Web Design for SEO

Last week we published a blog post titled The New SEO is Good Content. Since then, a few people have pointed out that, although good content is essential, site design plays a role in SEO rankings as well. This is very true. Just as Google’s new algorithms reward high quality, authentic content, they also reward clean, quick-loading, easily navigable site design. Here are some of the ways that your site design impacts your search standings (related article: The 20-20-60 SEO Rule):

  1. Accessibility

    Broken links, missing pages, and long load times due to excessive multimedia or Flash are a pain for visitors and make it impossible for Google bots to properly index your site. The lack of indexing combined with decreased site traffic because users can’t get where they want to go will wreak havoc on your search standings.

    • Ensure that all of your pages, links, images, and other site content work as they should and don’t include too much material on any one page, especially large files like video and audio that take a long time to load.
       
    • Robots.txt code stops Google bots from crawling, so make sure this code isn't on any of the pages you want indexed. Conversely, it's a good idea to use this code on pages you don't want appearing in searches or that may negatively impact your rankings, such as pages where you have duplicate content.
       
    • Google bots cannot read Flash animations. This means that any content you include in Flash will not be found on your site. Therefore, it's a good idea to avoid Flash, or at the very least don't put any important information there such as your site navigation, links, or your site copy.
       
    • Upload an XML sitemap file to Google and other search engines so that the search bots can find and index all of your site pages.
       
  2. Navigation

    Confusing navigation will send your visitors looking for the back button, and Google and other search engines factor your navigation structure and site layout into your search rankings. Make sure it’s as easy as possible for people and search bots to get around your site.

    • Use a logical, easy-to-find menu structure to direct visitors to different pages on your site, and minimize the number of clicks it takes to get from place to place. A general rule is that it should take no more than three clicks to reach any page on your website.
       
    • Include calls-to-action on your site pages to direct visitors where you want them to go next. This makes it easier for them to find your site content and drives traffic to your important pages, helping to boost their rankings.
       
    • Keep URLs as short as possible and include your page keywords in the link. For example, www.smartt.com/blog/web-design-seo is easier for visitors to find and link to than www.smartt.com/folder?blog/april-2012/812rf93b5t8. This is nicer for your audience, and the folks at Google have figured that out and factored it into their search algorithms.
       
    • Hopefully your site isn’t so old that it still uses framesets or tables to lay out the site structure, but if it does, update it now. Framesets and tables can’t be properly crawled by search bots, and they can create loading issues for your visitors. Use CSS and <div> tags to lay out your navigation and site elements.
       
    • Include an HTML sitemap page so that visitors can find what they are looking for if it isn’t easily accessible through your navigation.
       
  3. Appearance

    Is your site attractively designed, with a cohesive theme, colour scheme, fonts, and graphics that are well laid out and pleasing to the eye? Most unappealing visual elements will simply drive visitors away, but some will reduce your search rankings for other reasons.

    • Garish colours, too much going on, Flash, animations, music, and ads can all be distracting and off-putting to visitors. Google may not know that your site looks terrible and unprofessional, but your visitors do and if they leave your site as soon as they see it, your search rankings will go down. Stick to a clean, simple site design that aligns with your branding.
       
    • Use graphics intelligently. A giant picture of your product on a white background may look cool, but it doesn’t give your visitor much information and without any copy, Google has nothing to index. Graphics should be secondary to content, and if you simply must have a graphics-dominated site, consider tricks like mouseovers and dropdown divs to give customers and search engines more information.
       
    • Keep content above the fold. If text and calls to action are far down the page, many visitors won't scroll to find them, meaning you lose traffic on your site. Google also weighs what’s at the top of the page more heavily than what’s at the bottom, so put your copy where visitors and Google will notice it.
       

Content may be king, but good site design is also important to your SEO rankings. To make your site as appealing as possible to search engines, perform a website audit make sure all elements work properly and can be crawled by search bots, use logical navigation and site layouts, and make sure your site is visually appealing with an emphasis on the important information. Designing a site that works best for visitors will also work best for search engines, which increases your search rankings and helps customers to find your site and its content.

Have questions or tips to share about web design and SEO or digital marketing in general? Contact us or let us know in the comments.

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