Do you have to sacrifice all of the creative and artistic
elements of your web site to rank in the search engines?
Later in this article I'll show you a real case scenario
and the design and SEO approach used.
Thanks to the birth of professional search engine marketers
the top ranks are saturated with the pages of companies
that can pay for such insight. That said, it's certainly
possible to employ high ranking tactics in your own
website. Actually, the most basic tactics can move you
up from an 800 position to a 300. However, it's the
top of the scale where efforts seem almost inversely
exponential or logarithmic, you put a ton in to see
a tiny change in rank.
How do you meld the ambitious overhauls required to
attain significant ranking and NOT compromise the design
of your site?
DESIGN CAN'T BE IGNORED
If you have an existing site, you've probably tied
it into your existing promotional content. Even if you've
allowed your website to cater to the more free form
of the net, it should still be designed as a recognizable
extension of your business.
The reasons for doing so are valid, and can't simply
be ignored for the sake of achieving a first age position,
can they? If your research into search optimization
leaves you shuffling around thoughts of content, keyword
saturated copy and varying link text, you are correctly
understanding some of the basic pillars of search engine
And, you aren't alone if you have this disheartening
thoughtIf I do all this SEO stuff and reach number
one across the board, who would stay at my site because
it's so stale and boring I'm even embarrassed to send
There are two ways to successfully combine design and
SEO. The first is to be a blue chip and/or Fortune 500
company with multi million dollar advertising and branding
budgets to deliver your website address via television,
radio, billboards, PR parties and giveaways with your
Since chances are that's not you, and certainly not
me, lets look at the second option. It begins with some
research into your market, some thoughtful and creative
planning, and a designer who is a search engine optimizer,
and understands at least basic CSS and HTML programming
techniques. Or a combination of people with these skills
that can work very well together.
DESIGN IS FOR BROCHURES, INSTANT RESULTS ARE FOR THE
That's not the whole truth, but it will help compare
and contrast design and SEO. In reality, SEO needs the
quantity and detail of supporting text that a brochure
has, but good web design has to catch a viewer's attention
in 5 seconds. It's pretty difficult to read and absorb
the content of an entire brochure in less than 5 seconds.
Search engines need rich, related, appropriate, changing
and poignant content. And for them to rank you, all
of that must be on your pages. But if it's not well
organized and broken down into bite size chunks, no
one is going to bother learning about what you're offering.
CONSTRUCTION 101- ATTRACTIVE DESIGN AND SEO
Sadly, it's very difficult to optimize a site without
completely overhauling it. You'll soon understand why.
Design and SEO must be strongly rooted into every aspect
of each other, possessing a true, symbiotic relationship.
Lets look at a simplified example of this. Lets say
you are optimizing a page for the keyword phrase, "pumpkin
From a design standpoint "Pumpkin Bread Recipe"
would be the heading for the page, in a nice, readable
font with the words perhaps an orange-brown color. And
lets add a fine, green rule around it.
There are many ways to create that simple, colored
heading. However, there is only one way that is best
for both design and SEO. That is to use Cascading Style
Sheets, or CSS. In addition, that line of code containing
"Pumpkin Bread Recipe" needs to be as close
to the top of the page as possible (which CSS also allows).
To a viewer, the recipe text might be read more if
it were located to the right of a photo of a buttered
piece of pumpkin bread on a small plate next to a lightly
steaming cup of coffee.
SEO needs to read that ingredient list and baking instructions.
Search engines now understand on a rudimentary level
that the ingredients are indeed related to the optimized
words- pumpkin bread recipe.
Additionally, it would take many extra lines of code
to make a table in this example if you didn't use CSS.
Search engines don't like extra code. In fact, given
enough times, that "extra" code will make
the keyword phrases seem less important and hurt rank.
