The Ultimate SEO-Friendly Web Design Guide
Things you need to know about SEO
Whether you’re designing a new website for the first time or have been focused on improving the exposure of your current website, SEO is important to keep in mind.
In this guide, you’ll learn about SEO, how it works, and how you can use effective SEO when designing your website for improved exposure and results.
Now, if you’re familiar with aspects of SEO, feel free to skip around this guide. However, you might find it useful to review this guide in order because I’ve structured the information for the SEO beginner.
Table of contents
1. What is SEO?
5. On-Site SEO
6. Off-Site SEO
1. What is SEO?
Before we dive deep, it’s important to understand what SEO really is.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It focuses on improving the ranking and visibility of a website through organic search engine results.
In this context, ‘organic’ refers to search results that are earned through effective SEO instead of through paid advertising.
This allows your website to naturally display higher in search engine results pages for free.
Basically, the better SEO, the better chances of being displayed on top search engine result pages (SERP). This means more readers if you’re a blog website and more potential leads if you’re selling a product or service.
2. Why is SEO Important?
While you could pay for advertising to help improve your website rankings, it’s not necessary. Simply optimizing your website will make a difference because of the fact that most online traffic is driven by search engines.
This means that your website can gain traffic without spending a single penny.
It may sound hard to believe but think about the last time you used a web address to visit a website. Most likely you used a search engine with a simple keyword or phrase to help pull up the website you were looking for.
3. How SEO Works
SEO works hand in hand with search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
By using algorithms, search engines can determine a website’s relevance to a search by analyzing its content and information. Then the results are organized based on the goal of providing the most useful information to the user.
4. What Can You Do to Rank Higher?
Now that we’ve defined SEO and how it works, you’re probably wondering how you can be more relevant and rank higher in SERPs. Well luckily, there’s more than one way.
Below I’ve separated the SEO tips to on-site and off-site, that way it’s easier to follow and understand.
5. On-site SEO
On-site SEO is also known as on-page SEO. This refers to optimizing elements on a website, it’s pages, and HTML to rank higher in search engine results (SERPS).
Proper on-site SEO helps your audience clearly understand what your website is about. It also helps search engines interpret content the way your audience would see it based on the content and keywords.
To make it simple, the goal of on-site SEO is to make it possible for search engines and users to:
- understand the purpose and intent of a web page
- identifies if the page is relevant to a keyword or phrase
- find it useful and worthy of ranking high on SERPs
5.1 Keywords and Phrases
The easiest way to get started with on-site SEO is by choosing a keyword or phrase that’s relevant to your website. Having a list of keywords is one of the most crucial steps in your search engine optimization strategy.
A good place to start is on Google. Start by identifying terms and topics that relate to your website. Just search a keyword and scroll down to the bottom of the page for similar results and keywords searched. You can also conduct research on Google Adwords to find the most relevant keyword.
Luckily, there are plenty of free online tools that will help you find the keywords you need. Some of them are:
Whichever method or tool you decide to use to compile the list of your keywords, you should make it an ongoing process. The biggest mistake most marketers will make is to do their keyword research only once. So, updating your keyword list is a must.
When targeting keywords, don’t focus on the ones that are too popular as it means they are too competitive and you won’t get the ranking you want.
SEO is very helpful. But content is still king.
Anytime you use a search engine, you are searching for the answer to a question or useful information. You are looking for content and that’s what helps gain greater visibility for two reasons. First, the customer is looking for content. Second, search engines use content to determine relevancy to a user’s search query.
When it comes to content, longer typically ranks better. Longer content is seen as being more thorough and helpful, typically. But longer content can get messy and that can work against you.
Maintain clean-formatting and sentences that are direct and purposeful to maximize your user experience.
It helps to start with keyword research, but starting with content is possible too.
With optimized content, you have higher chances of attracting more audience to your website.
There are four things you need to do if you wish to fully optimize your content. The first is already covered with discovering your keywords. Of course, writing about topics people are currently interested in will increase your traffic numbers.
The second thing you need to do is to work on keyword optimization. Knowing when and how to use your keywords is essential for having a successfully optimized website.
Thirdly, your website content should be organized in a logical order for search engines to crawl it and your visitors to find what they need easily.
Finally, there is the content promotion. Your content needs to be promoted if you wish it to achieve the business results you want. Use your social media platforms and email marketing to reach great results.
There are many types of content you can create and optimize to attract more traffic to your website. Some of the most popular ones are:
- Blog articles
After you’ve crafted some of your finest pieces of content, you will notice you need to have it organized. Having an editorial calendar will keep you on track.
You can use Outlook or Google Calendar and share it with your team. In your calendar, you should have ongoing items such as a new article every Wednesday or a new guide every month.
Make sure you have enough time to create quality content. It’s better to publish quality content once a week than have three articles per week that nobody will want to read.
5.3 URL Structure
When it comes to URL structure it’s best to keep it simple. It should be easy to remember and easy to type. Make sure your URL is short and includes the keyword or phrase you’ve chosen to optimize with.
The URL structure will provide you with great benefits, such as improved user experience, better rankings on search engines and more traffic. Well-written URL lets people know what your content is about, so if it’s intriguing enough, they will click on it.
If somebody sees only your URL, would they know what the content is about? Also, if you use more words, use hyphens to separate them. Never use uppercase letters when creating URLs as it might cause an issue with duplicate pages.
5.4 Meta Descriptions
Meta-descriptions summarize the purpose and intent of a page. This is the description that shows up on search results that quickly addresses the search. It should include your keywords and any relevant information.
