How to Design Your Blog for Awesome SEO

seo web design

Did you know that building a beautifully-designed website can be just as important to search engine rankings as site architecture and knocking out high-quality content?

It’s true.

But what exactly should you pay attention to? To help you, I’ve put together a list of ten elements for good blog design that are also proven to help your search engine rankings.

Keep important content above the fold

This is pretty standard, and some would even argue that it’s not that important since people are trained to scroll, but in my own tests and the tests of others, I’ve seen it proven over and over again. So, keep the important information in those top 768 pixels. Research has shown that people do scroll, but they actually spend 80% of their time above the fold and only 20% below.

This brings us to the topic of sliders, which are pretty popular. I’m not a fan of sliders because they tend to confuse the user. When a user arrives on a page and the real estate above the fold is dominated by a slider, the hunt is on.

That’s never a good user experience.

Instead, if you decide to use a slider, make sure that its position is justified. In other words, make sure that a slider is the most important thing you want a user to see/do when he or she arrives at your website/blog.

For example, it might be justified to use a slider to feature your top products or top content on a site. It’s justified on Entrepreneur:

entrepreneur slider

But notice how the user stays in complete control. That is another essential factor you must keep in mind when creating a slider.

In the case of Quick Sprout, the important information is two-fold: the latest blog post and the call-to-action for a free report. So, always determine what is the single purpose of the page…and then make sure it is above the fold.

Keep the number of links on a page under 100

While Google recommends that you keep the number of links on a page under 100, this is not for search purposes, but design and user experience purposes. In fact, Matt Cutts published a page with close to 200 links on it.

Why does Google recommend you limit the number of links to 100? It used to be that Google would only index up to 100 kilobytes of a page…that equalled to about 100 links. Now Google can easily index a page much larger than that.

So, what happens if you decide to place more than 100 links on a page? Google might crawl you and look at you like a spammer.

However, what you do might be legitimate, and having over a hundred links, like Cutts does, can also work if it is justified. In that case, you will only pass on a limited amount of PageRank because there are tons of links on that page.

How the user experiences the page is more important these days than PageRank or pure SEO measures, so limiting 100 links to a page is a good idea.

Create hub pages

One of the best ways to get your content out of the archives and delivering SEO value to your site is by creating a hub page of your best content.

For example, you could divide content into beginner, novice and expert advice on a particular topic and then link to all that content on a single page. You could also break it down by themes like Problogger does on its Archive page:

hub pages

Why is this important? For two reasons: it’s important for user experience, but it also gives your old pages new life, thus bringing a sluggish low-performing page back up to search engine significance.

Limit your ad space

It’s plain and simple: when it comes to designing your blog for awesome SEO, you’ve got to limit the number of ads you use. If you don’t, you’ll slow down your load time, which will hurt your traffic.

From a user standpoint, people despise ads and give a thumbs down to sites with too many of them. If you absolutely must use ads, then look at your analytics to determine the top two or three highest-performing ads, and then cut the rest.

Design your site for speed

Next, you’ll want to evaluate your site speed. It’s been shown that users who can search faster are happier. In fact, Google found out that slowing down search results by as little as 400 milliseconds will actually reduce the number of searches by over half a percent.

In the SEO realm, however, speed isn’t as much of an important signal as the relevance of a page is. But like with most things online, when it comes to speed, problems can accumulate. So, you need to fix as many of them as you possibly can, speed being one of them.

How fast is your site? Use Google’s Page Speed tool. This is what I came up with when I tested Quick Sprout:

google page speed

The report, which takes less than five seconds to generate (maybe more on larger sites), showed me recommendations that ranged from experimental to high priority. I don’t know about you, but I find that very helpful.

Click on the link “enable compression,” and you get this page:

google compression

As you can see, I need to get to work.

Another tool to measure the speed of your site is Site Performance page inside Webmaster Tools. You can find out how people use your site around the world, what kind of response time they have on the site, what monthly trends are and recommendations on improving site speed.

Since the only expense to improve your site speed is how much sweat you invest, it pays to do it.

Keep your images small

I can’t express enough how important images are to web content these days. This is why I’ve written articles like Forget Blogging as Usual, which demonstrate that to draw in readers, you need to provide images and graphics.

