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How to Design a Website for SEO

Tom Howlett

by Tom Howlett on 5th June 2012

How to Design a Website for SEOWhen proceeding to design a new website SEO should be a consideration from the planning phase. This will ensure each element has been considered from the start and will avoid having to make important changes to the website on top of what has already been done.

A clear SEO strategy that has had consideration through every element of the website will set your site in a much better position to rank well and save you time in the future.

This guide will run you through the important considerations that you should decide upon alongside the design work.

Think About Your Audience

When deciding to start a new website, one of the first considerations should be about your target audience. Who are you trying to target, what you are offering them? If the site is being built for an existing business, you are probably already aware who the audience is, the next step is how you are going to build your website to target these people.

What are you offering them?

You need to be clear on what you are offering people, what services are being offered or what products you are selling. Thinking about this initially will help you think about what you want to include on the website from a business perspective.

What do they want to see?

The next step is to decide or establish what your target audience want to see. You can then match them to your offerings and start to establish the number of pages you will need on the site and what information these pages will contain.

Each page should have a defined purpose; having additional pages for the sake of increasing the number of pages on the site is not a good strategy and could cause duplicate content issues in the future when trying to increase the content on each of these pages.

How are they going to find you?

After considering the above, you will want to decide upon the strategy for getting visitors to your website. For many businesses this will include the following channels:

  • Natural Search (through SEO)
  • Paid Search (if utilising PPC advertising)
  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus)

For SEO, keyword research is a powerful tool for finding out what people are searching for. Keyword research is especially powerful if considered right from the very beginning to help you tailor and target your pages towards any relevant terms.

Every website, business or brand should have a social media presence. This is becoming more and more important to work in line with your SEO strategy. It would therefore make sense to think about how social media will be integrated into your website from the very beginning. This will ensure it is considered alongside and fits well into the design instead of appearing as an afterthought. Here are some common considerations, but don’t forget to get creative:

  • Link to your social profiles from the Home page, make it easy for people to become fans or follow.
  • Consider adding links to the profiles within the site Footer for easy discovery.
  • Include an area for people to like or become a fan a piece of new content (a Blog post for example).

Plan Your Navigation

The navigation is the core of your website and consideration is essential if you want people to easily find their way around your website.

Decide on the pages

The keyword research should give you a good idea what people are searching for relevant to the website offerings. Combining this with the information you want to include will help you plan exactly what pages you need on your website. As mentioned above, you do not want to end up with too many pages as things can get chaotic quite easily; try including pages relating to your core products and services and branch out from there.

Core pages are likely to include:

  • Home page
  • About page (to explain in more detail the purpose of the business/website)
  • Contact page (How do you plan people to contact you)
  • Main Service page (if relevant)

Structure the navigation

The navigation is one of the most important site elements and needs thorough consideration. Highlight the most important and top level pages of your website, your navigation will be built up on a foundation of these pages. Group the rest of the pages underneath the top level pages. Where a lot of pages are involved, consider how the navigation is best laid out. You may have to utilise a dropdown menu on the main navigation buttons – a common and popular strategy.

Footer links can be helpful by adding a link to the most popular or important pages on the site, for easy navigation.

Utilise breadcrumbs (if relevant)

Breadcrumbs are a link trail that appears as people navigate through certain pages on the site. If your site includes categories with lots of child pages, a useful implementation of breadcrumbs will help users quickly backtrack to the main category page of the child page they are currently on.

Breadcrumbs are commonly utilised on ecommerce sites. Say you were browsing through an online clothes store and were looking at Men’s Boot Cut Jeans, you may want to quickly return to the Jeans or Trouser category page – this is where Breadcrumbs are incredibly useful.

Create a Familiar Structure

You will want to create a familiar structure on the website; this is with regards to the navigation and the page layout.

One consideration would need to be towards other existing websites – competitors and websites in other industries. Typically you will start to notice a trend utilised in most page layouts and site navigation. Visitors to your website will be highly familiar with this type of website architecture, so it would be an idea to mirror this structure as opposed to creating a confusing and unfamiliar structure that will make it hard for visitors to navigate.

Many websites will also use a grid structure to which the website was built upon. This will help organise the content and ensure it fits all screen sizes.

Plan and Structure the Pages

Once having a base design and structure for your website, it is important to make sure all the common SEO elements are set up and work well within the site.

