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SEO Design Lessons from the Pros

Posted on 7.29.2015

Search engine optimization is often an easy concept for Web professionals to wrap their digital heads around, but the implementation and the actual upkeep, however, is another story.

Across disciplines - design, development, marketing - those responsible for the acquisition and retention, analysis and optimization, and infrastructure and reliability (Website Magazine calls this the "Digital Trinity") of a digital enterprise are all in great part responsible for taking the necessary steps to maximize a website's visibility on the search engine result pages (SERPs).

This means that regardless of a person's role with an organization, he or she must too be well versed on what it takes to top the SERPs and elicit the valuable calls, clicks and conversions delivered from there. Designers and developers are no exception. In fact, it is often they who set the foundation for the likeliness of a top ranking. To help designers and developers in their quest to position their companies atop the SERPs, Website Magazine has enlisted the help of their peers to present SEO design tips from the pros.


Write Clean Code

Be sure to follow W3C Standards because search engines love clean code. Clean code makes the site easier to index and can be indicative of how well a website is constructed, which helps speak to the overall quality of the website.

~Serge Baluyot, Web Designer at Affilorama


Focus on Topics, Not Keywords

With the majority of SEO sessions on your website now having a keyword of (not provided) it’s really no longer possible to know exactly what your top performing keywords are. But the search engines can’t withhold the landing page, so you still have a reliable indication of what topic the user was searching for.

The old approach was to pick a single keyword and repeat it multiple times on the page, but a better approach is to think of all the different keywords users might use to search for the topic and make sure you use all of those words on your page. Instead of doubling down on a single keyword, cast a wider net and give your page a chance to rank for many keywords relevant to the topic. You might find it’s better to rank in the top five for multiple keywords than to be number one for only the top keyword.

~Eben Thurston, Global SEO Product Owner at Shutterstock


Create mobile friendly, responsive websites

Google announced in April 2015 that it would be rolling out a mobile-friendly algorithm that would reward sites with better mobile rankings in the SERPs if they were mobile friendly. Non-responsive sites, on the other hand, would lose rankings in the mobile SERPs. This algorithm was also known as Mobilegeddon.

According to Google there are more searches occurring on mobile devices than on desktop. This is key information that all designers and developers need to take into account when building a website.

Make your site fast

Google has repeatedly expressed that they aim to make the Web faster and have notified Webmasters that sites which load quickly will receive ranking advantages over slower sites.

Users tend to be impatient and will generally leave a site that loads slowly in favor for a site that propagates content quickly. Google is responding to this user behavior and so should developers. Faster websites will be appreciated by both users and search engines.

Use HTML title tags

HTML titles have always been, and will probably remain, the most important HTML signal that search engines like Google use to interpret what a page is about and what search queries to associate it with. This may seem obvious but it is still absolutely crucial for SEO to succeed. Each page needs to have a unique title that search engines can index. If there are multiple HTML title tags that are the same it confuses the search engines causing your results in the SERPs to suffer.

~Dan Kling, Web Developer at Tower Marketing


Speak visually, but don’t disregard SEO

As content messaging becomes more visual through mediums like large format images, galleries, video-centric content and infographics, don’t forget to optimize them for SEO. Text can still play to your advantage in areas like titles, content descriptors, captions or transcripts.

Give your images keyword rich file names and alt-tags, ensure proper image file types (using CSS when possible) and look to avoid inserting text in the images themselves, where search engines can’t read it.

~Greg Zapar, Director of User Experience at Wire Stone


Think about site structure

One of the fundamentals of SEO is the structure of the site and the information architecture. One of the more controllable aspects of SEO is how your site is structured, and there is often significant weighting given to a great structure. So, think how your site works. Think of how you can be relevant. Do you have services that you offer that are different but can be grouped? Do you have different locations for the same business? Think of ways of grouping your data into relevant subsections and build on that.

An example, if you are a lawyer, you could split your business into personal (which would have personal injury, divorce, wills & testament etc.) or corporate (IP Conflicts, employment etc.). That can really help boost your rankings.

~Rhys Wynne, Technical Director of Winwar Media


Plan All of Your Website Content

Plan All of Your Website Content. It's important to plan out all of the pages of the website prior to starting to build the site. Make sure to give each topic it's own page, using relevant keywords to name the URL's. Additionally, ensure that there is sufficient enough content on the topic to have at least 500 words on the page as search engines give preference to sites with pages that have at least that much content on a page as opposed to short form content.

~Anthony Kirlew, Founder of AKA Internet Marketing


Don't Work in a Silo

The most important SEO principle for Web design and development is that SEO cannot be an afterthought in any project. If you are going to take advantage of organic search traffic to achieve your business objectives, then your SEO person must have a seat at the table.

The key to success is that SEO is part of the planning stage and it taken into account when building site architecture and designing the site. If you don't think about an SEO strategy until after the site is built, it will be that much more difficult if not impossible to correct afterwards.

Second, you must create content that is indexable. If you are building a website and not allowing for placement of content that is readable by a search engine as well as a user then there is nothing that will save your campaign down the road.

Finally, you also want to think about how you are naming the URLs of each page that is both logical and takes SEO into consideration. Changing URL names post launch is not an easy undertaking and can delay the success of your website.

~Scott Litvack, SEO Manager at Prime Visibility


Look for Dead Bodies

Where's the best place to hide a dead body? Page two of a Google search result.

For a quick boost, look for keywords where you appear on page two. (In Google Analytics go to Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries and create an advanced filter for Average Position > 10 and

~Jason Siffring, Owner of Surprise Highway


Study and Measure your efforts

There is a lot of eye-crossing data to mine when you are an SEO. With tools like Screaming Frog, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics you can stay on top of what is getting indexed, what is getting click-through, and what queries wind up actually converting on your site. This can then inform your content strategy as to what you thought you should be talking about, versus what you should be speaking to. You see, it is about what the user is actually seeking in the long run, and not what you want to force-feed on him or her.

~Tina Dussault, Creative Manager at SmartBear Software


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