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SEO is a multi-faceted topic. The following article deals with the part of search engine optimization that can and must be done by the designer of a website.
Good afternoon, dear designers. Please free your mind and don’t stop reading immediately just because this is supposed to be about SEO. It’s true – SEO and design are rarely used in the same sentence. But they are and will remain inseparable parts of the same project.
Review: Design came long before SEO
If we look at it historically, we can undoubtedly say that design came first. SEO came much later. First of all, we relied on search engines, packs of which were packs in the nineties, would have a self-interest in populating their indexes. We have not taken any special measures to be found.
Then the web became full. Google stepped in and the marketers of this world were looking for ways to manipulate the search engine to get their pages to the top. So SEO was born out of the wrong motives. Since then we have been more or less fascinated by a game of cat and mouse. SEOs are finding a new way to spam. Google closes them. And all over again.
In the meantime, Google has experienced more than twenty years and has structurally blocked most of the most brazen and stupid attempts at manipulation for a long time. Of course, it still makes sense to help search engines find your own website. Google provides targeted options for this and also communicates progressively what webmasters should or should not do.
But if we go back to the beginnings of indexing the web, what did Google and Co. have available? Exactly, nothing more than the designer websites of the day. And in fact, these were also indexed. Nanu?
Seen in this way, SEO is an invented discipline that would not be needed in fair competition. Or to put it more diplomatically: The origin of searching does not lie in SEO, but in design.
From this observation emerges the importance of design for being found in search engines, something that we call SEO today, so that various so-called experts can come up with a nice abbreviation for their job titles. Basically, however, thinking in advance of the requirements for a page in order to be found is something that can be developed on the topic with common sense and without an 800-page tome.
The best SEO is structured, standards-compliant web design
The origin of the web lies in the invention of HTML. This markup language gives content a logical structure and connects them with each other via links. So search engines simply searched through these structures and understood them through markers like H1, P and so on. In this way, they could also classify the content according to relevance. They continued to follow the links and were ultimately able to capture the entire scope of a website and how it was embedded in the overall structure of the network. Logically, the search engine rated pages higher if they were accessed multiple times via links from the overall structure of the network and lower if this was not the case.
And so it has remained until today. You can open up all considerations of findability yourself once you have understood this connection. The best and most effective SEO is a standards-compliant web design that exhausts its labeling options, i.e. actually uses H1 where it makes sense.
The first SEO measure for designers is to write standards-compliant HTML. Unfortunately, it is common in many cases to throw the standard conformity overboard and design it purely for optics in order to achieve various optical effects. This has never been recommended and will not be in the future.
Let’s see where we can actually work as designers.
HTML is a structure language. Unfortunately, some CMS – especially WordPress – lead us to believe that tags such as P for paragraphs are no longer needed. Also works like that. That may be true for the viewer of a page, but it contradicts the principles of the web.
Website visitors who do not come with their eyes, including search engine crawlers, recognize this deficiency immediately and have difficulties in correctly classifying parts of the content.
Avoid unnecessary elements
Ultimately, search engines are all about content, never about optics. (I’ll talk about the restrictions later.) You should therefore avoid design elements if they do not directly support the content. The content deserves the full focus. Think carefully about whether the little poll in the sidebar or the funny mini-game or the self-starting video are really conducive to this content. If not, leave it out.
They are not only obstacles in the assessment of relevance, but could even become a shock to visitors. This then results in what SEOs call a high bounce rate. People jump off shortly after entering your site. Google recognizes this and of course evaluates it negatively. The behavior may have nothing to do with the specific content, but only something to do with your overly playful approach to occupying the screen space.
Be careful not to leave any page orphaned. Without links, the search engine has no way of finding and indexing a specific page.
Links, on the other hand, should be short but telling. Google itself now prefers to work internally with numeric IDs and does not seem to give the so-called pretty URLs any advantages, at least in terms of ranking. However, the search engine is only part of your traffic. People will get along much better with speaking URLs, memorize them better and also associate them with the topic more easily if they see them on social media channels, for example.
There are two other aspects to link hygiene. Make sure that outgoing links are functional and always exchange dead links promptly. Don’t let your website get out of hand unnecessarily. Instead, keep it compact, with as few pages as possible.
Images are not intended to be used to store text. Just because the normal sighted visitor would not recognize this ruse right away, it does not mean that it would not be a problem for the search engine either. Images always need alt tags so that Google and Co. have the opportunity to guess what the image, which is invisible to the crawler, is about. You will never find pictures without an alt tag in the picture search.
Pictures are also not suitable as call-to-action. After all, the call-to-action is potentially your most important element of interaction. Better to put it on – as intended – as a button with a text marked as important.
Typography is important in modern design. Before, we could only use fancy fonts as text in the picture. Nowadays we don’t have to. Because we have web fonts. There are now over 900 font families in Google Fonts alone. There will be something there. Web fonts may on the one hand increase the loading time of your website, but on the other hand relieve it of images.
You should not omit the title and description of a page. Not so much because of the controversial ranking advantage, but mainly because it is the title and description that represent your site in the search results. Of course, both elements should be worded as succinctly as possible. The title contains around 70 characters, the description a maximum of 160. It is advisable to place any identified keywords on the respective page as close to the front as possible in the title and description.
In addition, you should deal with the topic of rich snippets.
Creates websites responsively
I only want to mention this point briefly, because the fact that Google has made mobile-friendliness the most important ranking criterion has probably escaped no one in the industry. Responsive design also has the advantage that each content is only available once and that the design is conceptually kept rather slim. So you don’t have to worry about duplicate content and you can keep an eye on the loading time.
Pay attention to the performance of your website
The faster a website loads, the better. The visitors like that and that’s why the search engine likes it too. There are now countless studies that show that visitors acknowledge long loading times when they leave the website. What is left cannot be particularly relevant and accordingly does not belong high on the search results page.
And what about the content?
Content is king, right? That’s true, of course, and the topic of content marketing is definitely worth several contributions of its own. However, the designer in the narrower sense will not be the supplier of this content, which is why we have excluded all SEO questions about content in this article.
In general, however, the higher the quality of the content, the higher the ranking. To put it simply. Here we should now have to deal with unpleasant developments. Because the practice of SEOs unfortunately looks different. But we’ll save that for another time.