Here is a list of common elements to implement from the start:

  • Page Meta – Implement optimised Meta on page including a page Title and Meta Descriptions. If this is added from the start it will prevent the need for retargeting.
  • Header Tags – Set up your pages and optimise the website CSS to have a common visual aspect for the H1, H2, H3 tags and so on (you may only need H1’s). This ensures that these elements fit well into the website structure and will help create a familiar structure. This will avoid the need for tinkering afterwards that could spoil the website as it may look overly optimised for SEO reasons.
  • Image Placement – The placement of images should be considered to avoid pushing too much of the useful text content below the fold. You will also want to create a common design element for your images (consider image sizes, thumbnails, borders etc.) – This will improve the familiarity and improve the browsing experience.
  • Alt Tag Implementation – Each image should have an associated Alt attribute, it is best that this is implemented from the very start to save time in the future.
  • Rich Snippets – These have been utilised more and more by the search engines (especially Google). This could hugely benefit your site if implemented from the beginning. Consider Rich Snippets involving Authors, Location, Reviews and any others that are relevant to your site or business.

Page Content

Page content is an important consideration along with planning your pages. Each page should have a certain level of content that provides contextual relevance for your target keywords; pages with little or no content are going to provide little SEO benefit.

Above the Fold

There was a Google algorithm update not too long ago that considered the placement of content on a websites pages. To keep with best practices, try to keep the important content above the fold, this is what the users will see first and it is what the search engines are interested in.  The websites that were largely affected by the algorithm update were sites that had lots of unnecessary content above the content focus (such as advertisements or AdSense).

Include Images

The utilisation of images across the website can be useful for breaking up the content (making it easier to browse), gives something for people to share through new platforms such as Pinterest and could also bring in some site traffic through image search.

Useful SEO Pages

There are a number of site pages that are useful for SEO or from a usability perspective, these are listed below.

HTML Sitemap

A HTML Sitemap page is basically a ‘glossary’ of your site and contains a list of important pages from top level pages to child pages. This can be useful for improving the internal link profile of the site and to help visitors to find specific pages.

About Page

An About page is relatively standard on most websites. This is a page that visitors can navigate to if they want to find out a bit more about the website and can be useful for keeping people on the website and for improving conversions.

This page can also create the opportunity to link to other important pages useful for visitors and helpful for providing that additional keyword relevance for the linked to pages.

Useful SEO Elements

As well as useful pages, there are a number of useful SEO elements that should be implemented on the site to help improve your search engine presence and help you improve the site as it develops.

Robots.txt

Most websites should have a Robots.txt file. This allows you to control the areas of the site that can be crawled and indexed by the search engines. You also have the opportunity to point the search engines in the direction of the XML Sitemap file to a list of site pages and can help getting the pages of the site indexed.

XML Sitemap

As mentioned above, the XML Sitemap file contains a list of site URLs and pages. It will help highlight the pages of the site you want indexed and will help ensure all the pages get indexed within the search engines.

Footer Links

Footer links can help improve the site internal link profile – adding links to important pages will not only have an SEO benefit but will benefit the site from a usability perspective by providing a link to popular pages someone may be searching for.

Please Note – It is not a good idea to stuff the Footer with keyword optimised links to every page you can think of. Try to limit these to important and useful pages for your visitors.

Analytics

It is a good idea to install some sort of Analytics package to work alongside your website – Google Analytics is a popular choice. You will then be able to track visits and interactions with the website from the very beginning. Although this will not directly help your SEO, it will provide useful data to help you optimise your website over time.

Another useful strategy is to track specific goals and conversions on your website, depending on what you want your visitors to do. You can then track visitor flow to help you improve the usability of the website.

Webmaster Tools

Similar to Google Analytics, webmaster tools are a great way to help you monitor and improve your website over time. It will report any site issues, crawl issues and site speed problems to which you can resolve immediately. Google Webmaster Tools is a useful tool – Bing also has their own version and will give you more general information on how the different search engines view your website.

Technical SEO Elements

I have already mentioned some useful elements which will help your SEO progress, here are some more technical website suggestions that will help benefit your SEO and are generally slightly more technical to implement.

Canonical Issues

Each website should fix any canonical issues to prevent any multiple indexation and duplicate content issues; a website Home page can normally be accessed using the following links:

  • http://www.example.com/
  • http://www.example.com/index.html
  • http://example.com/
  • http://example.com/index.html

It is suggested that a permanent 301 redirect is implemented to direct each of these URL instances to just one version of the URL (generally http://www.example.com/ is used).

