During the early days of the web – which weren’t that long ago – web services each required a specialized set of skills. Business owners needed a specialist to develop site. They needed a specialist to design a site. They needed a specialist to market the site. They needed a specialist to host it and maintain it.
The natural effect of this was to segment the web services industry into a cluster of silos. Early on, it was nearly impossible to find someone – or at least a team – that could do it all.
That’s no longer the case. Today, there are full-service firms that can manage every part of the website creation process. That includes web development, design, hosting, webmastering and marketing.
For business owners, working with a full-service firm offers critical advantages, including:
- Convenience – In the past, site owners were forced to work with several professionals or companies to launch their site. That’s multiple points of contact, and the site owner typically had to be the communication hub between them.
With a full-service firm, there’s one point of contact for business owners. Site owners aren’t required to act as their own project managers.
- Cost – Full-service firms can offer significantly lower rates than a group of unaffiliated web professionals. The resulting cost savings can be reinvested into success-boosting tasks like ongoing web marketing.
And there’s another major advantage: Full-service firms integrate important web concepts together. For example, a full-service firm can ensure that every step of the website creation process supports future marketing efforts.
Web design and search engine optimization are not in separate silos
Automotive makers source their parts from many suppliers, but they assemble them at one facility. Imagine how unreliable they would be if one facility built half the car, another facility built another half, and then a third team slapped those pieces together. You would expect additional failure points, and therefore more manufacturing issues.
In this way, websites are like vehicles. They are extremely complex machines that involve hundreds (maybe thousands) of interacting parts. Inside a full-service web firm, several people are responsible for putting the site together, but they do so with unified communication, unified project management and a unified vision. Nothing is outsourced. Even with multiple people contributing, every layer of the website works seamlessly together.
What does this mean? If the site’s design isn’t formatted to work with its navigation, its architecture, its marketing or its overall conversion-enhancing mission, then the site will have serious issues ranking on Google and other search engines.
Search engines prefer websites that combine cohesive SEO and web design
The web is moving away from siloing design, marketing and other web-related processes. And by web, we mean search engines like Google. Search engines have an outsized effect on how sites are managed, for obvious reasons. Don’t do what Google wants, and earning those high-value SERP (search engine results pages) rankings will be impossible.
And what Google wants is SEO that’s baked deep into the website’s foundation – all the way down into the site’s architecture and design.
There’s only one way to ensure that: Pick a web designer that also understands SEO. With an SEO-experienced designer, your website’s main elements will be optimized for better search. That includes:
- The site’s information architecture
- The site’s navigation
- The site’s usability and readability
- The site’s mobile friendliness
- The site’s technical performance, including loading speeds
- And a host of other SEO-improving elements
We’ll go into each in depth.
Information architecture: How your pages are designed will influence indexibility and the user experience
A website’s information architecture (IA) describes how the site’s content is organized into pages. Clearly, it’s a bad idea to stick all of your site’s content on a single page. And clearly, it’s a bad idea to spread out five pages’ worth of content over 50 pages. Well-considered IA strategizes how content pages are grouped together, for the benefit of search engines and for users.
If a web designer understands SEO, they’ll know how to structure the site so high-value content and conversion pages are prioritized. In fact, they should wireframe the site so a clear page hierarchy emerges. Modern website design relies on a hierarchal approach to IA, with main content section pages coming right off of the home page. For example, an industrial equipment supplier might create a content section for each industry they service, and each one is clearly linked to from the home page.
This pattern continues down from the main category pages to subcategory pages and so on, all the way down to individual product pages. Navigation, which we’ll address next, should reinforce this hierarchal IA from top to bottom.
There are two SEO-related advantages to this approach:
- Google can crawl and index hierarchal IA more efficiently – You may have heard that Google “crawls” websites with a fleet of “spiders.” These spiders are bots designed to read a page, interpret its content and categorize it for indexing purposes. When a page is indexed, that means it is eligible for one of Google’s SERPs – the primary goal for every site owner.
Google’s spiders are designed to efficiently read a hierarchal IA format, so they can index more pages on your site and more accurately categorize them for indexing.
- Visitors will find what they want, faster – An SEO-focused IA has the excellent side effect of also supporting a better UX. That’s not a coincidence – Google wants the same things that users want. With a descending hierarchy to work with, your site’s traffic will be able to find everything they want with minimal hassle. A clean UX like that will reduce the bounce rate on your site’s pages and keep potential customers glued to the site longer.
Web designers with a background in SEO will gravitate to this approach, ensuring their sites are compatible with what Google wants, and what the site’s traffic wants.