But a bloated image can slow that page download, thus decreasing site speed. So, the simplest way to do this is to save images as .jpgs and text/headers as .gifs. If you have an image that’s not a .jpg, use a tool to save it as a .jpg.

The Performance Golden Rule says that 80%-90% of user experience is based on downloading images, stylesheets, flash, etc., thus it’s a good idea to spread that content over multiple servers using a Content Delivery Network like Akamai or Level(3).

A CDN is a set of servers that cache your web objects like scripts, URLs, text and graphics, in effect increasing bandwidth, which reduces site latency and stress on a single server. In other words, you improve site speed.

Design your navigation for UX and SEO

Navigation is both important to your user and to search. Spiders crawl navigation to help them determine the architecture of the site, much like the site map.

The user, on the other hand, uses navigation to get around your site. Often I’ve seen UX trump search by developers using navigation built with javascript or Flash. This is a huge no-no because search engines cannot crawl your navigation if you build it in javascript or Flash.

Instead, you need to use standard HTML and CSS to get the best of both worlds. But you can get away with adding visual appeal to a HTML/CSS nav bar using Flash like the Atlanta Botanical Garden did:

flash navigation

Use breadcrumbs

Like navigation, both search engines and users find breadcrumbs useful. Users find them useful to locate where they are on your site, especially if they came through a deep page.

Here’s an example of what you shouldn’t do:

apple breadcrumb

That’s a little confusing from a UX viewpoint, don’t you think? Of course, Google gets it:

google breadcrumb

The arrows show you the direction of the hierarchy from parent to child, and each set is a link, with the terminating page not being a link. Search engines find this method useful because it helps them categorize content appropriately.

Build beauty into your web design

As the age of sentiment search grows, user experience will help determine how a search engine will rank a website.

Let’s say people find their way to your blog through a search. They land on your page, look around, do not like what they see because it is shoddily designed and then bounce out of there. Google, for example, will then ask whether they want to block that search result or not. If the user chooses to block it, then you are doomed. That’s a mark against you.

google block site

But let’s say, they don’t block it. Google is still going to wonder why the user bounced off the page and ended back up on the search results again. It’s likely to count against you. That’s why you need to design your site to attract and keep the users. This starts with a well-designed site.

I’ve spent years testing different designs of Quick Sprout, looking for that optimized look. When you are testing, the most important things you need to test for are page views, time on page and bounce rate. Design a beautiful site to lower those rates.

Crawl and validate your site

As a sort of review when it comes to designing an awesome website for search engine optimization, you need to crawl and validate your site to determine where you are.

What should you test and how? Well, here’s a checklist to help you see what needs to be crawled and validated…and then I’ll share with you a tool to help you do just that. You must validate:

  • HTML/XHTML
  • CSS
  • Accessibility (Section 508 and WAI Standards)
  • Dead links
  • Feeds
  • Multiple browsers
  • Multiple devices

You can use the Crawl Tools by SEOmoz or the W3C validation tools to test your website and find all the documents that need to be fixed in priority.

Once you’ve tested and identified all the problems, prioritize, fix and then re-test. Fix again and then, instead of using tools to re-validate, have family and friends test the site to get the user’s angle on your site.

Conclusion

If you follow all of the above recommendations on designing your blog, you will naturally improve your search rankings. By how much? Well, that depends. You need to make changes and then measure the impact of those changes.

As a rule of thumb, any time you feel like SEO practices will interfere with user experience, run an A/B test to determine the truth.

What other design elements for a blog will help your search engine optimization?

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Comments

  1. Great advice as usual Neil. I think one area that you allude to that people could use resources for is interaction design. User experience is the combination of form (design) and function (interaction design). I advise people check out About Face 3 by Cooper, Reimann, and Cronin, for a solid primer on all things interaction design.

  2. Great post Neil as usual.

    Because social signals like +1’s , Facebook likes, Tweets are getting important part of any SEO efforts, you should not forget to add beautiful social sharing buttons cleverly like you have on the left side of this post. :)

  3. Manish Shahi [India] :

    Great Advice Neil. I would really appriciate your work.

    Can I make a request?
    Will you plz guide me through what to avoid in website design…and using 2 css files for website is useful?

