Misunderstanding web design in a Google first world
For most web design companies, clients normally come with two requirement, a site which looks great and for something that ranks well on Google.
At first glance these two requests would seem reasonable, but often are at odd with each other.
Can a good looking site rank well on Google?
The answer to this question will often come down to what you are trying to achieve.
In short you need to ask, ‘Can I present my pitch in such a way that looks attractive to my audience, while being presented in a way that Google understands’. ?
While Google has advanced over time, the main way Google ranks your web page is by looking at who links to you and how closely your text matches what someone has entered as a search term.
Often because the pitch to your audience won’t match exactly what people are searching for, Google won’t rank you web pages effectively.
Because of this, most companies go with an SEO first approach.
SEO first approach
With an SEO first approach, we start with identifying likely search terms and code them into a page in a way which we perceive Google likes them the most.
In other words SEO Key phrases visible and near the top of the page.
And although we can use CSS to best present out pages, all the time we think in a SEO first way, our design will be tied to what’s most efficient for Google to process.
Off page supports creativity
While it’s very true that Google weights content closer to the top of a page, it’s not the end of the story.
If we are able to build inbound links to our pages, this gives our pages naturally more weight and we become less dependent on any hard SEO rules that are applied to the page.
Part of creating great websites that rank well is realising the relationship between on and off page SEO and the role it plays in how a site ranks.
Often the reason amazing looking websites rank well, is simply down to the inbound links they attract. A good example of this is film websites. Often these contain little in the way of hard SEO but due to the weight and quality of the inbound link are enough to raise them to the top of search.
So if you are just starting out, or looking to raise the rank of your website, think about what you will need to do to make a difference.
Practical steps for average websites
Look for legitimate opportunities for inbound links. For instance on a slow day a local new website might have space for a small editorial. Although you will only ever get a few inbound links with this method, each link will help to raise the profile of your website.
Using social media and forums can be a great way to increase links to your website.
With regards to on-page, having the exact search phrase appear in the title tag, h tags, body copy and URL can really help.
These days Google is more graduated with its approach, so if a close match reads better then it’s a valid swap to make.
After all if someone comes to the page and can’t stand the language being used, it can be a real deal breaker.
Perhaps the last thing, is the hardest to quantify.
All websites have a natural traffic level, the closer you get to that level, the less return you get for your effort.
Before making any changes its worth sitting down and working out how much in time and money the change costs and whether the likely increase in traffic is worth it.
In addition you need to start with a sober head and work out if the change is likely to affect your audience in a negative way. In other words, do the new visitors compensate for any that you might lose due to the change?
But the best advice of all is patients. Try one thing, see the effect and then adjust, only a fool makes change wholesale without evidence of the outcome.