Why design and SEO are not natural bed fellows

A website which looks great, converts well and ranks well on Google is the holy grail of anyone trying to promote themselves on-line, but why is this harder than it looks?

Simply put all three disciplines have different priorities which means at best the result will be a fudge of all three, or to put in plain language, you need to decide the priority of your website on a business and customer level.

If the site already has a steady flow of traffic, then to concentrate on visual and conversion factors is a priority. For websites who don’t have a good supply of ready traffic, organic SEO is the must have priority. As without the Organic traffic, looking at the visual design and conversion effectiveness is pointless.

It’s not the case that all sites that rank well on search engines don’t look good or convert well, but the priorities in the decisions made about the site give the most priority to SEO factors.

How Organic SEO affects design?

Search engines like Google want to match the target site to the search phrase as close as possible and it does this by looking at the visible text on the page. This can have an effect on Web page wording. We may find that the wording we know that will help rankings will not be the same wording as we know that will convert traffic or even give an authentic feel to the text.

The second factor especially with Google is that Google Favours text which is visible above the fold. Above the fold is simply a term which mean viewable in the browser without scrolling the screen.

In addition search engines also like heading tags to describe the content below. Or in plain language a header should relate to the content immediately below it. If we use DIV’s to visually separate related content, we may find the search engine no longer see a relationship between the two areas of text.

Finally search engines do not like text to be styled in such a ways as to give a different message to a visitor as it would to the search engine itself. On in plain language, the search engine wants to evaluate the text in the same way a user does.

With just these couple of ideas it’s easy to see that a web page that performs well on Google is likely to be word heavy, potentially have un-natural text and will have important SEO phrases at the top of the page. This can mean that this conflicts directly with the aim of a web page from a visitor’s perspective.

A clever designer will look at SEO factors, include where possible but will not in such a way where it destroys the experience of the website visitor.

Avoiding being constrained.

While on page content is very important, websites which link to your pages are more so. If your website is able to have a few trusted websites link to them, Google will trust these web pages more and the on page factors become less important.

For those site which achieve this, it often means they can free themselves from the straight-jacket of SEO orientated design.