Web design is very subjective. Sure, there are best practices, rules, and trends, but most aspects of design are left up to the individual designer. This has unfortunately resulted in a design culture that believes certain aspects of the process can be thrown aside or swapped out.
Reaching this conclusion can be dangerous, though, especially when it means ignoring the importance of SEO monitoring.
The reality is that web design, SEO, and user experience are all interconnected. It’s when you begin to look at these as separate entities or tasks that a website starts to fall apart. While you may feel like your website is wonderful, immersive, and engaging, what happens if your target market doesn’t feel the same way? Well, you won’t know if you aren’t monitoring what’s happening.
While it’s certainly not a web designer’s job to create a website that performs exceptionally well from an SEO point of view, it’s imperative that you focus on how usability and user experience are affecting the site’s ability to be seen.
“Usability and user experience are second order influences on search engine ranking success,” reads Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO. “They provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site’s external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality.”
While usability and user experience may be secondary influences, there are design elements that are considered direct influences. These include:
It’s not just the technical aspects of web design that affect SEO, though. When it comes down to it, a site’s surface level design elements influence whether or not an individual trusts or mistrusts the site – more so than the actual content on the pages. This is clearly seen in a research study titled Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites, where 94 percent of respondents claimed web design elements impacted how they saw a website, and only 6 percent referenced specific content.
Specifically, some of the design elements that impacted participants’ trust or mistrust of a website included things like busy or complex layouts, pop-up advertisements, small print that’s difficult to read, boring web design, lack of color, and slow load times.
“A website’s design often provides the first impression customers have of a company,” says designer Joseph Putnam. “If the design is outdated, disorganized, cluttered, or uses unappealing colors, it creates a poor first impression.”
As web design has become more complex and important in marketing, branding, and ecommerce success, the lines between web design and SEO have started to dissolve. In today’s marketplace, it’s very difficult to be a successful web designer without having a working knowledge of SEO. The opposite is true, as well. Expert SEOs must have at least some understanding of progressive web design trends and how they impact search engine rankings.
Just a decade ago, web design was pretty safe. Most designers used the same traditional layouts with similar paradigms, regardless of the brand, industry, or purpose of the website. Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of creativity happening in the web design space – at least when it came to branded websites that businesses stood behind. You’d see some creativity on a designer’s portfolio site, or something to that effect, but a big brand wasn’t going to rely on a site that they saw as “gimmicky.”
Well, fast forward 10 or 15 years and the web design industry has become a little gutsier. Not only has technology improved, but creativity now abounds. Progressive websites are no longer reserved for fringe brands or artists. If you look around, you’ll notice that some of the world’s biggest companies – largely in the tech space – are taking risks and testing out new web design paradigms. And while they look fantastic, the question is, how are they impacting SEO? Let’s study a few and find out.
The good news is that we now have a ton of flexibility in the web design space. With all of these different paradigms, techniques, and approaches, the internet has become a diverse landscape with immersive websites and engaging resources that are both attractive and functional. However, web designers have to consider the SEO impact these different paradigms have prior to implementation, as well as after.
As a web designer, it’s your job to pay attention to things like usability, aesthetics, and functionality. However, it’s important that you understand that everything you do has an impact on your client’s SEO. That’s why it’s smart to invest in ongoing SEO monitoring for your sites. It will allow you to sit down with your client and say, “This element is impacting your overall success in this manner, and here’s how I know this.”
Think about it, how many web designers have a thorough grasp of how web design affects SEO? Only a handful understand this relationship well enough to provide clients with added value. As a result, the services most web designers offer their clients are incomplete. They’re offering web design without any attention given to SEO, which is like selling a car without an engine. It may look good on the outside, but as soon as you try to crank that car up, you realize it’s not leaving the lot. You can sell clients pretty sites, but do they meet SEO standards?
Another benefit of SEO monitoring is that you can study the larger trends that are happening within the industry. While you aren’t able to gain full access to sites you aren’t involved with, many monitoring tools provide similar levels of insights with regard to competitor websites. This gives you a major advantage.
If you see one of your competitors launch a new website with progressive design features and elements, you can leverage certain SEO monitoring tools to track and study how the site performs. Does it just look good, or is it actually effective? Based on data, you can then decide whether or not it’s worth your time to pursue similar strategies with your clients.
“Web design, then content,” writes designer Brookes Ringle. Her point is that web design should be the first thing you focus on in terms of SEO. Content certainly matters, but web design is the first thing a visitor notices. “Without a quality, attractive design, potential customers generally won’t take the time to read your content. While the design of your site should attract and satisfy visitors’ eyes, it is also critical in terms of SEO, conversion rates, and branding.”
Well, the tricky part about SEO is that you can’t simply look at a website and say, “That site is incredibly well optimized and will rank on page one in a matter of weeks.” As a web designer who wants to set yourself apart from the competition and design sites that deliver value to your clients, you must understand two things:
As reinforced in this article, web design has a direct and quantifiable impact on SEO. You must understand this and be capable of relaying the connection to your clients. Otherwise you’ll end up designing websites that look good, but are hollow beneath the surface. In the long run, this makes for disappointed clients.
Secondly, because you understand that web design impacts SEO, you must know that ongoing SEO monitoring is important to sustained success. In order to continue delivering value to your clients, you need to continually monitor your sites’ performance, so that necessary tweaks and adjustments can be made.
You’re a web designer, not an SEO expert. Your clients understand this. However, you should still sell your clients on the idea that SEO monitoring is important if they want their websites to succeed in the long run. Tell them it’s the missing link to quality web design and work with them to ensure they have a plan for ongoing optimization. Otherwise, your sites will likely end up failing.
From things as simple as headings and meta descriptions to more complex paradigms like responsive web design and HTML5, every aspect of design affects SEO in some way. Certain elements have a direct and quantifiable impact, while others merely cause minor reverberations down the road. Whatever the case, you need to be aware of how your design work will impact your clients’ SEO efforts. Investing in robust SEO monitoring solutions is the smart choice.