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Is SEO an element of web design?

How do SEO and web design fit together? This is an important question when it comes to small business websites, which usually share a disappointing similarity: cheap template syndrome. It comes about when someone picks a design template they like, and then they try to figure out how to fill it with content for their business. Then they come to us and say "I'm not showing up in search. I need some SEO".

Picking your template first is backwards.

The way to start on a website is to figure out what blocks of content you need to present your business, and what their priority is. SEO, with the all-important keyword research, as well as Gap Analysis and Competitive Analysis, do this. Do you really need those round icons that don't link to anything? How about those scrolling banners or big stock photos? Your site structure, which is your site index, navigation and content plan, will answer those questions and more.

It's especially important when a website has to deliver a lot of content. Most SEO tools will tell you that you'll need a lot more words than you think, and that's when most templates fall apart.

Often we'll find we might need 800 or 1000 words to rank competitively for a single subject, which might need to be all on one page. That will turn a page black with most templates. As a potential client, with the typical 8-second attention span, how interested would you be in a provider whose website is jammed so full of text you don’t know where to look first?

Designers will object, but good design can coexist with good SEO practice. And good designers can make it work, even when there's lots of words.

SEO is an important part of the equation.

SEO, properly done, is an essential building block of a good website, but not the only one. SEO will bring them in, but then you have to convert them. The other elements are:

  1. Messaging, which gives your brand and content a purpose and direction
  2. Design, which is informed by your messaging and content and grabs people’s eyeballs
  3. Content, which is different from messaging, but gains both your readership and your reference value (links from others).

(Some folks don’t really understand the difference between messaging and content. We’ll expand on this point in another post.)

Building a website without any one of these elements is a mistake. SEO is absolutely essential and it can support design, messaging and branding beautifully. It can also support business process, and be optimized for local businesses or national. Templates can have a hard time with some of that.

Your web provider should understand all sides of the web equation, even if they don't do it all themselves. You need awareness of brand, messaging, design, process, content, user interface, and back-end integration as well as SEO. They should be truthful as to their capability to understand it but not necessarily DO it, but be willing to call someone who does.

Spend the time you need to get comfortable with them and their capabilities. Don’t get sold by pretty pictures that don’t get traffic, or websites that no one will read because they’re a text jumble. Like life, the best result will be a balance of the essential things.

Bill tracks news and changes in SEO as it effects site design and content development. Follow this blog if you're a business or agency owner that needs basic info to help with your own projects!