What SEO design considerations do we need to bear in mind when creating a website? Is a website about content or design, or should it be about both? Obviously, its both. If designers and copyrighters work together harmoniously then effective search engine optimisation can be achieved.

A good website designer with an understanding of SEO concepts should be able to solve any design problem without impacting SEO in a negative way. When designing websites, designers already consider a multitude of variables including different users,  browsers, screen sizes and devices. On the other hand, copywriters try to ensure that the content written matches all users too. Surely writing and designing for a search engine spider should be achievable?

Page Design Elements

Understanding the elements that are important to SEO is a different thing to knowing how to design a website. The most important page design elements from an SEO perspective are the heading, paragraph, title, hyperlinks, and meta elements (although meta elements are losing their importance with Google).

Getting the correct heading for SEO

Heading elements are exactly what they sound like — headings for your web page. They range from H1 to H6, with H1 being the most important heading. Your page should contain one H1 heading and ideally, that heading should include your keywords. A search engine spider will look at headings to determine relevance for your site. Subsequent headings should use the secondary heading elements in order of importance, and where possible include your keywords. Take care to expand on your keywords to form proper headings so that they make sense. Real visitors need to be engaged by meaningful headings so that they feel compelled to read the rest of the page.

Paragraphs

Most of the text on your page will be contained in paragraph elements. You should endeavor to include your keywords in the first few paragraphs, but not at the expense of the text’s meaning. Your copy should flow naturally and be easy to read. Focus on your communication foremost, and then bring in your keywords.

Some SEO experts suggest that it’s a poor idea for your text to be keyword dense, and that search engines may even interpret this as keyword stuffing—a shady tactic used by black hats, in which irrelevant keywords are overused in the content specifically to trick spiders. Yet what that threshold actually is is a bit of mystery, let alone other factors that might come into play. Just make sure your text is flowing and natural, and you’ll be okay.

Page Title

Another SEO design consideration is the Page Title. The page title is important for a good search result ranking, as well as the huge difference it can make to click-throughs from search engine results pages. What is contained in your title tag is what will be presented in the search engine results page as the heading for the result. As the example below shows, the more detail, the better. You should ensure that your keywords appear in the first ten words of your title.

Hyperlinks

Anchor text is another SEO design consideration: links on your optimized landing pages also benefit SEO. As with keywords in your paragraphs, ensure that your links fit naturally within your page and make sense to a real visitor. You should check that there are other pages in your site that link to the landing page using keywords wherever it makes sense.

Meta Elements

Meta elements are invisible to a reader but are visible to machines, and usually contain descriptions and keywords. With early search engines, they played a much bigger role; spiders were unequipped to deal with the huge computation overhead to interpret an entire web site, so they just looked to the meta description for an indication of the content inside. Nowadays, spiders are better at indexing content from pages—besides, some unscrupulous black hat webmasters would put false keywords in the meta elements to rank them in irrelevant searches if the old system still held sway.
Nevertheless, meta elements are still in use today, often as a piece of text underneath a search result. Spend about ten minutes formulating precise, tight meta descriptions and keywords, then move on.

Web Site Design Issues and SEO

Modern web design is becoming more complex while designers are continually pushing the boundaries with their designs. Here are some common issues that may trip you up if you’re unaware of them:

Source Order

While the main content might look like the most prominent aspect on a web site, that content could be anywhere in the code. Often, unimportant content like sidebars appear first in the code, with the keyword-rich copy appearing later. A search engine spider disregards style, so when it interprets the content of a page it ignores any styling and will instead read the order of your content as it appears in the code.

Headings

It may be tempting for a copywriter to use a heading element to emphasize some text, even if it’s just for decoration. Spiders, however, will still consider this to be a heading and will index that content accordingly, so you need to be careful about how you use headings. If you want to use a big, bold style for some standard text, ask your designer to provide you with a special class specifically for this purpose, and stay away from those heading elements.

Flash and JavaScript

Use Flash and JavaScript with caution. It’s widely debated whether modern-day spiders are able to interpret content created by JavaScript. Flash content, on the other hand, can be indexed, but spiders fall short at understanding relevance and content. Even if they could do so, it would still be less accurate than interpreting real text on a page—so it’s best to avoid relying on JavaScript or Flash to create content. If your designer must include these features, ensure that the technique provides a plain HTML fallback.