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How to Design an SEO-Friendly Website

There’s a common misconception by some marketers that for a website to be SEO-friendly, it needs to be old or have odd elements:

  • Huge walls of text everywhere
  • Keywords inserted into headlines unnaturally
  • No images, videos, or 3rd party scripts, so the website loads fast

Fortunately, this isn’t the case anymore. Those methods may have worked or been necessary at one time, but today, they’re outdated and no longer effective.

So, what does an optimized website actually look like?

An optimized website should look however you want and need it to. There’s no specific template or layout that is “better” for SEO than another. In fact, SEO, while extremely important in the website design process, should only complement the website’s other purposes. It should never dominate the design.

With that being said, here are several best practices to keep in mind when designing your website so that it also is optimized.

Three Tips For Designing Optimized Websites

1.) Make Room For Content

The pages you want to rank for organic keywords need enough content to satisfy a search engine’s desire for context and information. For this to happen, the page design should accommodate content in the correct places. You can use long-form paragraphs if it works, or you can include content in popups, dropdowns, and subheadings. If you choose to rank a blog for a keyword, this obviously becomes much simpler because blog templates are single-column and designed for long-form content.

It’s important to remember that while websites need content, many pages often serve purposes other than just rankings for keywords. They need to sell your products or services, inform and persuade, and be used by internal teams. There are plenty of ways a seasoned website designer can ensure all needs are met. SEO best practices and optimized content should be carefully considered when designing key pages and writing content, but should never be the dominant discussion.

2.) Keep Them Loading Fast

Yes, a website that is optimized should load quickly, especially on mobile devices. While fast page speed doesn’t correlate to improved keyword rankings and organic traffic directly, it’s a good sign that your website’s technical SEO health is up to par. But can you design a website that looks amazing and also loads quickly? Yes, you absolutely can.

Too often, SEOs read a website’s performance report and recommend deleting essential scripts or removing images and videos so the site loads as fast as possible. These changes can actually impact the website negatively by removing key marketing functionality or by causing developers to build one-off solutions that are unnecessary and costly.

You can absolutely load resources like 3rd party scripts, images, videos, animations, etc., and maintain a fast website.

3.) Have an Optimized Navigation Structure

A website’s navigation structure matters a lot for good SEO. Your primary navigation (generally the menu in your website’s header) is linked on basically every page of your site, so the pages in it gain thousands of natural internal links and, therefore, get more attention from a search engine. The page links you choose to include in your navigation and the keywords/titles you give them all show a search engine that those pages are important.

Another way to put it: If you have a key landing page you want to rank for an important keyword, you should probably put it in the navigation.

You don’t, however, need internal links or menus in other odd places just for SEO. There is no need for 100 footer links, hidden text with hyperlinked long-tail keywords, or for blog posts to be pasted on every page just for more internal links. Again, those hacks aren’t helpful for users, and they haven’t been effective in SEO for a long time.

Great SEO and great website design go hand in hand. Keep these principles in mind and you’ll not only get a website that looks great, you’ll get one that is ready to rank, too.

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Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at Sitemap.io. He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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