Recap | Homegrown: Design vs. SEO

This month’s Homegrown session featured Brian Batchelor, Founder and Creative Director at Brasco Design+Marketing. Brian is a lifelong designer and has worked in branding and online marketing industries for over twelve years.

So why you should you care about whether or not Google loves your beautiful website design? Brian explained that 70% of the links search users click on are organic. Seventy-five percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results. SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate versus 1.7% for outbound (print, direct mail). So, pretty much if you want your beautiful site found by people who are looking for content like what is on your (or  your client’s) website you should be thinking about SEO.

Designers vs. Robots

As designers and humans we approach web design from an aesthetic viewpoint. We aim to create engaging experiences in beautiful spaces. We believe less is more, we believe in big beautiful, engaging photographs, creative typography, and interactive experiences.

For the Search Engine robots, on the other hand, nothing beats text on the page. Robots don’t care how beautiful and delightful your website is. They are only interested in the data on your website. It’s blind to visuals, caring only about content, fast page load speeds, content, basic (boring) fonts, content, useful navigation, and did I mention content?

So in the battle for effective website design, designers and robots are at odds with their contradictory approaches. So what’s a designer to do?

Best Practices

Like every good project you need to start with a plan. Weigh the visual branding against the websites other goals. Where does content and usefulness trump visuals? Is the site a brand touchpoint or a lead generator?

Embrace content, but don’t force it. Keep copy brief. Get the main points you want to get across in a paragraph or two then link to the full content. If you hook visitors with your great content they’ll want to dig deeper to read more. When you add that read more link, don’t make the words “click here” your anchor text. Make the entire sentence, inviting readers to read more about blah, blah, blah, the link. Why? Because those robots like that data within the anchor text, so make it count.

Do indulge your love of creative typography, but use web safe fonts, like those found at, where else, Google Fonts. There you’ll find a wide range of fonts in varying styles, and go figure, Google’s robots like ’em.

Think about moblie and responsive design. In this digital age with so many mobile devices available to keep us all connected to our beloved internet, there is an explosion in searches generated on these devices. Google differentiates between mobile and desktop searches. Those sneaky robots know when you are on a mobile device or a desktop, and you can get different search results depending on which one you search on.The screen sizes are as varied as the devices themselves, so a responsive design is a ideal. Think like a user and maximize the mobile experience. Consider a mobile microsite to capture mobile specific search data.

The SEO Landscape

In the past, items above the fold, keywords, and link building were ranked higher by search engines. In time, people began gaming the system with spammy back links and keyword stuffing. Those robots didn’t appreciate that and began penalizing for those tactics. The current version of Google, Hummingbird, takes a new approach. It’s actually taking a cue from us humans, by taking a more conversational approach. Call it the Siri effect, but there has been a shift from searching for keywords to asking questions, and the bots have taken notice and have adapted to the trend.

No more spammy link building, and no more keyword stuffing. It’s the decline of the keyword only approach, and the rise of the “conversational search.” A main tool in the future of SEO will be social media. Our love of sharing means that content marketing is not just a buzzword. It’s the new approach to SEO. You can’t do SEO without content. And to rank high, it’s all about genuine, creative, and engaging content—you know the stuff you can’t wait to share with all your friends, fans, and followers on social media.

In the social media realm, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are widely used and tend to receive top priority over other networks, like Google+. But if you are discounting Google+ you are doing yourself a disservice. Don’t think of it as a competitor to Facebook. It’s a little bit of Facebook, a little bit of Twitter, a little bit of LinkedIn. It’s for SEO, and it’s all connected—Google places, +1’s, Google Authorship.

How to thrive in SEO land

Increase your value as a designer by learning the basics of SEO and the role it plays in website design. Designer’s and SEO pros need each other. SEO is moving from left brain to right brain, from analytical to conversational. Value the content. Twenty-five to 30% of content on the web is duplicate, so original, enjoyable, shareable content is what you are aiming for.

While us designers and Google’s robots have our differences, we do have one important thing in common. We aim to create enjoyable experiences.





By Amy Lyons
Published January 15, 2014