How to Optimise Web Design for Humans AND Search Engines

By Vee Tardrew - November 04, 2014

One of the tenets of inbound marketing is creating {insert any marketing asset / campaign / message here} with your ideal customer, or buyer persona, in mind. You need to understand precisely what it is they require help with or education on in order to effectively address their challenges and provide them with valuable information to resolve their issues.

Once we have this wonderful content ready for them, how do we ensure they can access it? This is where search engines come into play. 91% of people use a search engine (predominately Google) when looking for information and therefore it is important for us, as marketers, to ensure that our website pages are optimised for the best possible rankings.

Now we are faced with the conundrum of optimising our website for both human interaction and our little robot friends that collect data that determines our eventual page ranking. How do we go about balancing optimisation to satisfy both?

The answer lies in designing and developing a website that is easy for searchers to understand and simple for the search engine bots to crawl.

People have preconceived notions of what they expect of different sites – or more specifically, search terms – when they arrive. They judge the credibility of the site based primarily on the design of the site. If they feel that the site design does not entrench trust and authority they will abandon the page and go on to seek other sources of information.

In this post we’ll address key design components to pay attention to that will ensure you satisfy the objectives and intent of both your human and robotic visitors.

7 Points for Designing a Website That Delights Both Users and Search Engines

1. User Driven Design

User experience (UX) design is a methodology that anticipates and maps out the overall journey of the user and aims to provide the quickest route possible to achieve their objectives. This requires a well-structured approach to information architecture that ensures you don’t have ‘orphaned’ pages that aren’t able to be located from navigation (unless you absolutely don’t want them indexed, of course).

A website visitor always has a goal and if you are able to tap into that intention and provide the path to resolution quickly and easily you will see a lowering of your bounce rate and an increase in engagement. These are both factors that search engines look at when determining the ‘value’ of your website for visitors and as such the ranking position.

 

2. Mobile Friendly Design

We are living in an age of multiple screens. We move between our desktops, laptop, notebooks, tablets and smartphones, browsing sites from the most convenient device for us at the time. Desktop versions of sites are often tricky to navigate from mobile devices and smart phones. Responsive website design emerged as a resolution to this issue and uses CSS and code to change the way a site is shown to visitors, depending on the device they are using to view it and offers the best possible interaction and experience.

A few years ago, Google made an announcement recommending responsive web design as the best way to target mobile users. It went on to mention that mobile-optimised sites are also favoured in search engine results for mobile searches.

 

3. Clean Design

Cluttered or randomly scattered website elements are a thing of the past (thank goodness!). Today’s trend lends itself to clean, clear design that effectively makes use of white (negative) space and grid based layouts. This approach forces designers and copywriters to highlight the most critical information, which in turn helps both users and search engines to quickly identify the main message and topic of the page.

 

4. Clear Colour Palette

Keeping your site on-brand in terms of colours won’t necessarily have a direct impact on search engine optimisation, but it will help users have a consistent brand experience, which is a driver of engagement and therefore subsequently results in better search rankings. It’s important to ensure your colour palette accurately reflects your brand’s purpose, message and positioning.

Use bolder colours to draw attention to ‘clickable’ items such as hyperlinks or to make call-to-action buttons stand out. Be aware of web-safe colours and which contrasts are going to make legibility difficult. Avoid putting additional pressure on your visitor to consume your content, it should be easy on the eye with colour cues for next action points.

 

5. Quick-Loading Sites

Google has not been shy about stating that if you have a slow loading site, it won’t rank as well as one that has been optimised from the back end. From a user perspective, slow loading sites lead to frustration – we’re generally an impatient bunch – and we’ll move off to the next site if your site is taking too long to load.

Configuring your site to load copy before images (as well as optimising those images for web viewing) will ensure that on slow connections your most pertinent information is shown first and your visitor will be able to pick up the essence of your site even if imagery takes a little longer to load.

 

6. Optimise Non-Text Elements

Image, videos and other non-text based items should be optimised for search engine crawling by including ‘alt text’ as otherwise they are not able to determine the content. This also helps when browsers aren’t displaying the images or content properly as the ‘alt text’ will still be shown and can help visitors determine what it is they are not seeing. Many website readers will also read the alt text for visually impaired users, ensuring they have a good sense of the overall page content.

 

7. Format Text Elements

Formatting your copy is helpful for both the visitor and the search engine spider. No one likes to be faced with a wall of text to read when visiting a web page! Use the following to break up copy and make it easy to scan:

  • Page headings (H1) for keyword or topic placements
  • Subheadings (H2 – H3) to separate out new sub-sections
  • Bolding and italics to highlight points of interest and keywords
  • Bullets to itemise lists (like this one)

 

If you’re finding that your natural search engine rankings are lacking for your primary keywords and topics, it is a good idea to review your search engine optimisation strategy in conjunction with the experience you are delivering to your visitor. These work hand-in-hand to elevate your search engine rankings as the engines like sites that people like, and people like sites that are providing them with valuable information that helps them achieve something.

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