May 07, 2012

Designing For Search Engine Optimization

Design first, optimize second. Words that a passionate designer would rather put into practice. However, search engine optimization (SEO) as an afterthought, rather than as a main component of the design process, is bound to have SEO gurus cringing. 

This difference of opinion creates a tough battle, the battle between attractiveness and usability in website design. Is there a compromise? I think so, and according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs there is. Jobs stated, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” 

The following are a few tips that can lead to a search engine friendly website, without sacrificing the creativity you worked so hard on. 

1. Develop the design and SEO simultaneously. Keyword phrases, as well as placement, need to be researched, chosen and integrated early in the design process. Otherwise, you run the risk of keywords being developed and added later, and possibly hindering the visual elements that have already been established. Items that have major impact on design, as well as SEO, include website slogans, navigation, breadcrumb trails, footer links and main content areas, among others. 

2. Design for text. The problem with search engines not being able to find a website is due in large part to links being images instead of text. This is a simple concept to grasp, but hard for designers to refrain from doing. Don’t hide important information and words within your images since search engines can’t crawl them for keywords. 

3. Using images for relevancy. The imagery you decide to use must have relevancy to the content you are placing it in. Even if you favor an image for its visual appeal, it is best to place the images on context in the page. The more relevant the text around your image, the better results you’ll get in search engine rankings. This will also help when you are assigning a file name for the image that search engines will pick up on. 

4. Keep it simple. Web users are no longer impressed by Flash and other intricate, have-to-have elements. In fact, it’s more of an inconvenience. Flash can take a while to load and can be frustrating when you are looking for quick information, especially when you are on your mobile device. Simple designs work much better with SEO

As a designer, forgoing the “perfect” design can be difficult, almost impossible, but trying to pass the responsibility of SEO onto someone else, or acting like it doesn’t exist, may prevent anyone from seeing your design altogether. 

[Contributed by Marcy Workman, account coordinator]