How to improve SEO with web design

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SEO may not sound thrilling, but knowing the basics will boost your professionalism and help people reach the websites you design.

14 min read

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As a consumer, you’re familiar with Google’s search algorithm and how it works. You type in a search query like “beauty salons near me” and Google instantly spits out thousands of matching web pages.

Usually, you don’t need to go past the first page because the algorithm does a good job of matching your search intent with high-quality web pages. In the case of “Brooklyn beauty salons”, for example, Google would show you:

  • Paid ads for local beauty salons

  • Maps results showing you where exactly top-rated beauty salons are located as well as pointing you to their website so you can learn more

  • And organic (non-paid) search results

In order for people to keep using Google, search results need to perfectly match what the searcher is looking for. This means Google will only put the highest quality web page matches on the first page of search results.

A lot of this is contingent on how well the content is written. There are many practices that writers and SEO experts can do to set up content so it ranks well, like keywording and link building.

While as a designer, your primary responsibility is to craft an attractive UI and an intuitive UX, it can’t come at the expense of SEO. So, you need to start thinking about how the design, format, and even code of a website will impact your pages’ performance in search, too.

Google search results including paid ads, Maps and organic results

How to improve SEO with web design

  1. Design for mobile-first indexing

  2. Remove the friction from conversion

  3. Use logic and order when designing the navigation

  4. Carefully structure each page

  5. Manage each page’s search appearance

  6. Use structured data when possible

  7. Optimize images for speed

  8. Never stop A/B testing

When you build a website for a client or employer, what’s the primary goal? It’s not just so they have an attractive landing page to send interested prospects to (though a website is useful for that as well).

More often than not, companies have you build them a website because they want to increase their visibility online. More specifically, they want you to help them solve this problem:

“How do we get to the top of Google?”

A recent study by Backlinko reports that only 0.44% of Google searchers click to the second page of results.

And an Ahrefs search traffic study found that 90.63% of web pages receive no traffic from Google.

So, creating a website that helps your client beat these odds is critical. This can be done with the help of SEO, or search engine optimization.

That said, the search optimization strategy for a website is usually managed by writers, SEO experts, and other marketing team members. Not the web designer.

The truth is, however, that the choices that web designers make have a big impact on how well a website performs in page rankings. So, rather than wait for your SEO person or writer to hand down instructions on how to better optimize the site you designed, why not learn about SEO practices that are tied together with web design, which you can do to help your clients improve their online visibility?

In the following guide, we will show you how to improve SEO as a web designer. We’ll explore eight tips for striking the right balance between good design and effective SEO.

1. Design for mobile-first indexing

In 2019, Google made the switch to mobile-first indexing for new websites, and existing websites were also making a gradual move.

Starting in September 2020, mobile-first indexing became the default method for all websites.

So, what does this mean for you as a web designer?

First and foremost, it means that every website should have a responsive design, and that users’ experience remains consistently excellent across all devices. More than that, though, you need to design the mobile experience first, since it’s the one that affects the website’s ranking.

In the past, designers would create a scaled-back version of the website for mobile visitors (or just not pay much attention to it at all). According to Google, that’s a big no-no though. Instead, your mobile and desktop versions need to have identical content.