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David Ziguras April 6th, 2009

Do you have to sacrifice all of the creative and artistic elements of your web site to rank in the search engines?

Thanks to the birth of professional search engine marketers the top ranks are saturated with the pages of companies that can pay for such insight. That said, it’s certainly possible to employ high ranking tactics in your own website. Actually, the most basic tactics can move you up from an 800 position to a 300. However, it’s the top of the scale where efforts seem almost inversely exponential or logarithmic, you put a ton in to see a tiny change in rank.

How do you meld the ambitious overhauls required to attain significant ranking and NOT compromise the design of your website?

DESIGN CAN’T BE IGNORED

If you have an existing site, you’ve probably tied it into your existing promotional content. Even if you’ve allowed your website to cater to the more free form of the net, it should still be designed as a recognisable extension of your business.

The reasons for doing so are valid, and can’t simply be ignored for the sake of achieving a first page position, can they? If your research into search engine optimisation leaves you shuffling around thoughts of content, keyword saturated copy and varying link text, you are correctly understanding some of the basic pillars of search engine optimisation.

And, you aren’t alone if you have this disheartening thought – If I do all this SEO stuff and reach number one across the board, who would stay at my site because it’s so stale and boring I’m even embarrassed to send people there.

There are two ways to successfully combine creative web design and SEO. The first is to be a blue chip and/or Fortune 500 company with multi million dollar advertising and branding budgets to deliver your website address via television, radio, billboards, PR parties and giveaways with your logo.

Lets look at the second option. It begins with some research into your market, some thoughtful and creative planning, and a web design company that also provides professional search engine optimisation services, and understands CSS and HTML programming techniques.

DESIGN IS FOR BROCHURES, INSTANT RESULTS ARE FOR THE WEB

That’s not the whole truth, but it will help compare and contrast design and SEO. In reality, SEO needs the quantity and detail of supporting text that a brochure has, but good web design has to catch a viewer’s attention in 5 seconds. It’s pretty difficult to read and absorb the content of an entire brochure in less than 5 seconds.

Search engines need rich, related, appropriate, changing and poignant content. And for them to rank you, all of that must be on your pages. But if it’s not well organised and broken down into bite size chunks, no one is going to bother learning about what you’re offering.

WEBSITE CONSTRUCTION 101 – ATTRACTIVE DESIGN AND SEO

Sadly, it’s very difficult to optimise a website without completely overhauling it. You’ll soon understand why. Design and SEO must be strongly rooted into every aspect of each other, possessing a true, symbiotic relationship. Let’s look at a simplified example of this. Let’s say you are optimising a page for the keyword phrase, “Burnt Toast”

From a design standpoint “Burnt Toast” would be the heading for the page, in a nice, readable font, in a colour that suits the topic.

There are many ways to create that simple, coloured heading. However, there is only one way that is best for both design and SEO. That is to use Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. In addition, that line of code containing “Burnt Toast” needs to be as close to the top of the page as possible (which CSS also allows).

To a viewer, the following text might be read more if it were located to the right of a photo of an image of the burnt toast on a small plate next to a drink of some type.

SEO needs to read the text related to the burnt toast. Search engines now understand on a rudimentary level that the burnt toast text is indeed related to the optimised words – burnt toast.

Additionally, it would take many extra lines of code to make a table in this example if you didn’t use CSS. Search engines don’t like extra code. In fact, given enough times, that “extra” code will make the keyword phrases seem less important and hurt your search engine rank.

Note: In the page code, a few thousand characters more than you need to get all of that content organised would normally just add to your page load time, and might be acceptable. But to a search engine, that time can really add up. It wont read through page after page, site after site, billionth after billionth character of unimportant code to find the relevant text. Therefore, the less code, the better your chances. Moral – Less code, more content.

SEO USUALLY MEANS REDO

In the previous burnt toast example, CSS will eliminate the need for almost any extra code at all, and provide the means to place the text to the right of the photo.

Now, imagine that someone had already created this page, but done so using other programming methods. The page could very well be W3C compliant, well programmed and got the job done. However, without designing and programming for optimisation as in the above illustration, the end result would have no significant rank compared to others that do.

You can be sure that there exist at least 30 web sites built to rank for the keywords “burnt toast”. Note – why did I use the number 30? It’s safe to assume if you’re not on the first three results pages of search results, you’re not being seen.

While this is a simple example, hopefully you understand that it would be impossible to optimise this simple page without redoing it. This isn’t always the case, but extrapolate this into detailed, multiple pages in an entire website and the issue is greatly magnified.

AESTHETIC IMPORTANCE VS. TRAFFIC

Everyone has an idea of what they want their site to look like. The pretty factor – splash pages, cool flash and graphics must now be justified as to their importance to the bottom line. If you want/need to establish an online presence, you will have to make some compromises in these areas.

Understand exactly the role your site should play in your company marketing.

Ask yourself this – What is the goal of your website and who is its audience? Is it for existing clients to see? Is it to reach new clients? To venture into yet untapped market segments?

How strongly do your other marketing efforts promote your site?

Is your website an extension of your existing collateral that must reflect the same graphical look?

Is your website meant to assist to your sales force or is it your sales force?

Chances are you won’t have any single answers. That’s ok. It will give you some meat for your web design/web development company to digest and scope out a solution for you.

REAL CASE OF DESIGN BALANCED WITH SEO AND SALEABILITY

If you sell diamonds solely online, you must have a catalogue of exceptional photography and detailed, high-resolution close up images. But, you must be optimised and rank well if you want to sell any of those diamonds.

If such a company approached me with this project, my recommendation would be this: If you sell a product, people have to see that product. Lots of good images. The site should be slick and sheik and easy to navigate. The home page has to capture the buyer’s attention. If it’s very expensive diamonds, the site should have a lot of class and elegance. If it’s low grade, poor quality diamonds, the site shouldn’t look low grade or poor quality.

However, as you have no store front, if the online community can’t find you, you’re business will fail. So I’d have a very optimised home page with some discussion of the quality of your product, the history of your company, etc. This is also great sales copy. Ad a few special catalogue pieces with descriptions below some smartly placed gifs, jpegs and readable type graphics built out of CSS and you’ve got a cool to look at, content rich, well optimised layout.

I’d make the link to your catalogue very obvious and prominent. Note the catalogue is not the homepage. I’d also include subsequent well written, in depth pages about the history of some specific pieces. Load them with targeted keywords and a few images. Again, make your catalogue link very prominent. In doing so you’re creating relevant content for search engines AND providing additional pages that can rank.

The catalogue can be database driven, simple and changeable, and you have the foundation to build your search rank.

PLANNING YOUR SITE

If the web development company you have selected to work with is not skilled with SEO services, then you will need to engage with an SEO company to work with the web design firm from the initial development stage of your site. If you would like a visible presence that is not dependant on traditional marketing efforts to get your name around, then you will have to optimise.

However, with advances in html and css, text itself can be a very flexible and attractive design element with endless possibilities. Site optimisation consists of some rigid, unbendable rules. It can be intertwined successfully with very creative and attractive design. If your web design firm, and SEO firm aren’t the same company, make sure they have the same, close working relationship, or find a company that is capable of doing both web design, and Search Engine Optimisation.

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