  4. Hi Neil,

    Designs are the most important thing to bring the attention of the readers as am designing an new theme for my blog will implement your steps

  5. I agree with you on sliders. I think in too many cases, they’re used poorly.

    Someone might elect to use them because they’re “fancy,” but not too much thought and consideration goes into what they actually help achieve.

    In my niche (real estate) for example, I see plenty of Agents use the slider to showcase featured property listings. What I’ve found though is that the slider images: 1.) load/scroll too fast, 2.) the selected image doesn’t properly fill up the slider, 3.) the listing data is out-dated (the agent took a “set it and forget it” approach).

    That’s poor execution and I’d rather they do without it.

    • Thanks Ricardo, you definitely have to be careful about how you use sliders. Also, you bring up a good point about execution. It is key that you take your time and are careful with your execution because it will ultimately make or break the success of your work.

  6. I just redesigned our site with a lot of these principles in mind. Especially the slider above the fold. We decided to put the call to action items up above it. There is still a slider, but after scrolling. It is early yet as we just released over the weekend, but I think the initial results are positive.

    • Great, I am glad you put these tips to use and are receiving positive results so far. Redesigns can be tricky, make sure to keep track of what hurts vs what works for your site by making small adjustments at a time.

      Best of luck.

  7. Good way to lay out those points of advice, especially self-crawling and validating, those could identify things that need attention to get the site closer to flawless.

  8. Wow, very informative, I didn’t know that people spend most of their time above the fold. And the bit about only having 100 links, not that I have ever needed to put 100 links in a post or page it is interesting to see how it works, and when it can be appropriate.

    Speed is also something that get me sometimes, I hate it when sites don’t load quickly it makes me tend to wonder off at least I open new pages and go back to it later.

    • Thanks, happy to hear you were able to learn some new and useful things from this post. Speed is a big one, it is the first component that will either work for or against your site. No one likes to wait on a page to load.

  9. Nice article. I totally agree that an amount of beauty is important for a website. Good design adds a lot of credibility to a website. Design is one way of getting an advantage over one’s competitors.

    • Design could definitely be one way to gain an advantage over your competitors. It’s beauty that captures your readers attention; but content that captures their heart. If you can attract them with your beautiful design then you can win them over with your valuable content. Who doesn’t like a page that is pretty and smart? ;)

  10. This is a very great post explaining the significant of SEO. Seo falls into so much category its frustrating. When i first started blogging, i know i had needed a perfect design for website, along with easy to navigate. I went with a simply black and white color scheme and started customizing my CSS when i purchased a template. Also, since I’m currently using a shared hosting (which is slow) I found a plugging called W3 CACHE to speed up my website and so significant increase.

    • Thanks,

      Designing a blog is tricky because your work is never really finished. You consistently need to make changes to your site to see what works and what doesn’t for your readers.

      Best of luck.

  11. Awesome, I agree with not having many ads on your website as it simply makes it look tacky. However some people create their website for the sole purpose of advertising. I do believe content is important, so if that person really wants the information they won’t care for the load time or ads, as long as its not excessively long.

    – Lee

    • True, content is what people want most, however the internet is so vast if your site takes to long to get to people will go somewhere else for that same information.

  12. I personally prefer to visit websites that load fast. A well designed, fast loading blog with good content is definitely going to attract more visitors

  13. Malik Merchant @ Marketing MeetUp :

    Hey Neil, nice stuff.

    I have seen people spending months & months creating Good Looking Design…you know the artistic mind people.

    But they totally neglect or forget the points which you have mentioned like Above The Fold Content & Design For Speed.

    Keep it up.

  14. Neil, you have covered all the important and beneficial points for designing a extra ordinary blog for the SEO. Awesome post.

  15. Great post…

    All mentioned point are defiantly potential to make your blog/webpage SEO friendly and USER friendly as well.

    But as recently announce by Google, that “Block all results” button is no more longer available in search result. So designer needs to start work on from he beginning itself to full fell visitors requirement.

    Thanks..

  16. A very nice post Neil, but I believe it would have been nice if you would have covered other crucial factors like ‘number of categories’ and where to place them, also the logo of the site is of importance as it can help you to create an unforgettable image in the minds of the readers.
    and one sharing widget, like the one you have on the left of every post adds real value.

