When most people think of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), they think of words. Search engines love new, relevant, keyword-rich content, and they reward the websites that have it with better page rankings. Search engines aren’t just scanning for words, however – they’re assessing your website design as well. Most people don’t consider the effect the layout of their website will have on SEO. Here, we rounded up five ways web design helps—and hurts—website search rankings.
1. Don’t overload the page with visuals.
We all know by now that content is king. Content supported by attractive, compelling visual elements is even better. There can be too much of a good thing, however. If you rely primarily on visuals to tell your story, the search engines will read your site as light on content—that’s a bad thing. If you feature a lot of videos and infographics, support them with summaries, transcripts, or related content on the same page. That way, the search engines will know what’s there when they scan your site. And optimize your imagery by always using alt tags on images. Google can even detect keywords in Flash, so many sure you call those out as well.
2. Heading tags help SEO.
Breaking up content with headers (like we did above), is a smart idea for more than one reason. Not only does it make your content scannable and easy to read, it also can boost your SEO—if you utilize them properly. Search engines weigh them by number (H1 carries the most weight), and the more keywords you can get into them, the better. Notice how we got the term “SEO” into all of our headings? That wasn’t an accident.
3. Mobile-friendly means SEO-friendly.
Search engines rank mobile-friendly sites better, and with good reason. A majority of users search Google on mobile devices now, so it makes sense they’d favor websites that offer a better mobile experience. You can create a mobile version of your website to load on smartphones and tablets, but utilizing responsive design—layouts that adapt to any device—is better for SEO. There’s only one version of code for search engines to crawl, so responsive sites get indexed faster. Plus, search engines hate duplicate content, and if you have a desktop and a mobile version, you’ll likely have the same pages on both.
4. HTML5 is full of SEO helpers.
HTML5 is the latest version of the markup language, and it has some implications for SEO. New elements—called semantic elements—offer an explanation of what’s contained in a section of a webpage, making it easier for search engines to understand what’s on pages. Some examples of these elements are article, nav, summary and aside. HTML5 also speeds up load times, which is important for search rankings. If your website is coded with an older version of HTML, it might be worth an upgrade.
5. A great user experience (UX) means great SEO.
Search engines factor in bounce rate for rankings. If users have a bad experience when they visit your site, they won’t stick around. Giving users an attractive, easy-to-use website with clear instructions will go a long way toward keeping visitors engaged with your website. Not only will you be rewarded with more website traffic and conversions, but you’ll likely see better search traffic as well.
Here are a few website elements that translate to good UX:
- Intuitive navigation: Make it easy for visitors to browse your website. Make navigation menus prominent and use clear, descriptive labels. Always give users a place to go next.
- Simplicity: Keep design simple and clean. Don’t be afraid of whitespace. Use visual elements that support your conversion goals, rather than ones that distract from them.
- Minimal barriers: Don’t ask too much of your website visitors. Asking them to sign up for your newsletter the second they land on a page of your website for the first time is bad UX—those visitors don’t know who you are yet. If your website has forms and processes, ask only for the information that’s essential.
- Make content scannable: Users scan more than they read, especially when they first land on a web page. Breaking content into smaller sections with descriptive headers make it easier to digest.
At the end of the day, the elements search engines are scanning for comes down to quality. How your website looks and the quality of the experience it offers are important factors for search rankings, either directly or indirectly. Good design coupled with good content goes a long way toward ensuring great SEO.