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As professionals, we should give much thought to SEO in web design when designing clients’ sites. Without a pro handling this during build-out, it’s possible nobody else will be left to ensure that a search engine can easily crawl and read the content.
When developing or designing a website, you need to work with search engines — working against them will only lead to negative results.
But as any seasoned pro will admit, building an SEO-friendly site is not easy. We might follow SEO best practices, including fast load times, mobile-friendly experience, and descriptive URLs. However, coming with a solid plan and structured approach representing the services you offer your customers can be daunting.
With that in mind, we offer this checklist developed to guide developers and serve as a source of information for clients.
Checklist to improve SEO in web design
Now that we’ve revisited the important nature of SEO website design, below are our SEO tips to improve web design.
Have a responsive web design
You need to consider many things when designing a website, including the layout and look of the site. Google recommends building a website that responds well to multiple platforms, including mobile devices. Besides, first impressions matter, with many users spending only a few seconds on a landing page to decide whether it’s valuable or not.
Internet usage on mobile devices has significantly increased over the last few years.
If you are serious about your SEO rankings, you need to design your website for mobile. Failure to do this will significantly hurt rankings.
Mobile users are more likely to leave a site if it is not responsive. When users spend less time on the page, it will lead to a higher bounce rate. On the other hand, when users spend more time on a website, it’s good for SEO.
Google’s mobile-friendly test will help check whether your mobile is optimized for your mobile devices. Also, WordPress and many other platforms allow you to view your site on different devices.
Make navigation search engine friendly
Navigation is another vital element of web design. The site structure, URLs, XML sitemaps, and other components need to provide more information about what each of the pages is all about.
Navigation is more than having a menu at the top of a site. It is how you direct users and search engines to the most relevant content on a site.
Navigation is not all about text links; it includes content on all page templates on the website.
Think about the signpost analogy in a supermarket and how it helps customers get what they want easily. The same applies to a website. When users land on a page, they need a signpost to quickly find what they are looking for. If users can’t find what they are looking for easily, they will leave that page and click another option from the search engine results.
If search engines and users can’t understand content easily, the chances are the site is unlikely to rank on top ranking results. Some common issues that can lead to poor navigation include:
- Java programs, flash files, audio and video files
- Orphaned content
- Content only available through site search
- Embedding content from another site - Frames
- Splitting content into subdomains instead of sub-folders
- AJAX pages
The catch is to ensure that search engines and users can easily discover and understand important content.
Optimize website images
Images play a critical role in web design. However, if the images are not optimized for search engines, they may work against SEO.
Page speed forms a vital part of SEO and will determine whether a website will rank higher on Google or not. That’s why Google came up with Core Web Vitals that help determine where to rank a website on search result pages.
That being the case, if your images take longer to load, it will slow down your page, and Google considers that you are not offering a good user experience. According to the new user page experience update, Google will favor websites that provide users with a good user experience and rank them higher than those with a bad user experience.
As such, ensure to include file names on images and keep the file sizes as small as possible. This way, search engines will understand images, and those images won’t take forever to load.
Don’t ignore image ALT attributes
Ensuring that images load faster is only the beginning; you also need to include alt attributes to be 100-percent W3C compliant. However, this doesn’t involve adding any text to your images — alt attributes need to be relevant and accurate.
Alt attributes help search engines like Google understand images to determine whether they are relevant to a search query. They are also helpful for users who cannot see images.
Ensure content is crawlable by search engines
Creating informative and unique content is one thing; ensuring that users can locate content on the web pages is a totally different thing. This is where the term “crawlable” comes in. In other words, can search engine spiders discover and fetch every link within a website?
Web crawling bots are programs used by search engines to locate and revisit content on web pages to determine how many pages of these sites are crawlable. If a bot cannot follow a link, it will not be found in the search results.
To that end, here’s how to make web pages crawlable:
- Ensure your most important links are easily accessible
- Don’t ignore meta content
- Fix broken links
- Fix or dumb 404 pages
- Make your URLs search friendly
- Remove unnecessary URLs
Design search-friendly URLs
Search-friendly URLs are good for search engine optimization and user experience. More specifically, well-optimized URLs meet the needs of searchers and users. URLs are among the most important factors that search engines use to rank a page on search results.
URLs describe a web page to potential visitors and search engines. As such, they need to be accurate and well-structured to describe your page appropriately. To that end, here are some steps we take to create SEO-friendly URLs for our clients:
- Include keywords in URLs — We include the most important keyword at the beginning of the URL to ensure that they give much significance to them. However, don’t overuse keywords, as search engines might penalize you for that.
