For any brand concerned with generating new clients or retaining existing ones, nothing is more important than getting discovered on search engines. Across industries, the simple fact is that most of your prospective customers are starting their journey with Google, Bing, or Yahoo.
To reach these invaluable searchers, it pays to invest in search engine optimization, or SEO; this is our handy shorthand for the artistry behind getting your site to rank highly on search engines. And, believe it or not, SEO begins with your website itself!
Home to your contact info, content, and more, your website is foundational to your SEO success. Look, feel, function: All of these matter when it comes to ranking on search engines and encouraging fresh organic traffic to visit your site.
Of course, we could spend hundreds of thousands of words talking about great web design and development. For the sake of your eyesight, we won’t be getting too technical here. (If you want to skip straight ahead to chatting about the nitty-gritty, don’t hesitate to give us a call.)
Instead, we’ll just get into the broad strokes about what you need to know to make sure that your website is primed and ready for SEO success – which means a focus on usability, discoverability, and mobile friendliness.
Usability: Will Visitors Love Your Site?
At the end of the day, a website is only as “good” as the results it garners in terms of promoting your brand message and generating conversions. What we’re saying, then, is that a website is only as good as the human beings who are using it – and you need to keep them top of mind at all steps during a site redesign.
In addition to keeping your users happy, their improved responses to your site will also have practical effects for your SEO; good usability translates to higher user satisfaction, which leads directly to a lower bounce rate, more time spent on site, more inbound links, and a higher rate of social sharing. Google will factor all of these criteria into evaluating and ranking your site, so it pays to focus on them.
On a practical level, designing for usability means paying special attention to a few factors that can make or break a user’s response to your website:
Research suggests that nearly half of all web users expect a site to load in two seconds or fewer, and a full 40% will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. There are all sorts of factors that will impact your site’s ability to load quickly and effectively, including your choices regarding web hosting, and the sleekness of your code as it relates to images, videos, and other design aspects.
How will users be directed to relevant parts of your website? Is this process smooth and intuitive, requiring absolutely no second-guessing or searching on the part of your user? Is the architecture of your site structured in such a way that your search tools will always work, or that the organization of your content makes sense?
Is your site full of high-quality content? Is it easy to locate and effective at guiding your ideal audience member down your conversion funnel? Is it pretty to look at, and is all of your most important information skimmable and easy to understand in a matter of seconds?
Users won’t care about a bland, boring site that offers nothing substantive or valuable, and your usability ranking factors will suffer as a result.
Instead, make integrating dynamic, visually appealing content a part of your design/development goals from day one, and be sure to build in a CMS so that ongoing content creation can easily be folded into your day-to-day, even after your developer has backed away from the project full-time.
Discoverability: Can Search Engines Find and Understand Your Site?
So we’ve covered building for the human side of things; now it’s time to consider the machines.
Specifically, we’re talking about Googlebot, the vast network of bots and crawlers that the search engine uses to:
- Crawl the web, traveling from link to link, combing for any new information or updates to report to Google, and
- Index this information; this will result in the search engine processing, categorizing, and, subsequently, listing the site on Google’s “searchable index,” which we view as search engine ranking pages (SERPs).
During this process, Google and its bots consider hundreds of unique criteria to analyze and evaluate your site. It’s important that you build your site in such a way that it is easy for crawlers to find, assess, and approve. While this is more easily said than done, there are a few tried-and-true methods that are important to bear in mind for each and every site:
- Emphasize text-based content, which is easier for search engines to read
- Have a cogent and comprehensive link structure in place behind the scenes
- Consider all of the places you can optimize “on-page SEO” with keywords – including all URLs, meta-descriptions, title tags, heading tags, image descriptions/alt-text, and rich snippets
- Make sure that your content stays fresh, and that you avoid missteps that may read to search engines as malevolent “blackhat” techniques, including duplicate content and keyword cannibalization
- Consistently audit your site for common bugs such as broken backlinks or domain issues (such as unintentional duplication or issues with canonical URLs)
Mobile Friendliness: Will Your Site Work on the Go?
We probably don’t have to go down our list of stats about how unbelievably important mobile traffic is for businesses today, given that you’re likely reading this on a smartphone right now. But, for what it’s worth, here are a few things you need to know about mobile usership:
- More than 1.2 billion people use the web from mobile devices every day
- Smartphone use far outpaces both television use (113 minutes/day) and laptop use (108 minutes/day)
- More people multi-task on screens than ever before
- Nearly 50% of all mobile users report feeling as though a company doesn’t care about them or their business if they happened upon a site that wasn’t mobile-friendly; most will wait just six seconds for a mobile site to load
We could go on and on, but the main takeaway is simple: We live in the age of mobile. It’s no longer the exception, it’s the rule. If your site isn’t functional, attractive, and responsive on a mobile device, then it will do your brand more harm than good in the eyes of both users and search engines.
In fact, Google now recognizes mobile-friendliness as a key ranking factor for sites, and may actually prioritize your mobile site over the desktop version for crawling purposes.
Thinking “mobile-first” is important, and it requires a complete and holistic approach to web development and design, since mobile-friendliness encompasses just about every single aspect of your website – and we mean everything. Google considers aspects of your site big (navigation, form entry, load time) and small (font size, use of interstitials, and so on).
The bottom line? Successful web design and development and SEO aren’t separate; in fact, they’re one in the same. A great website begets higher search placement, begets more visitors, begets higher search placement – it’s a potent cycle, if you can make it work for your brand!
That’s where Geek Chicago comes in! Our team knows what it takes to launch and maintain a powerful, SEO-focused website, complete with content. Our holistic approach to digital marketing includes all of the elements that will work in tandem to ensure your brand’s online success – including web development, content creation, social media marketing, and email marketing.
Drop us a line today to talk shop and see what our team can do for yours!