you want, with the CSS.
• Tools for Formatting, Organizing and Tidying CSS Code →
• Writing Clean Code →
It’s also important to make a site accessible for all kinds of users. That means a variety of web
browsers and disabled users. Even though you may not use Safari or IE any more, some people do, and they need to be able to use the site too. Also, make sure that every part of the website can be recognized by screen readers to increase accessibility for the blind.
On that note, image labeling is a time consuming, but necessary, process for SEO. Not only does it apply to the rule above about accessibility for the blind, it’s a huge factor in Google Image Search. Those searches rely heavily on image Alt-tags to return relevant image results, so if and how images are labeled matters. Alt-text can also be used on image links as a substitute for anchor text.
Title Tags are a major factor in search engine rankings. And while branding is important, it’s far more important to highlight keywords which reflect phrases that are being searched for by users. Always put primary keyword phrases in the front of a title tag and leave the brand names for the end.
Timing is everything. Ok maybe not everything, but load times are a factor in SEO. A search engine’s ultimate goal is to help provide their users with a better web experience. To that end, sites which take forever to load may get dinged when it comes to their rankings There are several ways to reduce load times for a web page; but the best option is to design a site to perform quickly from the beginning.
• Website Speed Part 1: Write More Efficient CSS →
• Website Speed Part 2: Working With and Optimizing Images for the Web →
• Essential Tips for Maintaining and Speeding Up WordPress →
Pick a Good Platform
Just because something looks good, that doesn’t mean its Search Engine friendly. And just because something is free and easy doesn’t mean it’s your best option in the long run. Free website platforms like Word Press and Wix have a lot of attractive options, but make sure you look for flexibility. Being able to control things like meta-tags, URL structure and internal linking is important enough to be considered a deal breaker. Word Press has hundreds of templates available. Thesis, for one, is well reputed for its SEO benefits and is highly customizable if you know a little PHP.
There are a lot of great tools and platforms for designing a highly attractive website. But some are just better than others. Flash and Ajax are great programs to design with but they can be prohibitive n terms of SEO.
• It is completely possible to use Flash in an SEO friendly way, it just takes a little more effort. Having Flash in conjunction with HTML can make a site search engine compatible. But the 2 must be used together. Without the HTML for spiders to read a flash site is virtually invisible.
• Ajax is more of a programming method than a platform, but it can also be challenging for SEO. Particularly when it comes to navigation. While Search Engines are making improvements in their ability to index sites that utilize Ajax, there are still important things designers need to know. When it comes to links, no matter how good the Spiders get, for now HTML is still the best choice.
Conversion over Cosmetics
Important links and parts of the site should stand out. If a Call To Action doesn’t fit the color scheme, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can bring extra attention exactly where a user is supposed to look. Some things are meant to grab attention and others should blend in. Make sure that SEO and conversion priorities help you determine which is which.
Women have a bad habit of wearing gorgeous shoes, that don’t let them walk. What does it matter if something looks awesome if it doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to? That’s why no matter what kind of design you are doing, it should be wearing flats. A website must be, above all else, easy to use. All interaction should lead to the site owner’s end goal. And no website is going to make any money if it can’t be found. Search Engine rankings can literally make or break any web site. The competition for many keywords is stiff, so no web site owner can afford any weaknesses that may hurt their rankings. That makes designers who are artistically innovative and SEO savvy the ones who have the brightest futures on the web.