Website Builds: Which is More Important – Design or SEO?

POSTED BY Liz Kennedy - 10.07.14 - SEO, Website design

find-how-design-and-seo-can-play-niceFor SEO and Web Design Services - It's a Trick Question.

Everyone knows when it comes to business, there is no one thing that effortlessly works; rather, there is only a combination of tactics and energy that deliver results. 

That’s when the balancing act or even tug of war starts between the different tactics at work in your web presence. 

Still, when working on your web presence across platforms- social media, website, landing pages, ads – it seems like everyone is looking for that silver bullet. That one magic keyword or killer design that will drive customers to your business and increase sales.

Even at Fusionfarm we have debates about how to properly balance Design with Search Engine Optimization. Here is a friendly debate that recently occurred between our Design and SEO Specialists to illustrate the compromises both realms have to consider when creating or redesigning a website. This debate (er, lovable tussle) is based on discussion of comments by Karon Thackson in a recent interview.


The Search Engine Optimization Perspective:

Crafting content that appeals to both search engines AND the people that read the content is more than method, more than keywords. There are also decisions on what keywords to target based on how much search volume is happening for those particular words or phrases. That said, there are trends that you need be aware of.


It’s Not Just About Keywords Anymore

More Quality Content is Needed On Websites

  • Write more content – 700-800 words for blog posts
  • Google favors longer blog posts and longer articles

"In-Depth" blogs – 2,000 words or more; include more than one picture; include references and links to authorities; embed videos (Blog posts with videos get a much higher response rate.)

  • Article directories don't work any more(Note: Google changes its mind every other day so it’s important you keep up with what’s working right now – not six months ago.)

Sliders Should Be Interactive (large images at the top of the page that rotate through a series)

  • Do not have the rotating image slider take up the full half of the screen above the fold – you NEED to be able to see text on the screen (not just a pretty picture)
  • Make the slider images clickable – go to the EXACT Page of what the slide is talking about
  • Make sure that the text on the image isn’t embedded – search engines can’t see photos so you want to make sure they at least see the keywords


The Design Perspective:

Optimization should not be above user experience – they should be balanced and customized for each website's goals and customers. In fact, great SEO actually considers the user experience in everything it does.

‘Above the Fold’ comments belong in some ways to the old-school in that they don’t apply to mobile search which is increasingly taking over search volume. "Mobile local search is poised to exceed desktop local search by 2015" – BIA Kelsey (2012) 

(People are on different sized screens and they are now accustomed to scrolling and swiping) Mobile User Experience Should Always be Top of Mind.


Ease of Use for Responsiveness Should Be A Consideration


  • You can make visually stunning image-based websites without sliders, but to get that layout to show up on all devices (responsive) sliders are a solution that can both serve the same images most effectively for multiple viewport sizes while also meeting the need for imagery. 


pretty-is-an-ugly-word-fusionfarmblogPretty is an Ugly Word.

  • When we design we aren't looking for what's pretty – we're looking for what works. That means what captivates an audience and compels them to actually use the website once it is found. Each aesthetic is built to transform a user's behavior to that end. And the aesthetic is contingent on a user's behavior profile and what they will respond to. Being just "pretty" isn't an option for effective user experience and website design. 
  • Further, design isn't just about the aesthetic but the layout and choices offered to a user. Content organization strategies and the relationship of content to other elements such as photography, video and advertising that effect user interface are very carefully planned and executed on to balance amazing user experience with a website's business goals.

Search Engine Optimization Rebuttal:

Google looks for frequently updated and relevant content – content people are searching for (which generally equals popular keyword phrases in the content). Search engines are getting much smarter in that they now use ‘semantic search’ where they try to predict what the person is searching for – but they still can’t see images or design elements. Those things only matter to search engines when it comes to how easy it is to index all the pages of the site. (You could have an ugly site but have valuable content and Google would rank the ugly site higher than a beautiful site with very little relevant content or content people aren’t searching for. Can anyone say “Craigslist”?)

The usability and design of the site matters once people get to the site – which is why design, development and search engine optimizers need to play nice with each other so we can help businesses grow.

With semantic search Google IS trying to predict what people are searching for, so this means keyword synonyms, plurals, acronyms, etc. in the content are more valuable than they used to be. (If someone is searching for Tahiti, chances are they’re also looking for vacation information – like tickets, hotels, luggage, etc.)

If you have a website you need to use strategies to be found by people looking for you. SEO is always changing – and it always will. (Google’s sole job is to make sure that it returns valuable search results to its users – and they’ll do what it takes to prevent people from ‘gaming’ the system.) You just need to recognize that you need to get customers to visit your site first and then WOW them with design and content.

Design Perspective:

We know, we know… ya gotta be "found." However: You can lead a horse to water, but if the water isn't wet and refreshing he isn't gonna drink – no matter how easily he was led to it…

 …and it's the drinking that counts!



Bottom Line for SEO / Design?

If design and search engine optimization are balanced correctly, the result is high rankings AND a positive user experience.


More leads and conversions from qualified customers.

Learning SEO from the Experts eBook

Liz Kennedy

Liz Kennedy

Website Project Manager Liz Kennedy hails from a multi-disciplinary background. Her training in instructional design, multimedia, website development and deep understanding of small business helps Liz bridge the technical divide for customers going through the website development process. And she makes a mean potato salad.

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