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?
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
That’s a little confusing from a UX viewpoint, don’t you think? Of course, Google gets it:
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.
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:
- Accessibility (Section 508 and WAI Standards)
- Dead links
- Multiple browsers
- Multiple devices
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.
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?