Navigation: SEO-focused navigation helps Google prioritize the right pages
Navigation is closely related to IA. If a website is like a city, IA is focused on where traffic is going, while navigation is focused on how they get there. Like with a city, there may be plenty of interesting places to see (your site’s content), but getting to those places (your site’s navigation) may be a terrible chore. Navigation issues – missing links, missing nav menus, unclear nav menus, confusing redirect – have a deleterious effect on a site’s SEO and ranking potential.
Web designers are responsible for putting navigation elements in place, and given navigation’s impact on SEO, it’s important for the designer to know what SEO-friendly nav looks like.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Nav menus where they’re expected (top and side)
- No orphan pages
- No unresolved 404 errors (redirect or at least add a custom 404 page)
- A clear, easy to read URL structure (slugs should reflect page hierarchy)
- Intelligently placed internal links
Here’s the ultimate mark of SEO and UX-compatible navigation: On every page inside your content silos, are there navigation elements that can take the user up or down a level? These could be top or side menus, or a breadcrumb menu that sits close to the page title. Are there internal links marked with context-appropriate anchor text?
These navigation elements don’t just help search engines get around your site, they help search engines understand which pages are important and which ones are secondary. This will be reflected in those pages’ rankings.
Usability and readability: Proper web design fundamentals improve UX metrics and SEO
Usability and readability are at the heart of what web designers are concerned about. These are largely concerned with how visual elements are arranged and what their visual attributes look like. They’re also tightly correlated with UX quality, which itself has a major impact on a site’s SEO.
These tend to be design basics like:
- Sizing and coloring text so that it’s easy to read.
- Laying out text blocks so they flow.
- Providing supporting media like images, videos or infographics.
- Using readable typefaces.
- Being reasonable with the number of hyperlinks present.
- Ensuring high-value elements (contact us fields, CTA buttons) attract enough attention.
These are SEO-friendly because they’re user friendly. Google pays close attention to user behavior, assuming that high bounce rates indicate low quality content or design. The above elements, if designed with usability and readability in mind, will align with best SEO practices.
Mobile responsiveness: Search engines insist on mobile-friendly designs
Users expect businesses to provide a responsive, fast and readable mobile version of their website. And while Google’s insistence in this area has been exaggerated in the past, there’s no doubt that a mobile website is necessary for SEO purposes. In fact, Google recently announced that many websites will pass through a mobile-first form of indexing going forward, so it’s definitely one of the search juggernaut’s priorities.
The primary goal with mobile design is responsiveness. A responsive mobile design in one that resizes and reorganizes elements for every possible mobile device. In other words, there’s a particular layout dedicated to a certain iPhone model, a certain Samsung phone model and so on. The idea is to always provide an optimal viewing experience for visitors, no matter what device they’re using.
It’s generally simple for web designers to add responsive designs to a website, but it does take additional effort and time. An SEO-aware web designer will know that such a time investment is worth it, and will ensure it’s made.
Page speed and image optimization: Faster loading times correlate with better search engine rankings
Every now and then, Google pushes over an update that prioritizes technical performance. The last major one was its Core Vitals update, which added extra emphasis to a trio of technical performance metrics – ones considered “vital” for UX.
Web designers have some influence on all three – Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID) and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). LCP and CLS, in particular, rely on optimizing image sizes, picking the right image formats and leverage some technical tricks like lazy loading to bring in the most important elements first. CLS can be improved by preloading web fonts (sudden font changes are notorious for pushing other elements around) and by setting size attributes for images. These methods are well-known among designers who prioritize SEO readiness in their work.
Tags, metadata and proper keywords usage: SEO-focused design checks off the little, but important, details
Web designers spend most of their time manipulating individual pieces of content until they look just right. That means managing an array of attributes and spending a lot of time on the website’s backend. While they’re there, SEO-aware designers can ensure elements are properly tagged and that there’s keyword-rich metadata attached to everything. Web designers aren’t usually responsible for writing headers, but if they know SEO, they can at least identify headers that could benefit with more or less keyword saturation, or from the use of higher value keywords.
There are a ton of small SEO-focused tasks that someone will eventually have to handle, if the website is properly search optimized. Web designers with digital marketing experience will be aware of those tasks and either perform them, or guide clients in their completion.
Web design and SEO are thoroughly linked, so web designers with SEO experience are in demand
Web services are consolidating. Website owners need more from their web designers, because layout design is only one part of a highly complex web creation process. Well after the visual elements are set in place, there’s still plenty to do that’s related to site success. That includes SEO, which works best when it’s integrated deep into the site’s design – whether that’s effective IA, effective navigation, better readability, better usability, faster page loading or one of many other factors that affect search engine optimization.
With so much at stake for website owners – a website that Google is willing to rank – it’s critical to partner with a web designer who understands why SEO is so important.
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