How Good SEO and Great Web Design are Two Sides of the Same Coin

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The internet provides an opportunity for thousands of people to come into contact with you, your business and your brand, but you can’t just set up your website and expect people to just turn up.

Getting people to come to your site is not just a question of them being able to find it in the first place, it is also about how well designed the site is when they get there. Previously, there has been the assumption that web design and SEO were two horses pulling in different directions; that web design was all about usability and experience while SEO was concerned with appealing to search engines.

This assumption has been shown to be based on flawed reasoning. SEO and web design are part of the same broader process of creating websites that are so crystal clear about what they are about and what they can offer people that both humans and browser crawlers can be under illusion of their value.

This is not to say that both web design and SEO don’t bring anything unique to the table, but designing your site in way that corresponds with SEO principles will do more for your fortunes then either an amazing design or an awesome SEO strategy could do on their own.

Why have SEO and Web Design been viewed as separate?

The argument is one that echoed across countless websites and blogs for the better part of a decade. Web designers have claimed that web rankings are not the be all and end all and SEOs have often used techniques that have been counterproductive with regards to web design. Practitioners of SEO on the other hand have often been heard to lament that designers have often harmed a site with poor coding and an unhelpful focus on aesthetics above usability.

A small yet prominent slice of this on-going debate can be seen in this exchange between a web designer giving his thoughts on SEO, and this rebuttal by two SEOs eager to point out the gaps in his knowledge .

This can at times seem like an intractable debate that is going to roll on and on forever, but it really doesn’t have to. If the emphasis is switched from a focus on the antagonism between SEO and web design, to a focus on good and bad practices, the debate can be relegated to the dustbin of history.

If it is acknowledged that both SEO and web design have their faults as well as their benefits, the faults of both can be viewed as bad practice while the benefits can be combined together. Keyword stuffed text and design that renders a site impossible to navigate around are both part of the same problem.

Let’s take a look at two examples of how the best of web design and the best of SEO can be combined.

Progressive Enhancement and SEO

Progressive Enhancement (PE) is a web design that seeks to make the basic content and functionality of a site should be accessible to users no matter what web browser they are using. In practice this means separating the document structure and contents from the semantics, behaviour and presentation. PE in web design is achieved through the creation of a basic mark-up document is created which is compatible with the most basic of browser software functionality. On top of this basic foundation the designer then adds higher level enhancements and functionality in externally linked layers so the document can be viewed in all browsers and only data then can be used by the user’s browser is ever downloaded.

Pages built with PE in mind are nearly always going to better from an SEO point of view because the basic content is always going to accessible and readable to search engine crawlers. Despite all of their recent advancements, browsers are still mostly confined to a small number of ways in which they can read sites and a without PE a site can be in danger of making a large portion of their content unreadable to search engines.

Responsive Design and SEO

Responsive Web Design (RWD) is an increasingly important element in website design because it allows a site to respond to the varying screen sizes that users tend to now log onto different sites. A user might find a site will browsing on their smartphone, look at it in more detail on their laptop or tablet and expect the quality of the site to be the same both times. As long as the trend of multiple devices continues to grow, making sites themselves more responsive rather than targeting devices is going to continue to be a requirement.

Although obstinately a web design strategy, RWD can be combined with the central tenants of SEO to create a site that has high usability and is optimised for search engine crawlers. Not only will having a responsive design increase your rankings by allowing you to access all of the users who search for local services or quick solutions to their problems on their phones while on the move, but the site they access will be optimised in the same way as your regular site.

Other SEO benefits that can be felt from designing a responsive site are that you will avoid the problems associated with duplicate content and all the search engine related pain that it can bring upon you and your site. This will also apply to all of your links, meaning you no longer have to start your SEO efforts from scratch with the launch of a mobile only site.

We can see from these two examples that web design and SEO can move in tandem when both are focused on the same outcome. Good SEO and great, cutting edge web design really are two sides of the same coin.

What do you guys think about the possibility of web design and SEO becoming truly integrated in the near future?

Image: Tooroot

James Duval
James Duval is a marketing expert who has been cited by Mainstreet, ProBloggingSuccess and MarketingProfs. He works for Comm100, thinking about new tricks and techniques in the email and marketing industries.

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