Search engines rely on various factors of an algorithm for ranking web pages. While the hundreds of factors in an algorithm are generally kept confidential, search engines such as Google admit that the primary objective of its algorithm is to provide the most relevant search results and best user experience. Web design, therefore, can contribute to search engine optimisation or SEO.
Site stickiness which depends on how long a visitor stays on a web page is an important signal regarding user experience. The longer a site visitor lingers to view parts of a website, the better is a website’s site stickiness, which is favourable for SEO.
Web design tips for SEO
Visual appeal: A recent eye-tracking study conducted by the Missouri University of Science and Technology suggests that first impressions can impact how long a website visitor stays on a page. Moreover, Google strongly recommends that webmasters focus on making a website attractive to site visitors first, and search crawlers second. Thus, aesthetic aspects such as colour schemes, text and background contrast, graphic design for logos and headers and adequate white space must be determined with the intended audience in mind.
When presenting text content such as articles and blog posts, the best medium is a page with white background and black or dark gray text, which provides great contrast and makes text easy to read.
Logo design also helps boost site stickiness and is one of the first things that a site visitor examines on a website. Headers announce what a page is about and help pull a website’s theme together. Thus, outsourcing graphic design for logos and headers is a good investment for online business.
Navigability: How a site visitor navigates around a website, moving from one point to another contributes to user experience. Web design must incorporate a logical hierarchy of links and pages ideally moving from general to specific areas. Links must be clearly marked and describe concisely the subject matter of the page they lead to.
Some webmasters use clickable images instead of text-based links to specific points or content of their web pages. While image links may seem attractive to site users, they may not be visible to search engines. Search crawlers ordinarily view text contained in the HTML code of a web page, store and index them in their database. However, text contained in an image file does not appear as text in the HTML code, making such text invisible to search crawlers. Avoid using images to display important names, content and links on a page. Instead, use descriptive text links which search crawlers can readily find in the HTML code of a page.
Link health: HTML code is like poetry, with each character and symbol contributing to a website’s look and feel. A missing or misplaced character or symbol can lead to errors in rendering a web page or dead links. Error pages are a leading cause of bounce rates or people leaving a web page immediately upon reaching it. Ensure that a website’s HTML code is working well by testing it on various web browsers and clicking on all links.
Images: Image files can add interest to a web page and are often the first things that site visitors notice. Use crisp and interesting images in GIF or JPG format for the best quality photos but be mindful of image file size which can affect page loading times. Position an interesting image close to the top of the page for visitors to see it quickly and surround it with descriptive text content to give clues to search crawlers about the subject matter of the image. Add descriptive titles and captions for all images. Save and upload image files using descriptive file names. The image file name helps inform search crawlers about the subject matter of an image and may be displayed as a snippet in the search results. Search crawlers may not find text in the image file but can view text contained in the Alt attribute so it’s good practice to add a short text description to the image Alt attribute.
Page loading times: Site visitors tend to leave a web page when it takes several seconds to load on their screens. Graphic and image files consist of numerous colours which can lead to large file sizes. Flash files which use more graphics are also large or heavy. Keep file sizes to the barest minimum which the picture can tolerate. Google also suggests specifying the image dimensions (width and height) in the HTML code so that the browser can begin to render the rest of the page even before the image file is downloaded.
Sitemap: Adding a sitemap which can guide site visitors around important points of a website also improves navigability.
Other SEO web design factors include appropriate keyword usage in text content, and relevant anchor text for linking external web pages.