User experience and organic search performance are intrinsically linked; the design of your website is key to both. Web design affects the ease of use for your visitors, as well as the website’s ability to rank well for relevant terms.
Search engine optimization is essential for businesses that want to be at the top of the SERPs for their industry. But if you design purely for search engines, your content is likely to be unappealing to humans. This causes users to drift away, which has a negative effect on your rankings.
But when a visitor lands on your site, spends lots of time browsing multiple pages, interacting with your content, and returns repeatedly, Google will reward you with higher rankings. However, there’s little point in designing an amazing UX if nobody can find the site in the first place.
SEO is about driving people to your site, while UX is about keeping them engaged when they get there. Hit the sweet spot with both and you’ll be rewarded with increased organic traffic, higher conversions, and a boost for your brand credibility and authority.
Here are my top tips for designing a website that appeals to customers and search engines:
1. Design with the customer in mind
Whether you’re designing a brand new site or undertaking a redesign, you should always begin with your customers. What are the end goals for the website? What do people need from you? Do you want to sell a product or service, inform or advise people, build your brand authority, increase your mailing list, etc.?
Your end goals determine the user flow of your site.
This is important because search engines reward sites that offer a great experience to users. If your site attracts lengthy visits, has a healthy volume of inbound links, and good social shares, it demonstrates to Google that it’s a quality site. So get clear on your end goals before you do anything else.
2. Map out a clear site structure
Site structure is about making your content easy to find for humans and search engine bots.
Users should be able to land on your website and intuitively navigate to the information they’re seeking. Most visitors will land on your homepage. From there, their journey should lead them via a logical flow to their end goal.
While they’re clever, search engine bots are a little more limited in how they discover your content – they need lots of useful nudges in the form of links. If you don’t have a good linking structure or your links are broken or buried, your content won’t be ranked simply because search bots can’t find it.
Your goal is to design a site structure that’s intuitive for humans and easy for search engines to crawl.
3. Focus on providing quality content
Once upon a time, SEO was all about keyword stuffing. But those days are long gone. Modern SEO is focused on offering quality content.
Again, start with your customers’ needs. Before designing each page, think about its specific goal. What do you want visitors to do after landing there? What do you think your visitors are looking for when they arrive? Determine the best type of content to guide them in the right direction. This will help you design the page effectively.
Be consistent about adding new content to the website so Google knows it’s a going concern. This can be in the form of blog posts, videos or other media, new products or services, and so on.
Always proofread thoroughly before hitting publish to check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are on point, that you haven’t used any super long sentences, and that content blocks are broken up with images and plenty of whitespace.
4. Manage your images
Images and other media are great engagement tools, but unless they’re carefully managed, they could be doing your SEO more harm than good.
From the users’ point of view, images should always have a strategically important reason for being on the page, whether to demonstrate a product or highlight something you’ve written about in the text.
Search bots however, can’t ‘see’ what the image it. They need to be told. So when uploading an image always include a title and description so it can be ranked properly and recommended in relevant online searches.
In addition, your images should be edited and resized accordingly. If images and other media are too large, they’ll slow a site down. And we all know what users think of slow-loading websites…
5. Make it speedy
Your site may be beautiful to look at and designed with an intuitive navigational flow, but if it takes too long to load, your users will be off. And Google will take note. Slow-loading sites suffer the double ignominy of users bouncing away and a drop down the SERPs.
In addition to optimizing your images and other media, take steps to minimize bloat on your page by deleting unnecessary plugins, enabling browser caching, minimizing redirects and HTTP requests, and enabling compression and lazy loading.
This is especially important as the majority of searching today takes place on mobile devices.
6. Be responsive
Today, more people browse the web via their smartphones and tablets than on a traditional computer. So if your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, you’ll frustrate your customers and face being penalized by Google.
Having a responsive website provides you with a good foundation – you’ll keep Google happy and your users won’t have to resort to pinching and swiping to find their way about.
You should also ensure that you design from a “mobile first” perspective, as Google’s algorithms primarily use the mobile version of your site to rank your content. And bear in mind that some of your customers will be searching via voice search – experts recommended adding a Q&A section to your site to satisfy the increase in question-based searches this is likely to produce.
7. Ensure your site is secure
Finally, your site security impacts how safe visitors feel using your site. If your site looks outdated and isn’t secure, people are far more likely to look elsewhere. Having an SSL certificate increases the trust people have in your website, makes them feel more secure using it, and increases your chances of getting a conversion.
What’s more, Google also takes your site security into account when ranking your site. Without an SSL certificate, you’re likely to be way behind your main competitors that have secure websites.
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While user experience and SEO are both equally important when designing or redesigning a website, the good news is that what’s good practice for one is usually also beneficial for the other. By following these helpful hints, you should end up with a website that appeals to both humans and search bots.
What do you think are the most important factors to consider when designing for customers and search engines? Can you add anything to my list? Tell me in the comments below.
Looking for more website tips? Try one of these articles!
- 5 SEO tips to improve your website ranking
- 7 tips to help craft engaging content for your website
- The ultimate guide to set up a local WordPress development environment
This article has been updated since it was originally published on April 6th, 2018.