As a web designer, there’s no getting away from your responsibility to make design choices with SEO in mind. Your clients want their sites to rank well in search engines – there’s not much point in having one otherwise – and this means we sometimes have to make compromises.
Compromise really is the key term, too. There’s no perfect way to design a website for search and your all your other priorities (user experience, conversions, etc.). You have to make the call on a number of design choices and come to the best overall result you can.
Here are 10 design choices to avoid for the sake of your clients’ search ranking.
The first thing to think about with search optimisation indexability and there are a number of potential issues you can come across as a designer.
#1: One page, too much content
Single page designs might work for brands with a single message to get across but they’re an SEO killer in most circumstances. Keywords end up competing with each other, messages clash and search engines have a hard time deciding which kind of queries these pages should rank for.
You also have the risk of information overload and choice fatigue, which can impact engagement factors – something we’ll come back to later. The same thing goes for most home page designs now, too. You (or your client) need to decide how much information is enough/too much.
#2: JS/Ajax dynamic content
Either way, placing important content that needs to be indexable in JS/Ajax code is a potential problem. You can remove this potential by not making the important stuff dynamic or take an educated risk.
#3: Providing no context for visual content
Google likes pages with visual content but it needs to know they’re relevant to the rest of the page. Search engines can’t crawl text in images, which means important text should be overlayed with the correct HTML markup (h1 tags, p tags, whatever).
The same thing goes for video content and infographics. Search engines can’t watch videos or read infographics but they can crawl transcriptions – something you and your clients might want to consider adding where appropriate.
Loading times have been a ranking factor for Google since 2010, but user expectations are very different seven years later. These days, the industry sets a benchmark of two seconds or less for any page to load, despite the fact we’re expected to create richer experiences.
#4: Too many server requests
Something you have to think about as you’re working on a design is how many server requests you’re adding. Every Google Fonts you use, every video you include and every image is another server request that adds to the lists and slows down loading times.
#5: Using bulky files
Those hi-res images might look the part but they all take time to download and render in the browser. They also demand more data and stronger connections, which can become problematic for mobile users in particular.It’s not only media files that add to loading times either; the same thing goes for code files, plugins and any other resource the browser needs to download.
It’s not only media files that add to loading times either; the same thing goes for code files, plugins and any other resource the browser needs to download.
#6: JS overload
#7: Third-party resources
Another thing worth keeping in mind is what kind of third-party resources your clients will have to use. Aside from the quantity of fonts, plugins and other add-ons, the issue of quality is also important. This can be especially true with WordPress themes and plugins, jQuery plugins, frameworks and any other integrations.
Google uses a number of engagement signals to help build a picture of the user experience of pages and value of its content. Bounce rate, pages visited, time on site and social shares are just some of the signals search engines can combine to achieve this.
#8: Popups, notifications and other intrusions
Let me start by saying high bounce rates aren’t always a bad thing (eg: landing pages). But when you’re expecting people to navigate a site and work their way along the buying process, you have to be careful about the roadblocks you put in their way.
Popups are now a signal in themselves, meaning they can hurt rankings, but there are plenty of other intrusions that should be used with care.
#9: Designing without content
This is a really common one. We’ve all bought WordPress themes and then tried to fill them out with content. The problem is you’re cramming content into layouts and containers that weren’t designed for it. You’re instantly restricted by what you can say, which defeats the whole point of creating a website that encourages people to buy.
Your design should be bringing the content to life, not squeezing misshapen box. On a more technical SEO level, you’ll have trouble formatting your headings, designing CTAs and choosing breakpoints when the content isn’t already there to work with.
#10: Designing individual pages
This is another common one with themes and frameworks being the default option for so many projects. Every page on your client’s site is supposed to guide them to where the action is. Whether it’s the homepage, a blog post or landing page visitors see first, there needs to be a clear path towards the purchase (or whatever kind of conversion your client is after).
Designing individual pages means users slip away and that’s bad news for search rankings – not to mention conversion rates.
Designing with SEO in mind isn’t really all that difficult. Focus on creating the best experience you can for users and you’ll be covering most of the essentials by default. Aside from that, you have to make sure all the important content in crawlable and indexable.
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these specific design choices. It’s about coming to the best overall result you can through compromise and moderation.