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SEO vs. Design – A Link Building Perspective

Tom Howlett

by Tom Howlett on 26th September 2011

LinksThere has been much debate in recent times about whether to focus your optimisation efforts through SEO or by improving the design of your website. When designing a new website, you should consider SEO factors each step of the way. This involves:

  • Creating a clear navigation
  • Having separate pages for all the main products or services
  • Creating targeted and unique Meta tags for each page
  • Applying Alt Tags to all images
  • Utilising Header tags

There may be more that I have left out, but these are some of the important basic elements each website should have. They are not only important for SEO but will create a better experience for your website visitors.

But of course design is also an important factor when creating a new website. You could say it is more important now than it has ever been. Part of the reason for that is the sheer number of websites competing for space on the web nowadays. A better designed and more usable website in most cases is going to be the winner, attracting more links and offering visitors a user-friendly experience. People are much more likely to skip over poorly designed websites, especially if they cannot find what they are looking for. Beautifully designed websites are sometimes in a league of their own, attracting links just because the website looks great, they probably find that visitors stay on their website for longer as well.

Where Design Fails

Design is all about usability, interaction, aesthetics and catching the eye; however it sometimes can be a hindrance to SEO and factors affecting the rate at which a website can build links naturally.

Design practises to avoid:

Flash Based Websites

Websites built on Adobe’s popular platform.

  • Advantages: Flash can create some great looking interactive websites.
  • Disadvantages: Websites that run purely on Flash can be a nuisance as far as SEO is concerned. Search Engine Bots cannot read Flash embedded text which makes it hard for the Search Engines to figure out what the website is about.
  • Best Practise: The best practise if wanting to use Flash is to use Flash within a website which is built using HTML.

Splash Pages

Splash pages are typically intro pages to a website. A page served to a user before they reach the Home page for the site. These are used to display graphical/animation intros, they are also sometimes used so a user can choose what version of the website they want to view (whether it be Flash or standard HTML).

  • Advantages: Done well, they can look great and create more of an experience for the user.
  • Disadvantages: Bad for SEO. When visiting the website, users and bots expect to hit the Home page which should be the most important page of the website and the one that is served first. They often force a user to wait a short period of time before they can continue to the Home page; this will include search engine bots which don’t have the patience some users do.
  • Best Practise: Some websites can get away with it (for example theme park websites), but it is suggested that you avoid the use of Splash Pages and take users straight to the Home page.

One Page Profile Sites

A recent design trend has been to create one page websites. Typically the main navigation buttons take the user down to the appropriate section of that page.

  • Advantages: These websites are simple and result in a very minimalist look which is popular right now in the web design world. They can often be very simple to use and navigate, with all the information available to a user on just one page.
  • Disadvantages: A disadvantage from an SEO perspective is a distinct lack of separate pages for main services offered. This results in a significant reduction in targeted keywords and improving the number of search engine rankings you may have.
  • Best Practises: One page websites can work when it comes to certain website. They can work well for personal portfolio and resume websites. If the purpose of your website revolves around selling products or services, it is better to separate these onto individual pages to create a space for optimisation.

A Link Builders Perspective

When it comes to Link Building, some of the above design focused examples could potentially harm your progress. Here are some examples of how design can hurt your Link Building efforts:

  • Too Much Flash: Sometimes very intensive Flash websites can be off putting to a visitor, depending on the site. Some visitors are likely to either lose patience with the site or find it hard to navigate. This may put off people who potentially could link to your site.
  • Splash Pages: Splash pages could have similar effects on visitors coming to the site. They can put people off if they have to wait before viewing the main content on the site. Visitors may decide then to give up with your site and look elsewhere.
  • One Page Websites: One page websites are generally good at letting users know what the site is about at first glance. If there is a lot of site content, users may struggle to find what they are looking for and go elsewhere. Again, this could benefit some websites but should be avoided if you are selling products or services.

One page websites also remove the benefit of having a good internal linking structure on your website. A good link structure can help flow link value around your website to improve relevance to certain target keyword terms, resulting in a greater prominence in the SERPs.

Design Best Practises for Link Building

There are elements of design which can have a benefit when it comes to Link Building. These are as follows:

  • Social Sharing Buttons: Implementing social sharing buttons within the design of your website help people share your content easily via their social profiles. This will help build links to your website. This should also provide a space to allow people to interact with your brand should they want to, this creates further opportunities to communicate with them in the future.
  • Content Headlines: Having strong and eye-catching headlines on content sections and blog posts helps lure in the user, if it interests them they will have a look. This is a powerful technique for getting more people to read and link to your content.
  • Showing Similar Content: Linking to similar content from across your website could show users other posts or articles they may be interested in and improve your chances of gaining a subscriber or link. A good example of this would be to highlight similar blog posts once a user has read through another, if they like what they have just read, they are much more likely to see what else you may have written.
  • A Clear and Well Designed Navigation: A clear navigation will enable visitors to find what they are looking for quickly and easily, it should also easily highlight any additional categories/products/services that the visitor may be unaware of. If people can easily find your content and like it, they are much more likely to create some sort of link to your website.
  • Interesting and Captivating Images: Images are often overlooked and become a second thought; this can result in a designer grabbing the first royalty free stock image they come across. Images can however lure audiences in, capture their attention and you may find many more people interacting with your content than ever before.
  • Prioritising Elements: Incorporating a structure in your design to place important elements first improves the possibility of a visitor seeing this content rather than having to search for it.
  • Using the Fold: The fold is an important consideration. You want your important messages to appear above the fold so you don’t lose out to anyone who might not scroll down the page for various reasons. Try and include social interaction buttons and links above the fold so those who chose to can socially interact with your brand/website without having to look as to whether you actively partake in social media.
  • The Design Itself: A nice, well designed and innovative website is not only nice to use it could also find itself being linked to naturally purely because it has a distinctive design. There are many design galleries and blogs who regularly link out to these types of sites and these can be great quality links.

This list describes some main elements that should be thought of when designing or optimising your website. I may have missed some elements off the list, but by optimising for the above this should hugely improve how people use and interact with your content.

Creating beautiful and innovative websites is great, but without any consideration of SEO and how people may browse or view your content, your website may struggle to attract and retain quality visitors. Failing to attract and retain these visitors will have a detrimental effect when it comes to naturally building links and increasing the number of followers/interactions.

Image Source

Chain link via BigStock

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.

2 Comments

  • Brian Maher 26th September 2011

    Everytime we start creating web design concepts for clients we are quickly brought around to the realities of online marketing by our seo guys. I suppose the ideal scenario is to hit a happy medium of both design usability and search engine accessability. Great post by the way

    Reply to this comment

  • Tom Howlett

    Tom Howlett 27th September 2011

    Thanks Brian,

    Yeah, it is a delicate balance which can vary from site to site. Thinking about all these during the beginning phases of a web project will definitely save a lot of time in the future.

    Reply to this comment

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