Once upon a time there lived an Internet whose pages were bursting with whichever keywords and phrases the user deemed important for rankings – this was essentially SEO web design, albeit in it’s primitive stages.
Fast forward to the present day and SEO web design has become a much more complex, multi-faceted feature of the digital landscape. Many processes in web design can now contribute to – or hinder – your ranking performance in Google and other search engine results. Here are just a few of the most important things you should consider when developing your website:
Yes, the days of reckless keyword stuffing are long over – Google’s Penguin update back in 2012 saw to that – but keywords are still a vital element for successful SEO, provided they are implemented responsibly.
If you do your keyword research effectively, you’ll be able to populate your infrastructure and onsite content with the best keywords, terms and phrases which will help you move up the ranks. Identifying your head terms as well as some relevant long tail phrases will also help you on your way to owning your corner of the market.
In order to take full advantage of your head terms, you should do your best to incorporate them into as many of the following areas of your website structure as possible:
It’s also good practice to track the performance of the keywords you use on your site to ensure you’re using the best ones for what you are trying to achieve. This way you can continually improve and grow your website as you go along.
…positive rankings will come. The structure of your site and how you put it together can have a big impact when it comes to SEO, so getting this right is of paramount importance.
Search engines aren’t humans, so they don’t see your website in the same way as you or I can.
Tip: Try using Google’s cache feature to view your site’s homepage to see exactly how Google sees it
If you’ve built your site using words, text and html links, you’ll probably find that Google is seeing everything it needs to see in order to index your site correctly.
If, however, you’ve built lots of fancy features for your site using Photoshop, Flash or Java Script, you’ll probably find, when you cache the page, that Google is seeing hardly anything of value. This is because these formats are not readable by any search engines, so all that wonderful content you’ve spent hours building will have zero SEO value.
Don’t despair though, you can still create many of those fancy effects using CSS3 which is readable for search engines, so there’s no need for a dull website.
Another way to ensure that the search engines crawl and index every page on your website is to ensure that your XML sitemap is uploaded and easily discoverable. If you don’t, search engines may end up completely missing valuable information and this could hurt your SEO.
If you don’t have one, get one. It’s very easy; WordPress users can download this Google XML Sitemaps plugin which will generate a sitemap for you. Non-Wordpress users can use this online XML Sitemaps tool and follow the step-by-step instructions.
If search engines and users land on your site and can’t easily find their way around, both will leave with a clear idea that your site isn’t worth visiting again.
Making your navigation logical and building a clear network of internal links will ensure that your site is both search engine and user friendly at the same time.
With this in place, the search engines will be able to crawl your entire site and accurately analyse quality (the better the quality the more likely you are to rank highly) and you will find that your user bounce rate will be much lower compared with a site with poor navigational structure.
Tip: Avoid using image buttons as navigation, search engines won’t recognise these!
URL structure is one of the most fundamental parts of SEO. It, therefore, makes sense that webmasters should strive to make theirs as simple as possible so as to be readable to both human users and search engines alike.
Below is a perfect example of the scale of URL readability from Moz.com:
A well-structured URL will give the human users and search engines a good idea of what to expect when they land on the page and whether it is relevant to their needs.
This more readable structure also allows for the insertion of your head keywords which is well worth doing. Your URLs will show up in Google search results and can act as a key factor for a user deciding to click through or not. URLs can also act as link anchor text, so the clearer it is, the more SEO value you will obtain from it.
One final note on site structure worth remembering is how best to utilise images on your site, as this is often overlooked in web development. As we’ve mentioned before, search engines don’t see web pages in the same way we do, so images are more or less invisible to them unless you mark them up correctly.
First of all, you should only use images which are relevant to the topic of your article or page topic. This way, your image will be surrounded by relevant and related text and will, therefore, rank better for the key terms it is intended for.
Secondly, give your images good file names. For example the image above uses the file name url-structure-scale-moz.jpg. The main keywords are ‘url’ and ‘structure’ so these are at the beginning of the name.
Next, you need to make sure your images are scaled appropriately. Large images can contribute to slow page load speeds which will negatively impact your SEO. There are some handy websites out there like ImageOptim which will help you optimise your images properly, and for free.
You should also mark up your images with descriptive alt text and titles. This will ensure that this descriptive information will be displayed if the images themselves cannot be viewed.
For example, if the user has images turned off in their browser or is using a screen reader due to a visual impairment, they will still be able to find out what that image was displaying which will mean the article will still make sense. Make sure your alt text and titles include your SEO keywords and describe the image as best you can.
For some time now, Responsive web design has been recommended by Google as the most effective way of designing websites for multiple devices.
Then, following Google’s announcement of their Mobile Friendly Algorithm update earlier this year and its subsequent release in April, the webmaster community went mad and a rush to optimise websites for mobile ensued.
Many webmasters and site owners were worried about their sites dropping out of mobile search results if they failed to migrate to a responsive website format, though this was an unnecessary fear as the new algorithm was never intended to penalize non-mobile-friendly sites.
However, building a responsive site is a very good idea if you want to reap the additional SEO benefits this method brings.
For starters, responsive web design brings with it a much better quality of user experience as it will adapt perfectly to whichever device the website is being viewed on.
In addition to the improved user experience is the benefit of not needing to use a separate URL for a mobile friendly version of your site. Setting up a separate ‘m.’ mobile site can dilute your link equity and create the need to drive links to two different URLs which is, of course, a lot of extra effort.
On the other hand, having a responsive site – and therefore no separate mobile URL – can mean that you are unable to split out your keyword targeting, making it more difficult to target keywords specific to the needs of mobile users. Depending on the purpose of your website, this is something you may need to consider during the web design and development process.
Angela Roche, founder of Design By Day – a design & digital studio from Manchester.
For more articles on craft & code visit the Design By Day blog.
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