Why the best web designers take care of SEO as they design

As one of the co-founders of Rocketspark, I have seen many websites designed over the last 10 years. Some of those websites have been designed for a client where SEO (search engine optimisation) hasn’t been considered during the design phase of the project—the website might look stunning but when you search for a business like theirs in Google, their competitors show up and they don’t. SEO isn’t critical for every website but if potential customers are doing searches for services and products your client offers, it can make a significant difference to the success of that client’s website.

Recently I have developed an interest in Formula 1 car racing. While great drivers are great drivers, the car design has a massive part to play in whether they win. When they design a car for a new season at Ferrari, a huge amount of research & development goes into the car before the start of the season, even though there’s no guarantee it will win. Designing a website without considering SEO is a little like knowingly designing a racing car with a slow engine. You can have all of the characteristics of a winning car, except one key ingredient is underperforming. SEO is like trying your best to make sure you’ve got a website that might win in search results.

While a Formula 1 car is about as high-tech as it gets, designing for good SEO is mostly about doing the basics right. I’ll cover the basics further down in the post as well.

A web designer, a client and an SEO expert walk into a bar...

I have seen many situations where an SEO expert has been asked to come in and provide SEO consulting services where the client or the designer feel they need some help in this area. Sometimes they come in as content experts before design begins and I am a big believer in this approach. Setting the client up with great content that is keyword rich is like putting great R&D into your F1 cars aerodynamics. It is likely to pay off later but there’s still no guarantee you’ll win.

The other scenario is to retrofit SEO to a site designed by a designer that is performing poorly in search results. Solving issues with a Formula 1 car during the season is much more difficult as you have a busy race schedule and there are penalties for changing to a new engine. In the same way with SEO, it is much more difficult to solve major problems after the site is designed.

Significant changes to SEO will affect the content on the page—and as a result, the design. If the designer isn’t working closely with the SEO expert to make these changes, this can cause the design to degrade significantly. Having to make significant design changes to “fix” SEO can also undermine the client’s trust in the designer. They feel like it’s something that should have been done right, right from the beginning and feel ripped off that the design wasn’t done correctly to begin with.

Wait, so I have to be an SEO expert to design websites for clients?

You don’t have to be an expert who can diagnose complex, highly competitive SEO conundrums—but a good base knowledge is important when designing a website.

Learning SEO is a little like learning an instrument. It can take time, practise and experience to gradually improve and get better at it. When you first start, it might feel like you’ll never be able to play complex tunes in the SEO department but once you’ve built up that experience it becomes much simpler and second nature.

At Rocketspark we have seen both clients and designers struggle with the basics and that’s why we built Flint, a digital assistant that helps you optimise your website for Google AS you design, taking pressure off designers who don’t have that expertise and knowledge of SEO yet.

Client SEO satisfaction helps to grow your business

If your clients are getting great results in search when you design their website, they’re more likely to be delighted, which will lead to increased word of mouth referrals and a better brand reputation. You can also capture testimonials to use on your website. SEO is important to clients—so if you’re able to show testimonials from clients that are getting great results, this will reflect well on you and lead to the growth of your design/marketing business.

If you’re being thorough with SEO as you design, you can list that as a service in your overall project quote and as a result your overall project quotes could increase. Just be careful that you don’t make promises about results. Make the quote clear about the services that you are doing in this regard.

Don’t make promises

In SEO there are no guarantees. It is all about hypotheses. Test and measure within the framework of previous experience and knowledge—and as a result, the SEO industry is an incredibly difficult industry to ethically charge for. It is difficult to predict how much work will be involved to achieve the client's search engine goals, so a fixed price quote from an organic SEO expert will likely factor on them being paid for the worst case scenario for them to achieve your goals. My recommendation to clients is always.... content first, plus SEO as you design—then if still struggling to get results, bring in an expert to diagnose.

I have also found many SEO experts charge large monthly fees whether they are getting you results or not—sometimes there’s a lack of transparency of what they are actually offering. In the early days of Rocketspark before we had the SEO knowledge we have now, we paid some experts to help us and were paying them thousands of dollars a month. SEO can take time but they weren’t getting results for us and couldn’t be transparent about the work they were doing for us, so we decided to end the relationship and do SEO ourselves. We started to see some amazing results as a result of optimising our own content.

If we think about SEO like an athlete, the web designer is like their coach and personal trainer. If there is a problem you bring in a Physio or doctor but otherwise this isn’t needed. Or for elite athletes, a physio may work with the athlete constantly and in this way an SEO expert may be involved in a large scale complex website build.

Who can you trust?

Good ethical search engine marketers are hard to find but the best ones seem to offer both organic SEO and digital ads. If they downplay the importance of organic they’re taking a short term view to get as much ad spend out of you in a short time as they can.

Trustworthy digital marketers usually take a long term view. They know that you need results fast so will get you going with digital ads while also helping you with SEO. Ultimately if you’re augmenting ad spend with organic traffic, their advertising mileage will feel like it’s getting you more results—leading to a happier, long-term client.

Is SEO the be all and end all?

No. A top-ranking website is no substitute for a great reputation. For most businesses, word of mouth leads will always be easier to convert to customers than cold leads that find you on google. But if potential clients are searching and finding your competitors and not you, you’re missing out.

Don’t get too hung up on Rockstar terms

Some keywords generate a huge amount of traffic if you’re in position 1 in search results—but despite doing everything right, other factors can be at play. All of your competitors in search results may have been there for many years, building up significant authority with Google for that search term. If you are competing with other businesses in search results who have also optimised their website well, it may be unlikely to leapfrog them quickly. This is where a good digital ad strategy and a long tail keyword strategy can help.  Long tail keyword strategy says that if you get 100 visitors from a Rockstar term or 100 visitors from 10 less competitive search terms, the latter can be as effective but much less work to achieve.

What are the basics of designing for SEO?

If you do these basics as you design, you’re setting the page up with a good foundation for Google searches and Flint can also help you with streamlining these:

   1. Know the right keyword phrases people are searching for.

   2. Headings contain keywords and headings are well used.

   3. Body text should contain keywords inside the sentences.

   4. Meta title optimised for your main keyword phrase.

   5. Description optimised for converting search impressions to clicks.

   6. Internal links set up from your home page and other key pages to other pages on your site.

   7. Doing a good handover to clients and explaining the importance of blogging for getting more web traffic and answering how, what, and why questions your client’s customers will be searching for.

Give SEO a chance

SEO can feel overwhelming but every musical maestro has to begin somewhere and with practice and a little training from Rocketspark, you could become a master of SEO and your clients will thank you for it.