With Internet marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) now essential components to owning a business website, most web designers are adding SEO to their arsenal of capabilities.
The concern is that most of these self-proclaimed SEO/web designers fail to fully understand the complete picture of organic SEO. The techniques to effectively optimize a website are drastically evolving. And although anyone can do keyword research and write meta tags and page copy, many website designers miss the mark with SEO via a site’s back-end.
Whether you’re thinking of hiring a solo designer or full-service web design company, it is imperative that your provider knows what he or she is doing if SEO is involved. In essence, respecting the SEO-friendly elements of a website is a must during the web design process.
In this article, we cover a few specific areas that web designers (or companies hiring a web designer) need to be conscious of when building a well-optimized website.
Search Friendly CMS
Many website providers design their sites around a CMS platform or content management system like WordPress or Drupal. CMS software usually includes ‘plug-ins’ for SEO which enable users to write custom URLs, page titles, and meta descriptions. Although these SEO elements are important to have keyword optimized per page, a search friendly CMS goes well beyond what a SEO plug-in can provide.
The real difference maker in having a SEO-friendly CMS centers on the coding structure of the website. Some web designers, although creative, will utilize very graphic intensive concepts that can diminish a site’s SEO potential. Others are effective at balancing aesthetics with minimal, search-friendly coding.
Below are some considerations while utilizing a CMS for your optimized website:
Look for content management systems that use CSS style sheets (as opposed to nestled tables). This allow search engine spiders to crawl and index your site’s content more efficiently.
Choose a CMS that allows you to place internal links and navigation on the site in specific areas, such as the footer or column. Some platforms and web design templates may limit where you can place links, which is huge consideration for SEO.
Stray away from CMS platforms that automatically created static URLs for each page. Always choose a CMS that allows users to write dynamic, keyword optimized URLs for each page (which is often times achievable through a plug-in).
See if the content management system allows for automatic XML sitemap creation. If it doesn’t, ask you web designer if he or she will be creating and submitting the XML sitemap manually.
These points you may want to consider as potential questions for your future web design team, especially if you intend on using a content management system to operate your site.
Back-End Code Structure
The process of designing a well-optimized site should focus on the back-end structure of the website’s code, or HTML. This includes website elements that are visible on the page (such as the content or page copy) as well as elements that off the page (such as meta data). The way in which the code is structured, in addition to the types of code being used, can ultimately impact SEO performance.
The two primary off-page elements that hold the greatest weight for SEO is the page title and meta description. The page title and meta description should be scripted as early as possible in HTML of each page. The title in particular (which defines a page and always include a keyword reference for SEO) is most important. A website designer or developer will want to ensure that the search engine spiders hit the page title as one of the first bits of code in which it crawls.
Similarly, the on-page content of a webpage should also be presented as early as possible in the code. The body copy is the pages’ bread and butter for SEO, and if this content is at the bottom of the page’s back-end, the spider crawls it last (which is not the best for SEO). Skilled web designers and developers are able to use ‘div’ tags to show the content early in the HTML, even though a bunch of navigation links may be above the content as it’s shown on the page.
These coding variables may also depend on the content management system that is being used. For this reason, it is important to have a good understanding of just how SEO-friendly your CMS is, as well as your web designer’s coding capabilities.
Choose a Web Design Company Wisely
If you are seeking a web design company for both the design and SEO of your site, do not be bashful. That is, don’t hesitate to ask your prospects a lot of questions. Some areas you might want to address are the provider’s technical skills, such as his or her HTML coding capabilities, as well as their graphic design skills. Ask to see if they have any references and examples of well-ranking websites that they have designed and optimized in the past.
In summary, there are a number of website companies that promote SEO, and yet failed execute search engine optimization effectively. Just be sure that you come prepared when seeking these dueling services in one package.