Philosophy of Search-Friendly Design

"The customer is always right" is an idiom that most businesses live by, and search engines are no different.

When it comes to Google and Bing, however, it can be difficult to determine who the "customer" actually is. Is it the advertisers and merchants who pay to appear atop the search results, placing bids to showcase relevant inventory for a search query? No, search engines' true customers are the end-users/consumers, because without them, the majority of Google and Bing's other product offerings would be insignificant.

In order to satisfy search engine users (and keep them from using alternatives, like social networks), Google and Bing look at a whole lot more than just links and keywords to determine rankings. In fact, search engine algorithms may also analyze website performance data. Metrics like bounce rate and site speed are good indicators of whether a Web page should be in the results, meaning that sites delivering good user experiences are more likely to rank higher in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and for more valuable search terms and phrases.

Keep your site in the good graces of the search engines by checking out these four design tips that can increase placement in the SERPs and bring your business closer to its customers.

1. Lose the Clutter

It can be tempting to add every new and great feature to your site, but too many options can overwhelm visitors and cause them to abandon their sessions. Assuming that a high bounce rate negatively impacts organic search ranking, limiting the bells and whistles can actually improve visibility in addition to conversion rates. According to Marvin Russell, CEO of boutique digital marketing firm The Ocean Agency, designers shouldn't overlook the power of white space when deciding to de-clutter a website. While many people think white space represents lost opportunities, its actual purpose is to emphasize the content that it surrounds, like a virtual picture frame.

2. Create a Visual Hierarchy

To influence metrics that search engines may take into consideration for ranking, like time-on-site and depth of engagement, it is important that the site's design be easy for visitors to consume. The best way to do this is by creating a proper visual hierarchy. According to Russell, designers must ensure that important content, like calls-to-action, are the most visually dominant items on the page, which can be done by creating variations in the size of font and images. In addition to making the site's content easier to consume, creating a visual hierarchy can also lead visitors through the conversion funnel, which benefits those influential metrics that may lead to higher search placement.

3. Speed It Up

Site visitors don't like slow sites and neither do the search engines. In fact, slow load times lead to both high bounce rates and low conversion numbers - a bad combination by any measurement. In fact, customers expect a website to load in about three seconds or less. Forty percent of website visitors will leave the site if it takes any longer, according to KISSmetrics. There is a long list of potential culprits responsible for slow websites, so make your Web development team aware of the problem and encourage them to use tools to determine the root of performance issues.

4. Be Responsive

SEO isn't only important on the traditional Web, but the mobile Web too. Fortunately, Google has been clear as to what it expects from mobile sites thus far: speed and accuracy. Google also recommends the responsive design option as it is easier for the search engine to crawl and index a single URL (rather than separate mobile properties). Plus, responsive sites are typically a better option for site visitors because they ensure the user experience is visually consistent across devices.

"The Customer is Always Right"

Like in traditional businesses, the customer is also always right on the Web. This is because optimizing a site for better usability is not only beneficial to site visitors, but also to a site's placement in search rankings, which is a win-win for your business's bottom line.