SEO For Web Designers – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Search Engine Optimization Lives

SEO is different not dead. Google’s 67% search share carries many implications such as:

  • Unless you are an AMAZING marketer you need Google’s search traffic.
  • Earning Google’s search traffic requires understand a handful of ideas.
  • There are a handful stated and unstated rules too.

Understanding SEO is a full time job.

Understanding web design is a full time job too. We hope no web designer is asked to be their company’s main source of SEO knowledge. Even as we write such a sentence we know some designers are asked to serve two masters.

Asked to speak at The Iron Yard’s Front End Engineer class about “SEO for web designers” team Curagmai created the Haiku Deck above. Since there is NO WAY to share every stated, unstated but generally understood and confusingly unclear SEO rule we opted to provide 4 SEO ideas:

  • Gorillas in the mist.
  • Spiders in the jungle.
  • Natural Selection.
  • Words Matter & Keywords Matter Most.

Today’s Curagami post builds on ideas and tips shared in the deck created for The Iron Yard Front End Engineering class.

Gorillas & Bananas

Gorillas, in this context, are big, powerful and occasionally menacing forces you must negotiate, understand and collaborate with (to the extent collaboration is possible). Designers are caught between many competing forces.
SEO for Web Designers Competing Gorillas image

Web designers must mediate between powerful forces.

Web designers and front end engineers are where content marketing’s rubber meets Google’s road. The person CLOSEST to the code Google spiders crawl impacts a site’s SEO. Sometimes that impact is wanted and good. Other times impact is unknowing and bad.

When I was a Director of Ecommerce someone our IT team decided people without cookies should be able to see our site. Great goal EXCEPT less than 5% of visitors had cookies off. The new code introduced a “spider trap”. Much like a Roach Motel Google’s spider could get in but it couldn’t get out.

Several months and several hundred thousands in missed sales later we discovered the error. We don’t think web designers should become Bruce Clay certified SEO gurus, but knowing how to “do no harm” and help your company’s online mission is what separates great web designers from good ones.

SEO For Web Designers Expertise Chart Curagami

Knowledge we suggest every web designer know (in order of importance with nothing all that unimportant):

  • Meta Title Rules (max 55 characters and use keywords).
  • Meta Description Rules (max 160 characters).
  • Heading Tags – Use H1’s and follow the billboard 7 word rule (explained below).
  • Head Rules – lots of JS in your head HURTS SEO.
  • Speed Rule – download fast and Google loves you.
  • Navigation Rule – use keywords important to your business in site navigation.
  • Consistency Rule – make sure your copy and keys are consistent and clear.
  • Keyword Research (someone MUST do this, it’s a necessary pain).

Designing accessible websites is a great way to appeal to Google’s spider. Google website accessibility best practices to learn more about designing for accessibility.

We want to emphasize the keywords in navigation rule. Navigation is internally linked so often Google’s spider will think words used in navigation define what your site is about. There are conventional exceptions. About is a universal best practices. No need to pack keys into best practice terms such as about, contact or specials. Packing keywords cause more trouble than value. Google may view a long About link as stuffing.

Keyord Graphic Navigation brings the biggest web designer challenge into focus – mediating between user experience, engagement and search engine spiders. Stuffing keywords around “about” may help users know more about your site faster, but I wouldn’t. Flaunt conventions and best practices at your peril. Pick better battles.

We never get 100% of what we want from a marketing perspective in navigation menus. Impossible since we have to TRIM down to one or two words or risk appearing confusing. “Appearing confusing” brings up another web designer challenge. What is your design’s “nonverbal” communication?

Web Design Nonverbals

Simple and clean work online. Simple and clean are the hardest websites to create.  Competing forces (Gorillas in the graphic above) inevitably lead to confusion. Visitors are so good at parsing sites these days they can probably figure out even complicated designs. Don’t make them.

Read Steve Krug’s great design book Don’t Make Me Think and know decisions you make (as designers) operate on and below the surface. Avoid messages such as:

  • Lots of navigation = complicated.
  • Lots of text = too much reading, boring.
  • No easy to find “contact” information = something’s wrong.
  • Boring design = can’t be trusted.

Google’s spider doesn’t see your design the way humans read and experience it. Google’s spider collects information to categorize the page. Sources of Google’s “categorization information” include (but are not limited to):

  • Links from other sites (with anchor text if you can get it, rare).
  • Internal links (i.e. your navigation).
  • Meta Title & Description.
  • On Page Copy and Tags (H1s, image alt text, video transcripts).
  • Keywords.

How a web designers art is received is the other half of the conversation. Web designers (or someone) should be watching Google Analytics (or something) to know if designs are received as intended. BTW, they NEVER are. You can reduce the distance between your design intent and customer use if you watch anlaytics, listen to feedback and tune designs to what you believe AND what customers tell you. Both belief and listening is important to web design.

Tuning helps SEO too. Google’s “new SEO” cares about heuristic measures such as time on site, pages viewed, bounce rates and conversions AS NEVER BEFORE. When people come back, join your email list, provide User Generated Content, social shares and links the distances between YOU and THEM (customers / visitors) is becoming shorter.

Keep Calm Winters Coming SEO for Web Designers image

Keywords: The Web’s Weather

The last bullet above, Keyword Research, is a pain in the you know where. Several YEARS of my life are now gone thanks to keyword research. Maybe not “years”, but it feels that way. Every tool worth its weight in keyword research (that we know of) costs a fortune. We used to open Excel, sigh and dig in.

Now we use Google Sheets (easier to share and publish to the web), but the keyword journey is the same. Your mission is to find and rank keys based on importance to your business and chances to rank. Those dimensions are rarely the same. Figure important keys are GONE and maybe gone for your lifetime if those sitting on them know what they are doing and a top listing usually indicates they do.

This means most teams will need to go “long tail” and find ways to define their business to generate traffic from the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Explaining what “going long tail” means is beyond this post, but, as a web designer, being aware of your keywords is important.

Know that keywords are alive. They change like weather. One year you may get MOST of your traffic on keyword X. Never assume Keyword X will have the same search volume next year. Weather changes. Use Google’s Keyword Tool inside of Adwords to learn keyword search volumes.

The Haiku Deck has other tips and check the notes for more details on each slide. Web designers are CRITICAL to any site’s SEO, so use the free tools we shared, know your keywords, track Key Performance Indicators, sign up for or other tools and remember to ask for help. Nothing can tank SEO faster than throwing gasoline on a fire.


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