It shouldn’t be longer than 155 words if you want to have well-optimized meta descriptions. A good meta description will increase your click-through rate from search engines.
Write your meta descriptions in active voice and make them actionable. A good piece of advice would be to include a call-to-action message in it as it will encourage more people to click on it. Add to your next meta description common call-to-action phrases such as ‘Find out’, ‘Learn more’, ‘Try it for free’ or ‘Get it now’.
However, you should never create a misleading meta description as Google will penalize it eventually. Your meta description should always match your content.
5.5 Image Optimization
When an image is placed on a website or in a blog post, a search engine doesn’t see it. What it does identify are file names and relevant keywords. By re-titling your images, you can help search engines keep you relevant.
Start by reducing your image size to ensure your website performance better. Bigger image sizes will cause a loading problem and slow down your entire website.
Make sure you choose the right format for your images. Some of the most popular are JPEG PNG and GIF. Experimenting with other formats might harm your website optimization and, consequently, your ranking.
When compressing, don’t hurt the image quality. The goal is to have smaller-sized images, not low-quality content on your website.
So, what should you keep in mind when it comes to on-site optimization? Here is the list of on-site optimization elements:
- Title tags, header tags, image alt tags and meta descriptions
- URL structure
- Internal linking structure
- Quality and diverse content
- Responsive website design
6. Off-Site SEO
Off-site SEO is also called off-page SEO, and it refers to optimizing your website to improve your relevancy, importance, and authority in SERPs through links and other related external online content.
This shows search engines that your website provides useful information and serves as a valuable resource for users.
As search algorithms and ranking factors never stop changing, your off-site SEO strategy is vital for your website success.
6.1 Link Building
Links help determine popularity. The more useful and quality links, the more authority you build for yourself in front of search engines.
Link building is a strategy used in SEO to promote your website by creating links that references similar content to other online sites. This helps search engines rank your website higher and essentially serves as a “voucher” for your website content.
It tells search engines, “Hey, my content is relevant in all these places on the internet. Show me first.”
But be wary with links you include, as overstuffing can work against you. Only provide links if it adds value to your content and to the user experience.
When talking about link building, you should know there are three main types of links relevant to your website – natural, manually built and self-created.
A natural link is given by the editorial without any involvement of the page owner. A manually built link is acquired via deliberate link-building activities such as having your customers link to your website or influencers sharing your content. A self-created link is created with adding backlinks in an online directory, press release, blog comment signature, forum, etc.
Off-site SEO techniques are usually divided into two categories – white and black hats. White hat techniques are preferred by search engines and will help you achieve better ranking results. On the other hand, black hat techniques are deceptive and will lead to penalties or being banned by search engines.
6.2 White Hat Techniques
If you haven’t heard of the phrase ‘White hat techniques’, you’ve probably heard of some of it commonly used techniques such as:
- Competition analysis to better understand strategies that help you achieve great ranking on search engines
- Research the keywords you want to rank for
- Determine who is ranking highly with these keywords
- Find a way how to provide your audience with a better, optimized web design
These tactics will add value to your website’s SEO, ensure a fantastic website design experience and, of course, increase your ranking and traffic. When utilizing these tactics, always treat them as an ongoing process instead of a one-off thing. If implemented right, they can bring enormous benefits to your business.
6.3 Black Hat Techniques
Unlike white hat techniques, these ones will result in devastating consequences for your website and your business as well. These techniques were very popular in the past as it allowed marketers to achieve high rankings incredibly quickly. To fight this, search engines updated their algorithms to detect it. Nowadays, if you use any of the black hat techniques, search engines will penalize you or even ban you from their results. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to recover your status once you’ve been banned by Google.
Below you can find some of the most popular black hat techniques:
- Buying links
- Link farming
- Selling links
- Keyword spamming and stuffing
- Hidden content and links
These tactics were mostly used in the past when search engines weren’t so efficient in detecting them, but that doesn’t mean there are still no black hat techniques utilized by many marketers. Some of today’s black hat techniques that are popular with marketers who, despite the consequences, want instant results are thin and duplicate content, cloaking and keyword stuffing.
Thin content is when you create several individual pages that have almost the exact content. Creating multiple pages of content to target different audiences shouldn’t result in almost identical pages. That’s why it’s called thin content because it’s similarity led to multiple pages with almost exact content.
This low-quality content is monitored by Google very closely since 2011 after they’ve created their update known as Panda. Instead of having several pages with the same topic and different keywords, you should create one comprehensive page which will contain all vital information
Duplicate content is the same content shared between more domains or pages within a single domain. Not having original content that brings value to the audience is something search engines will never encourage.
However, there are reasons for having the same content on different platforms, but that should be done with a rel=canonical tag that point to the original version of the content. On the contrary, you’re risking that Google chooses to show the original in the search results and not your version.
Cloaking is mentioned above in our list of black hat techniques. It refers to showing the same content to engine crawlers as it would be shown to one of your visitors. This implies you shouldn’t hide text in the HTML code of your website. If you do that, search engines will prevent it from showing in the search results.
Keyword stuffing happens when businesses don’t understand SEO, so they will add a certain keyword numerous times thinking it will result in better ranking on search engine result page. Actually, the quality of the entire content on your page is much more important the number of times you’ve used a specific keyword. All of your keywords should be incorporated in the article naturally.
You’ve done it. You’ve made your way to the end of the guide but you might feel like there’s still so much to know.
Luckily there are other respectable resources that provide in-depth information on SEO.
Joel leads software development at One X Tech's Technology Management & Digital Solutions practice. He leads the firm's Asia Pacific office efforts in continually evolving and growing new capabilities to serve clients in technology-led transformations.