What does website design have to do with SEO? More than you might think.
Ultimately, Google wants to deliver the best user experience possible. It’s the end-game of every algorithm update, and it’s the motivation behind Matt Cutt’s chorus of, “Create great content.” A meaningful user experience → improvement across a wide number of metrics Google is actively tracking → better SEO.
Aesthetic considerations in web design aren’t always connected with good SEO, but Google’s wildly intelligent algorithms can see (almost) everything, including hints of bounce rates and time-on-site.
Engaging site design is very much an SEO consideration that can help your rankings. But Google still needs to be able to index even the most engaging sites – even the parallax and infinite scroll ones!
Two popular trends in web design are parallax and the related infinite scroll. Parallax sites — like Cyclemon, Dangers of Fracking, and Tinké — scroll in what looks like different layers, with the “background” sometimes appearing to move at a different pace. Infinite scroll sites — like LinkedIn’s Pulse section, Forbes’ articles, and Quartz articles — scroll… infinitely.
The problems with parallax and infinite scroll websites, in general, is that they can trap a lot of content on one page. That can lead to weak foundational SEO with fewer pages for search engines to index, and fewer URLs to earn authority via links and social shares. And Google may not even be able to find all the content “hidden” in these creative designs. For example, Deal Genius sports infinite scroll in a way that never allows the user to reach their footer menu links!
It is possible to use parallax-inspired design in conjunction with more standard, SEO-friendly options, but overall, be careful not to be wooed by a pretty face.
Google recommends implementing infinite scroll with pagination so it can still index all of the site’s content. A correctly configured XML sitemap which includes URLs for each content asset or page is also important. And HTML5’s History API should also be used to change the URL in the browser as a user scrolls up and down a page.
Flash and Java tools are falling out of favor with web designers for the very reason that they are not very savvy. These elements are not crawlable, which, of course, means they leave huge holes in a site’s code.
If you really need those fancy features, learn HTML5. For online video, for example, HTML5 adds mobile and semantic markup capabilities, which are crucial for responsive design and SEO.
If you are using Java players to display videos, consider creating a YouTube channel and embedding your videos with YouTube video embed code. This offers the added benefit of creating a social presence for your brand on YouTube to expose your content to new eyes. YouTube search is the second highest trafficked search engine next to Google.com, so a smart use of keywords for your video titles and descriptions will increase the search presence of your site and videos. (Don’t forget your Video XML Sitemap too.)
Google likes responsive design — an approach that incorporates flexible systems so a page is optimized for viewing and navigation across a variety of devices — because users like responsive design.
The search giant recently highlighted just how much they like it with the rollout of the “Mobile-Friendly” label on mobile SERPs. Google ranks mobile-friendly sites higher on mobile searches. They have not yet admitted to considering responsive design as a ranking factor in normal desktop searches, but there is some speculation in the SEO community that it counts.
Similar to responsive design, Google likes to see a variety of media on a page because users tend to like to see a variety of media on a page. Including images and video will improve a website’s reputation with Google, but only if it’s done well.
Image Cred: Moz, “Designing for SEO”
Further, load time absolutely affects a site’s ranking. Large images that slow down a page can become more of an SEO liability than asset.
Using images and other on-site media is like playing with fire: the results can be very rewarding (life-saving, even) if done well, but can really burn if not handled right.
High-quality, relevant images lower bounce rates and increase user engagement:
But images that are too large and/or broken significantly increase bounce rates and can sink user engagement:
Media increases the value of a website, but it has to be done well. Images should be attractive and relevant, backed by SEO-friendly alt text, and compressed to load quickly.
Some SEO tips for using images on your pages:
- Include rich alt text and a descriptive file name (not “IMG_0342”)
- Reduce file sizes. Generally, keep them below 70 kb, but there are other considerations.
- Don’t use images in your headers or links.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and online you get just under three seconds before a user has developed an opinion of your brand. A host of design elements plays into that first impression, but one often-overlooked factor is a basic understanding of the psychology and functionality of color.
Consider how the psychology of color can speak to your target audience, help your website catch their attention, and move them to your CTA.
If your SEO strategy is a strong component of your overall marketing strategy, then on-site design and SEO should be considered together.
Site design and SEO strategy should go hand-in-hand. If you’re just getting started on your site, plan the two together. If your site is already up, take inventory of the design. (How’s your bounce rate? How big are your images? Can your navigation support a content strategy?) Then, get to work on optimizing your site’s design to compliment your killer SEO.