Designing a website which ranks well in Google
Since its earliest incarnation, Google has continually involved to both give more relevant results to its user as well as combat web spam created by individuals to game the system.
While a lot of techniques still work equally today, Google has added some interesting changes to the mix, which make designing a great looking site which ranks well a real challenge.
What hasn’t changed
Google mission for providing links to relevant websites has not really changed. It relies on a combination of inbound links and well-written content. And still puts a lot of weight on inbound links. So even with the world’s best-written content, someone with a better backlink profile will have a head start.
Google also likes to match search terms with content. So, if your webpage has phrases which people search for it is likely to perform better.
Normal SEO work cycle.
With SEO the starting point is always looking for terms which people search for and have an amount of traffic associated with them. There are several Keyword tools available, but as time has gone on, these tend to have become less reliable as regards to accurate data they provide.
So, once you have a potential list of phrases, as good SEO will first look at them on a human level and then look at competitors to see if they have come to the same conclusions. If you are targeting completely different phrases, there is a chance you might be right, but a bigger chance you are not.
When crafting your Web pages, you would then look to craft copy around the phrases and as a final touch maybe check that you’re not massively going over the top compared to your competitors with the number of times a phrase is used.
You would then wait for Google to re-index before evaluation and tweaking.
Website design in a Google 2.0 world
In more recent times, people who have followed a ‘script’ to apply SEO (i.e. titles must include the search phrase, H tags must include the search phrase etc…) have found their results have become poorer over time. Simply put this formula no longer works.
The first major change which has already happened is that Google is moving away for exact matches. And clues are available when you search. As an example, if you search for web design, not only instances of web design appear in the result but variations like website design, web designer and all manner of other similes. The other major changes are the stripping of stop and connecting words. So, in the above example, if someone was to search for web design London, Google would give equal match weights to variations such as web designer in London or even website design near London.
As a designer, it gives us more scope to include ‘proper’ English and still has pages which rank well.
But this is not the end of the story
While much focus has been given to semantic SEO and OG tags, there is still little evidence that Google lifts pages with these tags included. In short, Google still only trusts what it can see.
But this has one more massive consideration and that’s how Google evaluates a web page for SERPS’s.
Now while its true Google does evaluate the whole page, it does not evaluate the whole page equally.
In short, Google only is really interested in the content above the fold. So in other words, if you have a large header, large slider and then below the fold your actual content starts, although Google will still evaluate the whole page, Google won’t rank your page as effectively as if the content started immediately below a small header.
Worse still, Google now much more interested in a mobile-first world, which means we have even less space to get our SEO copy onto the screen.
Designing mobile first
One way around this is to construct your site as a mobile-first experience and optimise your site for this experience and then use media break points to improve the site design for larger formats.
While not recommended for all images, in the above example where the slider would take up the whole mobile screen, one solution would have the slider not showing for anyone using a small format mobile phone.
This would have not only the advantage of helping Google rank your site appropriately, but also give your users a better experience in the process.
While its possible to ignore the things, Google sees as important and still rank well, this approach relies on an amazing backlink profile. But considering how Google sees the world we can design and build a site which naturally performs well on all search engines including Google.