Design vs. SEO: Can My Site Look Good And Rank Well?
Do you have to sacrifice all of the creative and artistic elements of your web site to rank in the search engines? Later in this article I’ll show you a real case scenario and the design and SEO approach used.
Thanks to the birth of professional search engine marketers the top ranks are saturated with the pages of companies that can pay for such insight. That said, it’s certainly possible to employ high ranking tactics in your own website. Actually, the most basic tactics can move you up from an 800 position to a 300. However, it’s the top of the scale where efforts seem almost inversely exponential or logarithmic, you put a ton in to see a tiny change in rank.
How do you meld the ambitious overhauls required to attain significant ranking and NOT compromise the design of your site?
Design Can’t Be Ignored
If you have an existing site, you’ve probably tied it into your existing promotional content. Even if you’ve allowed your website to cater to the more free form of the net, it should still be designed as a recognizable extension of your business.
The reasons for doing so are valid, and can’t simply be ignored for the sake of achieving a first age position, can they? If your research into search optimization leaves you shuffling around thoughts of content, keyword saturated copy and varying link text, you are correctly understanding some of the basic pillars of search engine optimization.
And, you aren’t alone if you have this disheartening thought—If I do all this SEO stuff and reach number one across the board, who would stay at my site because it’s so stale and boring I’m even embarrassed to send people there!
There are two ways to successfully combine design and SEO. The first is to be a blue chip and/or Fortune 500 company with multi million dollar advertising and branding budgets to deliver your website address via television, radio, billboards, PR parties and giveaways with your logo.
Since chances are that’s not you, and certainly not me, lets look at the second option. It begins with some research into your market, some thoughtful and creative planning, and a designer who is a search engine optimizer, and understands at least basic CSS and HTML programming techniques. Or a combination of people with these skills that can work very well together.
Design is for brochures, instant results are for the web
That’s not the whole truth, but it will help compare and contrast design and SEO. In reality, SEO needs the quantity and detail of supporting text that a brochure has, but good web design has to catch a viewer’s attention in 5 seconds. It’s pretty difficult to read and absorb the content of an entire brochure in less than 5 seconds.
Search engines need rich, related, appropriate, changing and poignant content. And for them to rank you, all of that must be on your pages. But if it’s not well organized and broken down into bite size chunks, no one is going to bother learning about what you’re offering.
Construction 101- Attractive Design and SEO
Sadly, it’s very difficult to optimize a site without completely overhauling it. You’ll soon understand why. Design and SEO must be strongly rooted into every aspect of each other, possessing a true, symbiotic relationship. Lets look at a simplified example of this. Lets say you are optimizing a page for the keyword phrase, “pumpkin bread recipe.”
From a design standpoint “Pumpkin Bread Recipe” would be the heading for the page, in a nice, readable font with the words perhaps an orange-brown color. And lets add a fine, green rule around it.
There are many ways to create that simple, colored heading. However, there is only one way that is best for both design and SEO. That is to use Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. In addition, that line of code containing “Pumpkin Bread Recipe” needs to be as close to the top of the page as possible (which CSS also allows).
To a viewer, the recipe text might be read more if it were located to the right of a photo of a buttered piece of pumpkin bread on a small plate next to a lightly steaming cup of coffee.
SEO needs to read that ingredient list and baking instructions. Search engines now understand on a rudimentary level that the ingredients are indeed related to the optimized words- pumpkin bread recipe.
Additionally, it would take many extra lines of code to make a table in this example if you didn’t use CSS. Search engines don’t like extra code. In fact, given enough times, that “extra” code will make the keyword phrases seem less important and hurt rank.
Note: In the page code, a few thousand characters more than you need to get all of that content organized would normally just add to your page load time, and might be acceptable. But to a search engine, that time can really add up. It wont read through page after page, site after site, billionth after billionth character of unimportant code to find the relevant text. Therefore, the less code, the better your chances. Moral- Less code, more content.
SEO usually means REDO
In the previous pumpkin example, CSS will eliminate the need for almost any extra code at all, and provide the means to place the text to the right of the photo.
Now, imagine that someone had already created this page, but done so using other programming methods. The page could very well be W3C compliant, well programmed and got the job done. However, without designing and programming for optimization as in the above illustration, the end result would have no significant rank compared to others that do.
You can be sure that there exist at least 30 web sites built to rank for the keywords “pumpkin bread recipe”. Note- why did I use the number 30? It’s safe to assume if you’re not on the first three results pages of a search, you’re not being seen.
While this is a simple example, hopefully you understand that it would be impossible to optimize this simple page without redoing it. This isn’t always the case, but extrapolate this into detailed, multiple pages in an entire website and the issue is greatly magnified.
Aesthetic Importance vs. Traffic
Everyone has an idea of what they want their site to look like. The pretty factor- splash pages, cool flash and graphics must now be justified as to their importance to the bottom line. If you want/need to establish an online presence, you will have to make some compromises in these areas.
Understand exactly the role your site should play in your company marketing.
Ask- What is the goal of your website and who is its audience? Is it for existing clients to see? Is it to reach new clients? To venture into yet untapped market segments?
Ask- How strongly do your other marketing efforts promote your site?
Ask- Is your website an extension of your existing collateral that must reflect the same graphical look?
Ask- Is your website meant to assist to your sales force or is it your sales force?
Chances are you wont have any single answers. That’s ok. It will give you some meat for your designer/SEO to digest and develop a solution for you.
Real case of Design balanced with SEO and salability
If you sell jewelry solely online, you must have a catalog of exceptional photography and detailed, high-resolution close up images. But, you must be optimized and rank well if you want to sell any of that jewelry.
If such a company approached me with this project, my recommendation would be this: If you sell a product, people have to see that product. Lots of good images. The site should be slick and sheik and easy to navigate. The home page has to capture the buyer’s attention. If it’s very expensive jewelry, the site should have a lot of class and elegance. If it’s home made jewelry, the site shouldn’t look home made.
However, as you have no store front, if the online community can’t find you, you’re business will fail. So I’d have a very optimized home page with some discussion of the quality of your product, the history of your company, etc. This is also great sales copy. Ad a few special catalog pieces with descriptions below some smartly placed gifs, jpegs and readable type graphics built out of CSS and you’ve got a cool to look at, content rich, well optimized layout.
I’d make the link to your catalog very obvious and prominent. Note the catalog is not the homepage. I’d also include subsequent well written, in depth pages about the history of some specific pieces. Load them with targeted keywords and a few images. Again, make your catalog link very prominent. In doing so you’re creating relevant content for search engines AND providing additional pages that can rank.
The catalog can be database driven, simple and changeable, and you have the foundation to build your search rank.
Planning Your Site
If your designer is not a search engine optimizer, hire one to work with your designer from the initial development stage of your site. If you would like a visible presence that is not dependant on traditional marketing efforts to get your name around, then you will have to optimize.
However, with advances in html and css, text itself can be a very flexible and attractive design element with endless possibilities. Site optimization consists of some rigid, unbendable rules. It can be intertwined successfully with very creative and attractive design. If your Designer and SEO aren’t the same person or company, make sure they have the same, close working relationship.