Note: In the page code, a few thousand characters more
than you need to get all of that content organized would
normally just add to your page load time, and might
be acceptable. But to a search engine, that time can
really add up. It wont read through page after page,
site after site, billionth after billionth character
of unimportant code to find the relevant text. Therefore,
the less code, the better your chances. Moral- Less
code, more content.
SEO USUALLY MEANS REDO
In the previous pumpkin example, CSS will eliminate
the need for almost any extra code at all, and provide
the means to place the text to the right of the photo.
Now, imagine that someone had already created this
page, but done so using other programming methods. The
page could very well be W3C compliant, well programmed
and got the job done. However, without designing and
programming for optimization as in the above illustration,
the end result would have no significant rank compared
to others that do.
You can be sure that there exist at least 30 web sites
built to rank for the keywords "pumpkin bread recipe".
Note- why did I use the number 30? It's safe to assume
if you're not on the first three results pages of a
search, you're not being seen.
While this is a simple example, hopefully you understand
that it would be impossible to optimize this simple
page without redoing it. This isn't always the case,
but extrapolate this into detailed, multiple pages in
an entire website and the issue is greatly magnified.
AESTHETIC IMPORTANCE VS. TRAFFIC
Everyone has an idea of what they want their site to
look like. The pretty factor- splash pages, cool flash
and graphics must now be justified as to their importance
to the bottom line. If you want/need to establish an
online presence, you will have to make some compromises
in these areas.
Understand exactly the role your site should play in
your company marketing.
Ask- What is the goal of your website and who is its
audience? Is it for existing clients to see? Is it to
reach new clients? To venture into yet untapped market
Ask- How strongly do your other marketing efforts promote
Ask- Is your website an extension of your existing
collateral that must reflect the same graphical look?
Ask- Is your website meant to assist to your sales
force or is it your sales force?
Chances are you wont have any single answers. That's
ok. It will give you some meat for your designer/SEO
to digest and develop a solution for you.
REAL CASE OF DESIGN BALANCED WITH SEO AND SALABILITY
If you sell jewelry solely online, you must have a
catalog of exceptional photography and detailed, high-resolution
close up images. But, you must be optimized and rank
well if you want to sell any of that jewelry.
If such a company approached me with this project,
my recommendation would be this: If you sell a product,
people have to see that product. Lots of good images.
The site should be slick and sheik and easy to navigate.
The home page has to capture the buyer's attention.
If it's very expensive jewelry, the site should have
a lot of class and elegance. If it's home made jewelry,
the site shouldn't look home made.
However, as you have no store front, if the online
community can't find you, you're business will fail.
So I'd have a very optimized home page with some discussion
of the quality of your product, the history of your
company, etc. This is also great sales copy. Ad a few
special catalog pieces with descriptions below some
smartly placed gifs, jpegs and readable type graphics
built out of CSS and you've got a cool to look at, content
rich, well optimized layout.
I'd make the link to your catalog very obvious and
prominent. Note the catalog is not the homepage. I'd
also include subsequent well written, in depth pages
about the history of some specific pieces. Load them
with targeted keywords and a few images. Again, make
your catalog link very prominent. In doing so you're
creating relevant content for search engines AND providing
additional pages that can rank.
The catalog can be database driven, simple and changeable,
and you have the foundation to build your search rank.
PLANNING YOUR SITE
If your designer is not a search engine optimizer,
hire one to work with your designer from the initial
development stage of your site. If you would like a
visible presence that is not dependant on traditional
marketing efforts to get your name around, then you
will have to optimize.
However, with advances in html and css, text itself
can be a very flexible and attractive design element
with endless possibilities. Site optimization consists
of some rigid, unbendable rules. It can be intertwined
successfully with very creative and attractive design.
If your Designer and SEO aren't the same person or company,
make sure they have the same, close working relationship.
About the author:
John Krycek is a creative director at the Mouseworks.ca
Toronto website design.. Learn more about search engine
optimization, internet marketing, web development and
graphic design in easy, non-technical, up front English