Search engine optimization (SEO) and web design are two distinctly different aspects of digital marketing. They exist in silos.
Unfortunately, not all web designers understand that the visual aspects of a website also affect how it performs, traffic and ranking-wise. Whether it will be displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) will depend on several factors, although the starting point is the accessibility of the website.
On the other end of the spectrum, while design trends are geared toward minimalism, impressive imagery and embedded videos are still an important element. All these also affect how a website operates and performs.
Three important considerations in finding balance
Balancing SEO and web design is integral to any website, particularly for user experience (UX) purposes. An SEO-ready web design is what we want to achieve because you, as clients, want a website that is optimized for search engines and designed creatively so that the consumers may easily find what they are looking for once they arrive at your website.
Finding a balance between SEO-friendliness and user-friendliness can be challenging more so due to the need to compromise certain aspects. This is true even when there are two in-house teams working together to achieve what the client wants. Conflicts may arise when no one team is willing to compromise.
What is the core goal?
SEO is page-specific while web design is site-applicable. Each web page ranks differently for different factors. Other pages may not rank at all.
With each page, however, the goal is to decide for its utility before designing and publishing it. It would be easier to answer the question: What is this page for?
If the page is a landing page, for example, the UX is the most important factor to consider. Design-wise, it should be navigable with the targeted keywords in the copy so it would rank organically. The page must be visually appealing to the users with the right font sizes and clickable links and buttons, so they will stay on the page and the site.
How much is too much?
The notion that too much is too much is rather hard to assess.
Minimalist pages, whether they’d be used as landing pages, may lack the information that users may be looking for. When there are too many elements, it can be overwhelming.
There is no such thing as over-optimization. Over-designed is a real thing, however. You can only understand there’s too much text or visual designs when you see one.
The only formula is experimentation to know what too much may mean for your own website.
What are the ways to win?
When you consider UX in design and SEO, you win. Of course, your target visitors win too.
Always think of the users when designing the website. This comes naturally in terms of optimizing a website because SEOs do it for both crawlers and humans.
Again, this will depend on the core purpose of certain pages. Deciding on how it looks like also means thinking about how a user may interact with the page on its entirety.
Know what the intentions are behind an inquiry so you may guide the expectations of the users. Your goal is to determine what the users look for for you to provide them in an accurate manner.
This win-win approach is a strategy that often works, transcending beyond both design and optimization efforts.
Dangers of focusing too much on SEO
Finding the website is as crucial as having a website. If your website is not findable, then it negates the idea of having a website in the first place.
Over-optimization is not a concept that SEOs must fear because it does not exist. Nevertheless, if SEO is prioritized over the aesthetic, some problems may also arise. These problems would be mostly UX-related. For example, if they cannot find the product they are looking for and the site has no search button, the user would leave the site and look elsewhere. Every user who left the site in less than 3 to 5 seconds, depending on the set parameters, can be considered as a bounce rate. High bounce rates affect ranking and thus, traffic.
Dangers of focusing too much on web design
Philippine designers and developers should take heed.
If the overall appearance of the website is prioritized over-optimization. More problems would occur. As already mentioned, the crawlability of the website will suffer and it won’t be displayed on SERPs.
Furthermore, there are websites that rank but when the users land on the page, he may get stuck on which to click next. This confuses the users, and thus, not doing the UX anything good.
Finding the middle ground through the 4Cs of a great web design
Accommodating the needs of one another – the SEO and design teams – must be ingrained in the process since Day 1 of the project. In this way, there won’t be any last-minute changes that may affect the progress of the project.
Let these four Cs of an SEO-optimized website that does not jeopardize the visual interest of the site be your guide.
The importance of communication among web designers, developers, SEO specialists, and of course, the client cannot be emphasized enough. A website is a company’s digital marketing arm, so those who will be directly involved in its design and development must truly understand the mission, vision, and brand messaging.
The design is the anchor that sends the message across, but the creatives need to understand people can only appreciate the visual aspect if they can find the website in the first place.
The SEO team, therefore, must reflect the same corporate values, mission, vision, and unique selling proposition in the copy that can only be understood through proper communication.
The website owner and the creatives shall form a cohesive unit. Otherwise, misunderstandings will occur along the way.
