Technical SEO & Web Design: Why Both Are Needed
Any website strategy that places too much emphasis on catering to search crawlers or actual users will fall short of greatness. Why is this, and how should you proceed?
Every business or individual with an online presence understands the importance of good design, but people don’t always know what it actually involves. Often, they’ll get fixated upon whichever website elements are most relevant to their areas of expertise: a design agency will prioritize the look, while an SEO agency will focus on the internal link distribution.
But a great website must be well-rounded, meeting or exceeding standards both technically and aesthetically, as well as boasting an excellent UX design. Let’s go into some more detail about why you need both technical SEO and web design to excel online:
Technical SEO is a vital baseline
Encompassing a variety of factors such as page speed, image file size, mobile responsiveness, URL structure, security, metadata, and keyword optimization, technical SEO considers everything that stands out to a search crawler (that being the tool a search engine, typically Google, uses to assess and index a website). As such, no matter how good your content is, your site won’t stand a chance of ranking well if it falls short technically.
Though it’s increasingly infrequent due to the rising standards of CMS quality, you’ll still find businesses with creative and slick websites that ultimately don’t rank due to extremely basic technical issues (such as search crawlers being blocked, or pages not having canonical links and being viewed as duplicates). In the development phase of website creation, solid technical SEO fundamentals must be established, or else any work that follows will be undermined.
Usefully, it isn’t that arduous to stay on top of best practices for technical SEO, because Google tends to announce what it expects of the sites it ranks. Keep up with informative blogs and try to adapt to changes in a timely fashion, and you should find it relatively straightforward to maintain a good level of technical SEO.
Web design pushes leads towards conversion
Suppose that you tick all the boxes when it comes to technical SEO and give your website a decent chance of ranking for some targeted terms by providing some high-quality content. What happens when a hopeful searcher arrives at your site? They’ll have a goal in mind, of course, presumably overlapping with your goal for the site (selling products if it’s an ecommerce site, for instance, or getting ad revenue if it’s a typical blog site).
But if you think that all that technical SEO work is going to convince them to take the action you’re looking for, then you’re sorely mistaken. All that work was to convince a search crawler that your site is technically viable as a result — what comes after that is the result of your design work. Consider it analogous to meeting the criteria to enter a competition: you need to get in to have a chance of winning, but you can get in and still place last.
Technical work aside, web design is all about UX (User Experience), ensuring that the site visitor has a positive experience. A great UX will make it easy for someone to find what they’re looking for, provide an attractive and logical layout, and make it as fast as possible for them to achieve their goals if they’re ready to proceed.
Owing to years of iterative improvement, the average store page has a fairly solid design (check out a marketplace of websites for sale for hundreds of example), but there are still exceptions. If you’ve ever made your way to a store checkout only to decide you don’t trust the site and choose to back out, you’ve seen a store with a poor design — something you can’t afford.
Google’s algorithm is influenced by both
Because of its array of search crawlers, Google’s ranking system is directly influenced by the technical SEO factors we already looked at. Page titles have always had some effect, page speed is now a ranking factor on mobile, and the advent of mobile-first indexing now means that mobile-responsiveness will be a concern for every website. There’s also the matter of SSL now being required if you don’t want your site to be listed as “Not secure”.
But your web design quality also affects your rankings in two ways: firstly, Google considers numerous on-page SEO factors (though it isn’t known exactly which ones, they’re likely to include metrics such as time on site, number of links clicked, pages visited, etc.), and secondly, it has a team of quality raters tasked with manually reviewing ranked sites and providing feedback based on how worthy they are.
Their feedback doesn’t directly impact any specific rankings, but it does inform the direction of the Google algorithm. If enough sites that rank for a particular reason don’t appear to warrant their positions, the algorithm may be updated to lower the significance of that reason. So if your web design doesn’t match the quality of your technical SEO and provide a great UX, there’s a chance that Google will eventually change its criteria and leave you with a lower ranking.
Want your site to rank well and perform well? Forget about concentrating on technical factors or design elements, and devise a strategy that makes them both priorities. Only then will you be able to establish lasting success.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert for Ecommerce Tips. He understands the challenge of catering to users and search engines. Visit the blog, and check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.