404 Error Page

A 404 error page is displayed when a visitor types in a page URL wrong or visits your site using a link to a page that no longer exists. By default, these are ugly, automatically generated pages that don’t bare any resemblance to your website. This may cause visitors to leave the site without attempting to try again to find what they are looking for.

To get around this you can create a custom 404 error page that utilises the same design template as the rest of the site. You can include custom links in an attempt to direct visitors towards a page that will be interesting to them. This will help retain visitors that would have otherwise not come back.

Improving Page Speed

Page speed is a hugely important consideration and it is believed to be a ranking factor. There are some statistics that highlight the percentage of users that leave a slow loading website to be huge, compared to a quick site.

Improving the speed of an existing website is quite a task, so every attempt should be made to create a quick website in the design and development process.

Here is a list of important considerations when building a fast website (not an endless list):

  • Minify HTML
  • Externalise CSS
  • Externalise JavaScript
  • Reduce image size
  • Use CSS to generate website elements
  • Leverage browser caching

Adding New Pages

When designing a new site it is very likely that sometime in the near future, you will want to add new pages. This should be a consideration from the very beginning; you will want to make sure that you are able to easily add more links to the navigation. This will prevent you having to throw the link anywhere is may fit and ruining the clean site structure.

Planning to Include a Blog?

If you are planning to include a Blog on the site, there are a few elements to consider – These are listed below:

  • How are you going to manage the Blog (are you going to use WordPress or any other platform)?
  • Does the CMS enable you to modify the post URLs, Meta, on page elements and other important page level items.
  • You will want to ensure the Blog template mirrors the design for the rest of the site which helps improve the familiarity from a user’s perspective.
  • Ideally you will want to maintain a clean URL structure and avoid using dynamic URL’s on the Blog content.

Incorporating a CMS

Whether the website is for personal use or for a customer, there is a good chance that the daily management will be done through a CMS. This can cause some problems that can affect any of the above elements. If using a CMS, it is suggested that the following is considered:

  • Can the common on page SEO elements be optimised through the CMS?
  • With the creation of new pages, can Meta be added through the system?
  • Are you able to optimise the Meta for the existing page?
  • When adding images to any of the pages, is there a feature to add Alt tags?
  • Can the HTML code be accessed for the implementation of Header elements, or can this be managed without changing the code directly?
  • Can the various sections of the pages be accessed for easy optimisation?

Conclusion

I hope this guide has helped guide you through the process of designing a website with SEO in mind from the very beginning. This process will help improve the chances of ranking right from the very beginning, without having to work with what is already live. This leaves you to focus on creating quality content and improving the usability and the customer experience.

If you feel I have left anything out, let me know in the comments below.

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett

If you’re looking for information on Link Building then read Tom Howlett’s posts. Tom has a specialist insight into link building strategies designed to improve website’s visibility and ranking. He will help you become a master in finding new link sources.

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10 Comments

  • Den Nicholson 5th June 2012

    Thanks Tom for an excellent post, your in depth research and planning has to be one of the most important aspects of building any website. I for one will bookmark it for future use.

    Reply to this comment

  • Ryan Newby 6th June 2012

    Great Article good read and good information. One can always improve their seo skill by looking at design.

    Reply to this comment

    • Tom Howlett

      Tom Howlett 6th June 2012

      Thanks Ryan.

      The design of a website and the application of SEO is definitely better considered together and right from the beginning of a project if possible, rather than it being an afterthought.

      Reply to this comment

  • HenryV 6th June 2012

    Nice short explanation of all the important SEO elements. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply to this comment

  • Abhishek Mishra 22nd June 2012

    Hey Tom,
    Great share & I got very useful post on same http://www.wordtracker.com/academy/launching-your-site

    Reply to this comment

  • Tom Howlett

    Tom Howlett 22nd June 2012

    Hi Abhishek,

    Thanks for the comment and highlighting that other resource. Some good information under ‘Market your site slowly and cheaply’.

    Reply to this comment

  • Stephen Garside 27th June 2012

    Excellent summary! I would also include the use of the rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags in News and Blogs pages + an ‘Author’ page linking back to google+ profile – easy to implement and produce good results. The use of Micro / RDFa data is also a quick easy win for ecommerce / directory sites too.

    Reply to this comment

    • Tom Howlett

      Tom Howlett 27th June 2012

      Thanks Stephen.

      It is definitely good to implement rel=”author” etc. if including a Blog on the site – Good tip.

      Reply to this comment

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