The SEO team must understand why certain elements are important to the overall look and feel of the website. On the other hand, the dev team should also understand why certain SEO plugins or integrating Google Analytics tracking code are needed.
Bottom-line, each team should be on the same page whose needs the website targets to serve. This is also perceptibly collaborative in nature.
The dynamics of web design and development are the same as with other projects in terms of timeframes, schedules, and deadlines. Definitely, there will be bottlenecks that may hinder the progress of the project. If not resolved immediately, this will result in delays.
This won’t happen if the creatives are well-coordinated, while the website owner anxiously waits for progress reports daily, weekly or bi-weekly.
Other than time slippage, scope creep may also happen due to the changing priorities of all teams involved.
Again, a website is a work of art and precision. A website has a logical basis that must be considered beforehand. Anyhow, the creatives understand this process or must strive to address the concerns early on in the planning stage.
Things to consider
Several things must be considered, whereby both the SEO and development teams can find common ground.
With UX at the center of the discussion, the designers and developers’ main priorities are the overall look and feel of the website. Consumers interact with the visual elements that should be as simplistic but functional enough. SEOs focus on optimized navigation.
The simpler the navigation with the fewest possible categories or tabs, the better. That is design-wise. Expanded navigation is better for SEO, on the other hand, since sub-categories present more opportunities to rank for long-tail keywords.
This requires both teams to consult Google to determine which works. The list of keywords must be prepared already. Search the most important keywords and analyze the results.
If subcategories rank better and higher, then choose to design navigation with breadcrumbs. If product pages rank higher for a specific keyword, then focus on creating product pages that are visually appealing and SEO-friendly at the same time by inserting the keywords on the product descriptions as organically as possible.
Aside from navigation, the existence of noise must be eliminated as well. A clutter-free website should be considered at the planning stage.
Anything a user may see on the site’s interface has a purpose, and the design must convey this. Getting rid of the clutter is a priority more so that users yearn for the establishment of usability at the first sight of the website.
User interface (UI) pertains to having a fully functional website that highlights the website’s most important content.
Utilizing content hierarchy is another compromise that the designer must engage with. This allows for using categories and sub-categories. Internal linking is also important to direct the users to the information they need.
Nevertheless, the content is not just about the textual part of the website. It also includes images, videos, animations, and everything else.
Content is not created equal, although they help in informing and engaging the visitors. For instance, web developers do not understand that images must have descriptive filenames and alt tags. Of course, the SEOs would push for this because they help in making the website favorable in the eyes of Google.
With this said, the teams must work side-by-side to determine where copies must be placed without conflicting with user experience.
Designers following trends would understand the value of using hero images, for example. However, heavy images may slow down a website and Google may not prioritize the website on SERPs. It’s also a tedious job to compress each image.
Good thing, there are image compression tools that may help in optimizing the images without losing quality. Still, the process is manual.
The only problem here is that the dev team needs to check the compatibility of the image compression plugin, that is if a plugin will be used. Incompatible plugins may damage the entire website.
If forms are to be used, whether it’d be a registration or checkout form, make sure that they are not complicated. Forms need to be appealing, but also concise and relevant.
Designers must understand complicated forms also result in high bounce rates as well as low conversion rates. Form presentation must be well-thought-out too.
Adding frills to the website are often seen by the web designers as part of making the website ‘looks cool.’ Most of the time, the users regard these as unnecessary elements.
Negative space also means clarity of ideas while also eliminating clutter. This is the same principle behind the minimalist web design.
The crucial SEO benefit here is faster loading times. Speed is a ranking factor that when there are two websites with all elements being equal, the site that loads faster will be ranked higher than the slower one.
Speaking of speed, the majority of the designers concern themselves of the loading times, which is good from an SEO standpoint. However, they would still push for videos or images especially because the client wants to.
On the other hand, all the non-text content affects the site’s speed. A website cannot afford to ignore this important ranking factor. Today, users leave a website that takes more than 5 seconds to load. In fact, they expect a site to load in just 3 seconds.
Speed is particularly crucial when the users are viewing the site on mobile devices. Browser compatibility must not be sacrificed as well as device responsiveness.
It is important for any website to move along with the demands of the users, in terms of the browsing experience. If not, this would also contribute to the bounce rate.