Whether it’s a brand new site or a re-design project, SEO is all too often secondary to web design. And it’s an unfortunate situation when traffic plummets as a result of making a site look pretty.
But smart web designers know that performance should never be sacrificed as a result of aesthetics. These professionals are also adept to employ the right SEO-friendly web design techniques to ensure the ball doesn’t get dropped. Below are five areas of web design and development that can either make or break a site’s SEO.
1. Site Load Speed
Site load speed is one of the most underrated yet influential search engine ranking factors. Google equates slow loading websites with poor usability. And with Google emphasizing user experience as one of the most critical webmaster guidelines, sites that take more than a few seconds to load will face in an uphill battle with SEO.
Load speed is often correlated with how a site’s backend is structured. Dense HTML coding structures, Flash media, large image and media files are all common culprits of slow loading websites. But all these elements can be fixed with the SEO-friendly touch of knowledgeable web developer.
Get a gauge for how fast (or slow) your website loads by visiting Pingdom Tools. Not only will this tool provide good insights on your site’s load time, but it will also provide specific issues why your site may be underperforming.
2. Duplicate Content & Canonicalization
Duplicate content is one of the most common technical SEO issues, especially with very deeper site. Search engines are sophisticated and can detect pages with thin or duplicate content. In turn, such pages can have diluted value and lower rankings as a result.
This has coined the term canonicalization, or the occurrence when two or more duplicate pages render on different URLs. For larger websites like ecommerce stores, this is very common and can be exacerbated with certain Content Management Systems. For example, a site might have a main version of a page, but also a print-friendly version. But internal canonicalization is just one piece of the pie.
Duplicate content can also be an issue when dealing with multiple websites. This can confuse search engines as to which version of this content they should rank. The solution to this conundrum is to use the Canonical URL Tag. We simply use the Canonical URL Tag within a page that hosts duplicate content, indicating the master URL that you want to rank for. This tag can also be used across different websites.
3. Mobile Friendliness
With a majority of all search engine activity taking place on mobile devices, ensuring your web design is responsive (or friendly on smartphones, tablets, etc.) is vital. But beyond usability, having a mobile-friendly website will help it rank better in Google (when users on a mobile device.) Additionally, responsive design can also aid in other forms of search marketing, such as SEO for Google Maps and ecommerce SEO.
It’s true, Google has made responsive design a ranking factor in Google mobile search. To see where you’re site stands through the eye’s of Google bots, try using the mobile-friendly testing tool developed by Google.
4. Indexable Content
To perform better in Google’s search engine results, it’s crucial that most of your site’s content is in HTML text format. Despite advancements in search engine technology, Flash media files, Java applets, images, and other forms of non-text content can be devalued or completely ignored by search engines. For SEO, it’s best to ensure most of content on a page is indexable text.
However for those who require greater visuals and display formatting, Moz provides a punchlist of techniques to make visual content more SEO-friendly.
1. Supplement Flash or Java plug-ins with text on the page.
2. Supplement search boxes with navigation and crawlable links.
3. Provide alt text for images. Assign images in gif, jpg, or png format “alt attributes” in HTML to give search engines a text description of the visual content.
4. Provide a transcript for video and audio content if the words and phrases used are meant to be indexed by the engines.
5. Rich Snippets & Structured Data Markup
Chances are good that you’ve seen a search engine listing with expanded description copy, additional links, or 5-star review rating. Otherwise known as “rich snippets,” these instances occur when search engines interpret information on a page from embedded structured data markup. That’s a technical term for special HTML tags that are used to mark up specific pieces of content to better communicate to search engines.
By using structured data to markup the content on your pages, search engines can identify what type of content it is more efficiently. Visit Schema.org to view examples of how structured data can be implemented. While the application of structured data markup is not essential for SEO-friendly web design, many users experience a competitive edge when they properly employ it.
Unlike users who can view and engage with a page’s content, search engines are limited in how they crawl and interpret content on a page. In other words, a page doesn’t always appear the same to users as it does to search engines. As a result, understanding some of the basic elements of SEO-friendly web design is vital for success.
This article is a guest contribution by Tyler Tafelsky, Senior SEO Specialist of Captivate Search Marketing. As one of Atlanta’s most premier Internet marketing agencies, Captivate Search Marketing emphasizes a search-first approach to website development, content marketing, social media, and other digital marketing channels. Connect with Tyler on LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.
Image by Manuel Alende Maceira.