Working as a web designer and an SEO consultant one of my hobbies as been to try and educate other web designers and SEO’s that optimisation and design do go hand in hand. This was a topic covered in a post over 2 years ago by Aaron Irizarry (@aaroni268) called Hand in Hand – design for optimisation. In that post Aaron mentions 3 key points; designing for content, building a sound architecture and using the right markup for the right job.
In this post I want to revisit those ideas a build on them for use today and in the future. As we all know the web is evolving at such a rate that if I wrote this just for today’s world it would be out of date in moments.

Design for Content – Content is King

the square peg scenarioAs you are no doubt aware as a reader of one of my mottos is “content is king”. Content should be the bread of the sandwich which you are creating for the sampling of your audience. The centre bit should be lovely and colourful showing you are professional, but its all about the bread – after all without it you just have a mess on the plate.

During the design process content takes priority, you figure out what you need and how you will show that content. You remove the “extras” and keep it slim. Building yourself a solid foundation of content by which you can design the website and make your content look beautiful. If you have crap content, no design will ever rescue it – but if you have created awesome content it doesn’t matter what your site looks like, it speaks for itself. So create awesome content.

Publish content that is right for the user and for the business – A List Apart, @kissane

Building a Content Architecture that Works

Now that you’ve created some amazing content you will be wanting to put it online and fast. But STOP! What’s your hurry, lets get this bit right and you will be on to a winner both with the content and design for the reader but also for the search engine rankings.

First of all, if you’ve not created your amazing content don’t pass go, scroll back up the page and read about it and do it. Installing a CMS to fix content issues is like booking a day at a spa for your wife to fix your marriage … it doesn’t work. So create your awesome content, go on this article will still be here when you get back.

When choosing the perfect CMS for your website, you are choosing the perfect content architecture – so you need to consider a few things including; is it too big or too small, will it scale in the future, can I do what I need with it, is the front-end user and search engine friendly, does the internal linking system work well and does it have user-friendly url’s… the list goes on.

If it ticks all the boxes you are on to a winner, though I dare say many CMS’s will tick those boxes. If you are stuck for choice talk to your web designer about which they prefer and why, talk to people on twitter and facebook and see which suits you best.

There are many designers and SEO’s who don’t code, its not unusual. But regardless both the designers and seo’s should strive to ensure that you have a solid foundation on which to build your web presence. Without great content and a solid architecture your market competition is likely to beat you without too much of a fuss.

Most of the time we select a CMS by popularity, cultural affiliation, or corporate edict—that is, without properly considering the content we’re supposed to be publishing. This is crazy. Instead, we should use a design process to select and customize a CMS, based on our content strategy and the editorial team’s needs. – A List Apart, @lucidplot

The Square Peg Scenario

One of the ideas you are brought up with from toddler through life is that a square peg doesn’t fit a round hole. We are taught this by little toys where as a baby you often sat trying to stuff a square through a round hole or a triangle through the star shaped hole, it never worked. And it doesn’t in life or online – so don’t try it.

This is the section which has moved on a lot from when Aaron wrote the original article, the world now has HTML 5 and CSS3, jQuery has modernised the world and mobile devices are taking over the world! But the rules remain constant, don’t do something with one bit of code you should be doing with another, create a website to semantic web standards. If you build to standards it will render well in most browsers, it will never look the same across the board but your content will be seen and seen well.

Good code mark-up also makes content easier to find for browsers which have accessibility features such as screen readers, semantic mark up shows your content off. In addition to this good coding means search engines will know your content is king and use that to rank you not your possibly hundreds of links on a page.

If you want to know more about coding HTML 5 semantically without turning away older browsers check out this SEOMOZ user blog about Semantic HTML5, this Semantics of HTML5 article on A List Apart (@alistapart) or read an article on Smashing Magazine (@smashingmag) by Bruce Lawson (@brucel) about the Sexy New HTML5 Semantics.

So, SEO for Web Design

The key points when thinking about SEO for Web Design are the same as 2 years ago, but with more emphasis on awesome content and semantics of code, which comes in the main through having a wonderful CMS.

Whether you are a small business or a large corporation you need to consider your priority to be real content and as a secondary your design. No awesome design will save shabby content. Following this look at the code your CMS is outputting and ask whether this is clean enough for your users and search engines. If it’s not it maybe time to go semantic.

Written by Andy Kinsey SEO Consultant
For over ten years I have been working with all kinds of clients big and small, start ups to multi-nationals, helping them to make the most of their online assets and ensure they can grow.