Balancing Aesthetics, SEO in Web Site Development


Recently I came across an all-too familiar scenario. Our firm developed a fabulous new design for a client’s site and it had been fully approved. Suddenly, the client demanded significant changes to the site’s layout to fit in keywords. This client had a previously established relationship with an SEO (define) vendor, which was giving such direction.

The design folks pushed back. They contended these additional keywords and content would negatively affect the site’s look and feel. Not to mention the copy flow, much to the copywriter’s dismay.

I’ve seen this struggle between two opposing forces time and again. The creative team wants the site to look and sound as compelling as possible, and the marketing team wants the site perfectly search-engine-friendly and keyword-rich. The inevitable outcome is a continuous flow of changes to the site such that by the end, both sides lose sight of the redesign’s objectives.

Is there a way to make peace between these two groups? Failing peace, is there a way to at least compromise?

Each side can and should take steps to avoid such a scenario in the first place. Each plays a role to help foster a harmonious environment in which to build a stellar Web site that’s search-engine-friendly, functional, and visually enticing.

The SEO Expert’s Role

First, SEO experts should insist on being involved in the site design and development process from the very beginning. Supplying SEO best practices or wish lists to the information architect and design folks can help them incorporate the requirements into the initial wireframes (define). Same goes for the dev team.

Further, you should be able to prioritize your requirements, ranging from must-haves (e.g., at least 200 words on each page) to nice-to-haves (e.g., HTML navigation). A well-trained SEO expert will understand that less is more when it comes to keyword selection. Trying to cram 10 different keywords into the home page won’t do your optimization efforts any favors. Be selective in your keywords. By choosing narrowly focused terms, you shouldn’t need to request many tweaks to the design or structure to fit stuff in.

Finally, keep in mind that off-site factors, such as the number and quality of inbound links, are just as important as on-site factors. Instead of spending your time berating the designer for using images for headers instead of header tags, why not develop innovative strategies to get more relevant links pointing to your site?

The Design and Development Team’s Role

Whether you’re an information architect, designer, or developer, you must be as conscious as possible about your work’s impact on the site’s ability to be found in the search engines. Basically that means consulting the SEO expert well before the site is ready to launch and being flexible with your approach to ensure the site is search-engine-friendly. As a designer, you might love flashy splash pages. As a developer, you might loath designing in CSS (define). But if doing these things could threaten the site’s SEO potential, are you sure they’re essential?

Your vested interest in making the right choices is fairly obvious: While you may end up with a beautiful, user-friendly site at the end, if no one actually visits it, what’s the point?

Actually reading and understanding the SEO design and development best practices (hopefully) supplied by the SEO expert will give you a frame of reference for how to approach the site build. With every template or page you create, look for ways to increase opportunities for keyword placement, internal linking, and text-based navigation. With every page you program, consider how you can keep the code cleaner, make the text on the page higher, or better utilize markup.

Creating Web Site Harmony

A great Web site needs to do many different things. It needs to be user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to find. Focusing too closely on just one aspect will inevitably create a less-than-desirable site. A site that overemphasizes SEO will likely lack design flair and have poor copy flow. Conversely, a site designed purely for aesthetics will be a feast for the eyes but won’t likely satisfy the needs of the users or the search engines.

Whatever your role is in developing a Web site, be sure to work with all stakeholders as a cohesive and collaborative team to ensure the finished product serves all its varied objectives.

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