  17. Hey Neil nice advice. For every blog, good and attractive design matters a lot and it is necessary that every single reader who comes to blog must be fully satisfied with the page navigation, design and as well as with content too. So it is essential that blog should be made user friendly as well as search engine friendly.

  18. Hi Neil,

    Does keeping links more than 100 impacts the rankings?

    Regards,
    Yogindernath

  19. Hi Neil,

    I am a frequent reader of your blog & thanks for such a great post. But a recent Webmaster Tools video explains that Google doesn’t go with the 100 links per page guideline: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6g5hoBYlf0 & the Matt Cutts post was back in 2009. So the question is which one should we follow?

    I had a post on “site speed” recently in our blog. Let me know your views on that.

    Thanks,

  20. On a somewhat related note Neil, are you still running QuickSprout on Thesis?

  21. Lots of work, should hire an SEO?

  22. I would think that content justifies links.

  23. Thanks for the good tips, Neil. Recently, I’ve been working around on thesis theme, quite interesting for beginner like me. :)

  24. Neil, the post is great and like ever helpful to a lot like me. I wish you to write about how we can make use of our old posts. I mean I run a general blog (I am newbie and trying to turn into profession), and my old posts get very low number of visits, sometime nothing, and I think many will be looking to hear from you for the same.

  25. Thanks Niel, I really think that what you found about 80% of user attention is above the fold is really truth as when I read other blog too. The idea of reducing ads space also suitable for my blog.

    Any way, I use my blog for some SEO contest, do you have any advices related to it? Thanks before ;-)

  26. This is a painful topic for me. I’m never satisfied with design oif my blog. Thanks for advice, Neil.

    • No site is ever complete or perfect. So don’t stress to much, I myself am constantly changing my sites design. You just have to see what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.

  27. I have been hearing so much about site design lately, I have set my wheels in motion to remove some elements and create new ones. Neil this is going to come in very handy for me thanks.

    Dan

  28. hi Neil,

    Thank you for another awesome post, I am very happy with the tools you shared. Especially the google page speed and crawl test by SEOmoz. I am already making use of them as I type this.

    Thanks for sharing.

  29. A very informative SEO resource, Neil. Highly recommended.
    I read somewhere that limiting the ad spaces to about six or less per page and each should be at least a half-inch in width. Is there a standard for this? In my experience, hubpages are very effective. As for the number of links per page, I once argued with a colleague that it should 80 or less, and your point proves that otherwise. Thanks for the great read.

  30. What if we use flash headers in our website or blog? It makes the blog or website beautiful. Do it have any ill affect on the site?

  31. Checking my site speed now, thanks for the tips Neil including the page speed link.

  32. Thanks for this wonderful and smart advises. About the using small images. I’ve kept on telling my former boss to make it simple and keep the images small, because it takes so much space and the ads… no comment. haha. thanks again neil.

    Kimmy

  33. Neil,

    Wow. Interestingly enough, I used to work for the streaming media company, StreamGuys, that you used in your bounce rate example image. While, they’ve been very hesitant to update their design, StreamGuys actually has an incredibly LOW bounce rate. So, making changes to a working page very difficult.

    ~Greg

  34. Can i steal this content :).. I was thinking about writing a guide on wordpress seo and honestly, your stuff is legit. Btw, out of curiosity, did you just code that “sliding related articles bar” on the bottom right or just used a plugin? Its pretty neat though :)

  35. when I read about the hub pages, the first thing that came up on my mind is the hubpages website. without reading the explanation, I thought that you really need to create your very own hub page.

    after reading, it appears more of like a curated sitemap. this is something new to me. but I think it must be emphasized that the link to hub page should be visible and on the top fold and not hidden somewhere at the bottom of the page.

    as always, thanks a lot for the tips.

  36. iTunes Update :

    Yeap agreed with your points website loading speed really matter in SEO terms.

  37. Bounce rate is an interesting metric. Large authority blogs over time tend to rank for many long tail keywords and some of those keywords are not always directly relevant to the content of the blog.

    In fact I recently ran a analytics test for my own blog where a number of non relevant visitor keywords naturally had a high bounce rate but a number of relevant keywords had very low bounce rate.

    I wonder if Google takes into consideration before penalizing a site for high bounce rate?

  38. Hi Neil, I had implemented changes in my website, as you suggested seo friendly design article. Please suggest is there is room for improvement?