- Describe the content — The URL should give users a good idea of what the content on your web pages is all about. Including an accurate phrase in your URL will help describe your content.
- Keep URLs short — While a URL should describe content, that doesn’t mean that you should keep it long. Instead, it should be as brief as possible but still descriptive. When you use fewer words, search engine spiders will give more value to each word. As earlier stated, keyword stuffing is bad for SEO and will hurt website ranking.
- Use lowercase letters in URLs — Using capital letters in URLs can hurt SEO. Ensure to use lowercase letters to avoid loss of page rank.
- Separate words in URLs with hyphens — Separating words in a URL using hyphens is good for search engine optimization and user readability. The truth is Google views hyphens as spaces between words that help improve readability. It is crucial, however, to understand that using underscores won’t help optimize URLs.
Update website content
A website is unlikely to have a good SEO if it contains stale content. That’s why we recommend updating content on a website from time to time. More so, keeping content fresh will help reduce bounce rate, which could otherwise hurt SEO.
Updating a website regularly is critical when it comes to SEO. For instance, leaving a huge gap between posts will make the website less credible. Besides, checking a website more often will help stay on top of things like broken links.
Users and search engines want to see content changing regularly. Content will be more crawlable by search engines and more valuable to users.
Use unique titles & meta descriptions
Page titles and meta descriptions are critical when it comes to SEO. However, most inexperienced web designers forget to change descriptions but create a template on several pages. That’s a huge mistake.
Instead, use unique meta data on every page to ensure that the search engines understand the structure of your website.
Block pages you don’t want search engines to index
While you may want Google to index as many pages on a website as possible, that might not always be the best scenario. That being the case, you need a deliberate effort to block search engines like Google from indexing specific pages on a website to improve SEO. More specifically, here are some pages you may want to prevent search engines from indexing:
- Thank you pages
- Admin pages
- Landing pages for ads
- Duplicate pages
- Low-value pages
- Privacy and policy pages
However, before you block these pages from being indexed, carefully audit the website to understand better what pages you need to exclude.
Core elements for a well-optimized website design
Here are some vital elements to ensure a website is optimized for SEO:
The domain says a lot about a business. To get the most out of a domain, ensure that it relates to the products or services that your clients offer. Another important thing we do for our clients is redirect all variations and subdomains to a single canonical version of the site and point them correctly to the main site.
While most website owners think that having keywords in their domain is good for SEO, that isn’t always the case. The best approach is to design a website for the real world.
You also need to be careful when choosing a hosting platform. As a rule of thumb, ensure that your hosting is fast and, if need be, platform specific.
The content management system (CMS) will hugely impact business success. For instance, we prefer to use WordPress for most small businesses because it is indexed in a way that Google can understand. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it works for all situations. It just presents a good starting point, especially for small businesses.
No one will understand the content of a site if they can’t read it. That’s why we don’t recommend using images, flash, or video on the behind-the-scenes of the main content on our client’s sites but rather text-based.
Of course, images and videos have their place in web design. Still, you need to use clear language when communicating about a business and its services to ensure that Google can read and understand it.
If you decide to use images, PDFs, and videos (they are an excellent source of traffic, too), ensure that they are easily discoverable and indexable.
Why does SEO in web design matter?
You already know that SEO has everything to do with visibility, and design involves visual aspects. In fact, SEOs and designers carry different tasks that are unique from each other. Well, this is true to some point.
If you want to improve ranking on SERPs, you need to go beyond SEO — you need to design a website well; otherwise, competitors will outrank the client. If you don’t know, SEO and web design work together, meaning you will not get value for your money if you ignore one of them.
SEO is vital in your web design
If you skip SEO when designing or redesigning a website, you may never rank on top of search engine result pages (SERPs). SEO best practices relating to web design, like site architecture and page speed optimization, can influence site design. You need to consider these SEO factors to get an optimized design and improve rankings.
Web design can negatively impact your SEO
It is not uncommon to hear cases of companies that lose their ranking after rebranding their website due to failure to set up 301 redirects. Poor web design will lower SEO rank, which will ultimately impact traffic and bottom line.
Failure to invest in SEO website design will lead to loss of time, money, and rankings. On the other hand, incorporating SEO and web design forms the foundation of a good SEO strategy.
As you can see, SEO and web design work hand in hand. For web designers and developers, it's not something to be ignored — even if your skillset is more specialized in other areas. Gather resources, including this checklist, to shore up your knowledge and make sure you're covering the key areas for clients.