The way that individual websites are designed may not seem to have anything to do with how the majority of users are directed to that site – or rather, how the design can impact SEO – but the influence that search engines like Google have as gatekeepers to content is substantial and not always visible at surface level. Here’s what your business needs to know about Google’s updates in terms of your web design.
The Amazon rain forest not only provides a diverse ecosystem for around a quarter of all terrestrial species, but also has a powerful effect on the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed back into natural processes rather than dispersed into the atmosphere.
Similarly, the ways in which Google rates websites and matches them to user queries has a huge effect on how people will go about constructing, and even what users expect from, websites.
But getting to the bottom of just what the latest Google algorithm updates have to do with the way people and businesses should go about designing their websites is going to take a little more than just looking for the obvious connections and going home. Rather, the overall effect of the changes that Google is introducing is something that is going to mean that everything is going to have to adapt in some way.
So what should you be looking to do in terms of marrying web design and SEO to produce the best results for your business?
What Is Google Trying to Do?
Google tends to shroud its various algorithm updates in secrecy until they drop because they don’t want people to try and second guess them. By ‘people’, what I mean is the cluster of industries that have grown up around providing internet based services to people, like SEO, internet marketing and web design.
The three main updates that we are going to be concerning ourselves with here:
This update was announced on the 24th of April 2012 and was aimed at actively beginning to penalise websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by removing them from the search results that users see.
The penguin update was aimed at the people who were using techniques that had the effect of artificially boosting a webpage’s ability to rank highly for certain search terms, without the actual page being directly relevant to the actual query made by the user.
The Panda update predated Penguin by a year and focused on improving user experience by eliminating low quality sites from search rankings. The whole point of Panda and Penguin was to return high quality websites that were highly relevant to the search query to the top of the search results pages.
Unfurled in 2013, the latest Google algorithm aims to complete the transition to more relevant search results by updating the algorithm that Google actively uses to match websites to the user query. The cornerstone of the Hummingbird update is the introduction of conversational search into the Google search engine.
Taken all together, what do these updates add up to? Basically, Google only wants to give their users search results that are going to be 100% relevant and incredibly useful to what they are looking for. They combine to create a ‘perfect storm’ for lazy marketers, but back on the topic in hand, what does the combination of updates mean for web design?
Relevancy is King
The main thing to take away from this is the idea of relevancy. Your website needs to be about a topic and therefore needs to be useful or interesting (read ‘relevant’) for people who are interested in that topic.
Web design should be tied into this idea of relevancy, and should always be a compliment to what the site is actually supposed to be about. This may sound like a trivial thing, but it is amazing to see just how often design and content pull in separate directions.
If your website looks amazing, but a by-product of that design is that the navigation menu is hidden or difficult to use, you have failed in terms of making your site as useful as it could be to users. Google likes original content that is highly relevant, so if you want the search engine to direct people to your site that are going to be interested in what you do, you need to make it crystal clear what it is that you do.
The actual design of your site is a major factor in the initial decision that users are going to make about whether or not it is something that is going to be of use to them.
“The actual design of your site is a major factor in the initial decision that users are going to make about whether or not it is something that is going to be of use to them.”
Responsive Web Design
One of the main ways that a site is going to be able to make sure it ticks all the relevancy boxes is going to be making sure that your site is designed to be responsive to being accessed on multiple different devices.
Responsive web design is all about ensuring that sites look good and are still fully usable on all platforms and screen sizes. This reflects the fact that an increasing amount of web traffic is coming from devices that aren’t desktops and laptops.
This links back to the idea of not letting your design get in the way of your content. The content is the stuff that is going to be useful to the user, so it needs to be front row centre no matter what the screen size or other device specifications. If someone logs into your site using a smartphone and can’t get to the content that they want, they are going to bounce straight away.
Responsive web design is deeply rooted in the concept of relevancy and is all about making sure a user can use your site effectively no matter how they are connecting to it.
The Importance of Branding
Another idea that is fundamentally tied up with being original and relevant to the certain kind of people you are hoping to appeal to is the idea of coherent and consistent branding. Your brand needs to have a central place in your design and really be the thing that ties your entire site together.
Branding is not just about throwing together a swish looking logo and plastering it everywhere that it can conceivably go, it is about creating an individual identity and personality that people are going to associate with what you do. The design of your site needs to be a visual personification of this identity.
Once a brand identity is established, it will serve as the foundation upon which all other design and content is built up from. Speaking and presenting information in the ‘voice’ of your brand is the difference between making a piece of content that isn’t directly related to what you do an interesting (and still relevant) experience for users and an irrelevant piece of fluff that has no place being on your site at all.
Design Should Never Get In The User’s Way
This is perhaps the key point that should be taken away by people who are interested in what Google’s recent updates mean for the complex world of web design.
If your design is not making your original, high quality and relevant content as centre stage and accessible as it is possible to be while still being an idiosyncratic representation of your brand personality, then it is getting in the way and needs to be rethought.
For a long time, web designers and SEOs and content marketers have seemingly being pulling in different directions when the whole time they have been trying to give users what they want. Google’s updates are creating a reality where web design and content are increasingly going to be viewed as two sides of the same coin.