    Thanks
    Yashwant

  39. Hi Neil,

    Great points that can actually be implemented. I will also like to add (for benefit of all lazy bloggers) that blogs have much more leeway when it comes to design etc. A site has to be meticulously researched and every effort made to improve its metrics.

    In terms of blogs, content more or less does it. In fact, a lot of the biggest blogs online carry blank sheet designs and a lot many can still be found on blogspot.com. So, for those who can do the above, great. If not, focus on content. Do you agree?

    • I like blogs that focus on content because at the end of the day blogs are meant to be content heavy rich. We come to them to read, look at pictures, watch videos…

  40. Neil, can I just ask, is there a particular reason you keep your article pages so narrow? Is it so people find it easier to read considering most of your articles are lists?

  41. Nice informative post! I’m interested in the “above the fold” idea. It seems that there is a lot of people on either side of that argument. I’m guessing that whether its a blog or not has a profound effect on this.

  42. Agreed. Design is what gives the user the first impression. Capture them and they are yours for the taking. If you don’t know much about coding, the one thing you really want to be familiar with is CSS. Helps much:)

  43. The point about google holding it against sites with a high bounce rate is very interesting, and news to me. As far as you know, is this the way it has been for some time, or is this new to google?

  44. Hello Nitin,
    It’s a great article with lots of helpful topics. It is very helpful for someone like me :D (I am new in SEO).
    Just a quick question: Is the 100 link considering both internal and external links?
    Already mentioned by Rana, social icons are really cool stuff to make a site/blog to look more cool :D

  45. It is very interesting post. I don’t consider much about the design of the blog till now. But will surely take into considerations these factors in future.

  46. Great post, wish I’d found this out about 3 yrs ago! :)

  47. Hi Neil,
    I am a new & fresh follower of yours. It is always worthy to execute your advises. I am highly inspired from your skills and knowledge base and moreover your positive attitude and helping nature. Wishing you success in your endeavors.

  48. Hi Neil,
    Glad to browse your blog. Got nice tip about Image Size. After getting tip from you, I have reduced all my post images via smush.it wordpress plugin. It really have reduce my page load time. Ultimately now site loads fast than before. Hoping for better ranking now :)
    Thank you

  49. Nice article. I totally agree that an amount of beauty is important for a website. Good design adds a lot of credibility to a website.

  50. Really important points to optimize the SEO of a blog! I totally agree with the importance of adding the social media buttons. It is so important for Google to realize that a website is followed by many users!

  51. Too bad that most of us will read all these tips and just shrug our shoulders and go back to doing things the old way. I will definitely be implementing some, if not all, the tips you mentioned here on designing my blog for awesome SEO, :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  52. Darlene Kemper :

    Well, simplicity is beauty. But i guess a little art won’t hurt us right? I like the idea of good content and good design.

  53. Simplicity, content oriented, and aiming for speed is things that bloggers have to do and teken care of since in modern word people are/and have to be smarter, and in modern browser every bytes is counted.

    Thanks
    Sulistyo

  54. I’ve been browsing on-line more than three hours today, but I never discovered any fascinating article like yours. It’s beautiful worth enough for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more helpful than ever before.

  55. dear mr.neil

    I read your all seo tricks, but u also seen some of websites didnt match any rules of google seo but its displayed in first page and ranked at no.1 i have lot of website url liket that. so how its become google no1. just tell me if u not satisfy i will give u url but i know u also seen it. just how it happen?

  56. Hi guys and Neil (:

    I totally recommend spending more and more time on speeding up your website as well as designing it for the eye of the user, not only for the search engines! Beucase…a user will return, if he manages to recall your website, and this will happen, if your site looks fabolous :D

    sincerly,
    Pehte!

  57. Great post very informative, looking forward to more insights from you!

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  59. Hi Neil, great posting with lots of useful info. Can you let us know where you get all the information from regarding google updates?

  60. Hi,

    Excellent tips. I have not used these tips on blog design, I will surely try them. :)

    Thank you

  61. hey neil,
    i am really excited to improve my search ranking. this is a great post with tons of information.

    Thanks.

    Matt

  62. Hi!,,,
    Great Advice Neil. I would really appreciate your work.Thank you so much for sharing this awesome post,,,,,

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