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How to balance great web design with search engine optimisation

Written by Liam Tarry on 31 August 2012

In today’s volatile world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), with its seemingly endless amount of Google updates and penalties, it can be hard to know where to even begin when it comes to designing a great business website. You want it to look visually appealing, that’s a given, but are you aware that you could be leaving yourself open to one hell of a Google slap if you get it wrong?

“What do you mean?” I hear you cry. “Surely if my website looks great, loads quickly and keeps my visitors engaged then search engines will love me for it!”

Well yes, and no.

Balancing the visual aesthetics and structure of your website with the requirements for good SEO is a very tricky task. Of course you need a site which is not only visually appealing; you need to ensure it comes with all the necessary elements needed to achieve high search rankings.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on great design with SEO in mind using the classic car insurance provider Adrian Flux website as an example.

1. Your homepage

Your homepage is the first place you should start with both design and SEO in mind. It’s not only often the first place your visitors will land and start their journey on your site; it’s also where search spiders start theirs.

Because your homepage has only one TITLE tag, it’s your one and only chance to tell search engines what you’re about so only use the most important and highest-priority keywords. For the Adrian Flux title tag it includes the keywords “classic car insurance”, and the makes of cars such as “modified” and “kit cars”.

2. Steer clear of flash and use CSS

Unfortunately many web designers are not well versed in SEO and often make the mistake of creating a beautiful site in flash and complicated JavaScript elements, with super fade-in-and-out menus and animations – not realising that they’re ignored by search engine spiders.

When designing your site, make it as text-based as possible – the good news is that when you’re working with CSS you can organise your code and drive your valuable keywords at the top. The golden rule when building with clean, concise, logically-arranged HTML syntax is to keep the various elements of your page structurally ordered by importance and then ordered according to the aesthetic design.

3. Your content

Unique, engaging, useful and fresh content is king in today’s ever-changing SEO landscape. Google’s Panda updates have slapped those sites which use duplicate content hard. Not only have they been driven down the search rankings, they’re on the equivalent of Google’s naughty step – many have yet to recover.

With that in mind, you need to design a site which allows search crawlers to index fresh content regularly. Create a blog and make sure it’s just one click away on your homepage - you could even emphasise the most recent posts in a placeholder.

Also remember, when it comes to using certain keywords, do not use them too often. Google will look at this and consider it ‘over-optimisation’, or Spam in other words. Keep it flowing, keep it relevant, and use natural links to pages within your site and you’ll be loved for it.

4. URLs

How your site is designed - flowing out from your homepage - is called the site’s architecture. Ideally, search engines want to see a site which is structured in such a way that all of its content can be reached from the homepage. In addition, because spiders rank relevance, URLs need to include real words, separated by hyphens wherever possible. Think about it, if you were asked which web page contained information on car insurance for an Austin Healey, which one would you pick?


This is the same question search spiders ask. Make sure each and every page on your site includes a URL like this and you’ll be seen as both relevant and user-friendly.

5. Site speed

Our final point concerns site speed, as the amount of time it takes to load your site will have an impact on SEO. The more data involved on your website, the slower it will take spiders to crawl – particularly if you have lots of pages. On top of that, you’ll probably have a high bounce rate and lower conversion levels to boot. As such, if you have a slow-loading site you will be punished heavily by Google because it’s their mission to provide only the most helpful, relevant and speediest sites to the top of the ranking pole.

With that in mind, you can help avoid any such penalty by designing a clean site, making sure all your images are optimised for the web so they are as small as possible without compromising on quality. Minimise the amount of http requests and 301 redirects, make your code as clean as possible – and choose a reliable hosting provider.

Another top tip is to reduce the amount of externally-referenced files such as CSS files, JavaScript files or any scripts such as Google Analytics or any other external scripts. You could also load images on a subdomain so that they load in parallel with the rest of the page to speed up load time.

Finally, check your website speed using Google’s Webmaster Tools on a regular basis to help identify potential speed issues.


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