SEO's Role in Web Design

by Jonathan Marshall

This morning I read an interesting blog byRebecca Appleton from Search Marketing Standard that discusses search engine optimization’s role in Web Design. Factors such as timing, amount of flash and session ID’s can all have an impact on your SEO campaign. Regardless of how competitive or unique your keyword list may be- there will always be competing websites, and they will always be making a push toward their top position in ranking. SEO Campaigns are designed to make a formerly invisible site appear in the results of the search engines, but even a well-executed campaign won’t compensate for a poorly designed website. Appleton goes on to talk about some of these design factors that can make or break your SEO strategies in her blog below.

Although traditional search engine optimization methods are paramount to increased web visibility and better site structure, design and usability factors also play an essential role – not just for site improvements but also as part of the overall user experience. This is a critical metric as a positive experience will drive stronger conversion rates.

Poor design will seriously inhibit search engine rankings with an unsuitable URL structure, too much flash animation and a lack of original content and keyword focus making it difficult for the search engines to make sense of what the page is about. If they can’t get an accurate picture of page theme, it’s difficult to justify inclusion in relevant search results.

Lack of Design and SEO Synergy

The easiest design-related mistake to make is to bring in a search engine optimization team after the designer has finished his work. If the SEO consultant only arrives after navigation, titles, headings and internal links have been finalized, important keywords are likely to have been missed out of the site’s cornerstone navigation architecture. Without these signposts, the end user may also find it difficult to seek out the desired information.

Too Much Flash

Too much flash animation is a second design error that can cause problems when it comes to optimization of the site. While a flash move is aesthetically appearing and will add a visually interesting element to the home page or product pages, too much flash will shroud the site in a veil of secrecy. While search engines are getting closer to being able to build an accurate picture of a page from flash coding, it’s unrealistic to expect a site that is heavily flash focused will rank well for dozens of keywords and synonyms. There is no need to steer away from Flash entirely when designing a site but, the visual benefits must be played off against meaningful HTML and text based content.

Splash Pages

Like flash, a splash page may be introduced in to the site design because of its visual impact. We’ll often see a splash page being used as a sales tool to flag up special offers or sale dates. A splash page may well use a flash movie with a link to skip the animation or, may simply be a large graphic with a link to click through to enter the main site. The problem with these pages is the lack of keyword focused content and cross-links needed for effective on page optimization.

Session IDs

A session ID is a unique identifier for each visitor, allowing site owners to chart the user’s journey from start to finish. Session IDs are common for e-commerce sites as they can be used to see what is added and removed from a cart during the user’s time on site. However, since a session ID is tacked on to the end of each URL, each session ID effectively creates a new duplicate page. The URL up to the session ID is the same, the content on page is the same, but the ID is unique to each visit so will be different. This creates a massive duplicate content issue – a problem which search engine’s penalize heavily and one that has caused many an SEO expert hours of lost sleep searching for a viable resolution. Even for small sites this is a big problem as each search engine visit will generate a whole new set of duplicate pages. When the search engines realize this, pages will be dropped and positions will fall. Restoring this broken trust is a massive task that may take months if not years of ethical search engine optimization.

Poor URL Structures

URL structure is very easy to get wrong at the design stage, particularly if a list of keywords and important phrases hasn’t yet been drawn up. As pages are named and navigation structures set up, the use of badly designed URLs can very quickly permeate throughout the site. Poor URL structures include the use of session IDs as mentioned above, the use of characters such as &%*, using only keywords, too many parameters, and using numbers instead of words.

For more information, visit Appleton’s blog and check out Search Marketing Standard for the latest tools, trends, industry news and more.