seo and design
January 14th, 2015

SEO and Design: How They Relate and Why It Matters

by Ashley Bullin

As website design and functionality options have expanded over the years, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest trends while neglecting best search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Oftentimes sites look great, but aren’t search engine-friendly, or vice versa—finding that happy medium is the key.

Parallax design is all the rage. Allowing visitors to scroll seamlessly through an entire site without ever navigating to another page, parallax is extremely user-friendly. This layout is not so great, however, for search engines. In traditional, non-parallax websites, each page functions as its own separate piece of the pie. Search engines crawl individual pages, each one containing its own meta data specific to the overall purpose of that page. Imagine how having a one-page site affects your SEO—one title and one description to sum up your entire site’s content, all adhering to the character limitations set forth in search engine results.

Luckily there are a couple of different options to give you the best of both worlds. You may create individual pages for your site to be indexed by search engines without including them in the overall navigation. These pages would function ideally as landing pages for marketing campaigns, and give you the benefit of having search engines index multiple pages of your site.

Alternatively, you could design each page of your overall site in a parallax format. In doing so, you’ll enjoy the advantage of maintaining separate, indexed pages included in the overall navigation. And you’ll provide the user-friendly parallax design simultaneously.

The format and functionality differences between desktop and mobile devices puts many website owners in a dilemma. Many choose to create a separate site for smartphones and tablets altogether, giving them two URLS—one for mobile and one for desktop. The problem with this tactic is that one portion of your external links would go to your mobile site URL, while the other go to your desktop URL. It essentially divides your SEO rank. In order to give users the best possible experience on any device, Google recommends using a responsive design. Responsive websites ensure content looks great on any device: desktop, tablet and mobile.

Aside from more recent website trends and options, there are basic best practices to keep in mind when considering SEO and design. Remembering to include appropriate titles and alt text for your images goes a long way. Both titles and alt text should be accurate and descriptive; they are used to describe your images to people who may not be able to see them, while also enabling search engines to understand what images are about. You should incorporate relevant keywords, without keyword stuffing, into your titles and alt text as well—just as you would while writing website copy.

Live text versus imagery is probably one of the biggest struggles designers and search engine marketing specialists face. Designers want visually appealing sites that provide a worthwhile user experience, while SEO specialists desire sites that search engines can crawl and, ultimately, rank near the top of SERPs. If you’ve ever tried to highlight text on a website only to discover it’s actually an image, you’re on a site in which the designer won the battle. It’s necessary to incorporate H1s, H2s and paragraph text into your pages in order for search engines to understand what those pages are all about. When you substitute images in place of text, you forgo this benefit.

Insert the nifty programmer into the equation, and there are ways to achieve that happy medium website owners desire. Tactics such as mouse-overs create the appearance of stand-alone images, while including the live text needed to please search engines. Using a combination of webfonts, HTML and CSS, in addition to other tactics like rollups and expandable divs, helps signal to search engines that you’re using live text in addition to fantastic imagery.

Fortunately when you sign off on a project with Sage Island, you have the advantage of a team of designers, programmers and SEO specialists working together to ensure your site looks great, functions well and is read by search engines. Contact us today to give your website the whole package.