A website that boasts an outstanding design means very little to the company using it if that site is not drawing in traffic and converting leads. To attract visitors, web designers must think beyond visuals and focus more on function and the structure of the site itself as well as search engine optimization.
When designers build a website that can be easily crawled by search engines, that website is considered more reliable and ranked higher within user searches. Ultimately, this leads to the all-important surge in web traffic.
As graphic artists, brand specialists and B2B marketing agencies embark on the journey to launch or update a website, they should keep these SEO-friendly design practices at the forefront of their planning:
1. Set up a redirect
Simply deleting pages from an old site will have an adverse effect as users will receive a 404 error. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, search engines will assume that page no longer exists and companies will lose all the SEO benefits they've reaped up to that point. To prevent this from happening, site developers should use 301 redirects to inform search bots that the page still exists and redirects to the new web address.
2. Think responsive
Not only is responsive web design a vital part of an enjoyable mobile experience, it also plays a large role in search engine rankings. As of April 2015, Google includes responsive design in its ranking factors, ultimately rewarding sites that strive to create a mobile-friendly experience for users (1).
3. Don't underestimate the value of text
In addition to carefully considering graphic elements, the best designers also understand the importance of creating indexable content within those visuals. Essentially this means that developers should pair text with graphic and multimedia features. It's worth noting text placed directly on images is not readable by search engines; instead of, or in addition to such word placement, site managers should add alt text to images. Similarly, developers can add transcripts to video and other media to ensure search engines index these elements.
4. Simplify navigation structure
When delving into a site's navigation structures, designers should go to great lengths to ensure links don't go more than three levels deep (2). Doing so will ensure the website is easy to navigate for both users and search crawlers.
5. Consider user experience
In addition to responsive web design and a streamlined navigation structure, there are other measure developers can use to deliver a pleasing site experience for users and potentially influence visitors to return.
One such example exists in the form of prominently placing social media icons on one's site. Search engines often place social media channels highly within their rankings; if a site establishes a connection with those pages, it will likely see a higher ranking as well.
Additionally, site managers should make it easy for users to sign up for email marketing and download educational information such as whitepapers and e-books. Doing so could provide more hits and a higher search engine ranking, thus putting the company in a better position to continue the lead-generation cycle.
Alternatively, submission-required or permission-based forms not only hide relevant information from users, they may also be hiding pages a company wants displayed on search engines.
6. Factor in performance
While developers need to consider the appearance of the site itself, they should also take into account how quickly that design appears. Furthermore, they should ask themselves the following question: Does the design appear in its entirety or are there elements that fail to load? Loading speed and efficiency are simple – yet vital – factors that control both user experience and SEO.