Website Designs that are People-friendly are Google-friendly
Google has always had the goal of making sure that their search engine provides the most relevant results to searchers. Through the use of algorithms, Google determines how related a site is when an Internet user completes a search for a certain keyword or keyword phrase. Recently, though, Google has made some very drastic changes to its algorithms. These updates have left many unaware website owners wondering how to make their sites appear on Google searches.
Interestingly enough, these changes actually help website designers and developers. As a designer or developer, hopefully you know about adding keywords to meta data within a website design. Even though many are crying "SEO is dead", this is only partly true. What is dead are non-organic methods of link building. Websites still need to optimize their designs with keywords in meta data simply as a way to help Google better know what a website offers. However, now, as Andrew Smith in his article on Usabilla points out, the website design, the content as a whole, and social media activity now all have very large parts to play in Google algorithms. In other words, usability is key in creating a Google approved website.
Websites need to have designs that are built for those who are interested in their content – their target audience in marketing terms. Designers need to have a clear picture of their client’s target market and know what appeals to this market, what is the trend, and how to create a design that Google can easily crawl.
You may find that your pitch of "I know how to design search engine optimized websites" gets a negative response from your client: "But I thought SEO was dead." This is where you can tell your client that, no, organic SEO is very much alive, and you can set up a website that not only wows their customers and prospects but also impresses Google. Here’s how to make sure your client’s site – or your own website – is people-friendly, and, therefore, Google-friendly. By doing it this way instead of trying to find loop holes in Google’s rules, you can put your client’s mind at ease that their site is (mostly) safe from future updates (mostly, because Google has been known to make some drastic changes).
Define the Audience
The first step in designing a people-friendly website is knowing who your client is trying to reach. Knowing whether their audience is teenagers, business owners, or stay-at-home moms can make a huge difference in style, layout, etc. In the Google Webmaster basic quality guidelines, the first bullet point listed is "Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines." The best way to make sure your client has a Google-approved website is to create one that fills the users’ needs.
For instance, for some audiences, parallax scrolling works wonders in keeping their interest, leaving a lasting impression, and moving them to further action. For others, a parallax effect will only result in annoying them to move onto the next website listed in their search results. And if you have never read through the Google Webmaster, you should definitely take the time to do so.
Provide High-Quality Content
Make sure that every page, and especially the home page, provides very helpful, clear information for visitors. Google makes it VERY clear that websites should not deceive users. And now Google looks at entire paragraphs, not just keywords. If content on a website is not clear or looks stuffed with keywords, Google will notice.
Emphasize to your client just how badly they need a blog! They can hire writers or invite guest bloggers or write the posts themselves, but again they need to make sure it is quality content. Company updates are valid content, but to really draw in readers, websites have to provide helpful resources, give expert advice, post tutorials, or anything that would appeal to their target audience. This is why so many designers would do well to design through a CMS.
Also, make sure to ask your client what type of wording would they use to search for your type of product or information? Would they use industry-speak or common language? What tone of writing should you use as well? Would formal speak to them more or a more witty, whimsical voice?
Design for Mobile
Google has made quite a few changes to their Keyword Tool. For one, it has been replaced by Keyword Planner and is now more of a combination of what the Keyword Tool and the Traffic Estimator were. Another big change is that the keyword suggestions are based on mobile searches, not just PC searches. Google is recognizing that this year, mobile searches will be more popular than ever. In fact, in January Google released a new mobile bot that crawls smartphones much more efficiently.
If you really want to make Google happy, then build a responsive site for your client, as this is Google’s recommended configuration for smartphone optimized websites. However, Google also recognizes dynamic serving (a different HTML for one URL using a Vary HTTP header) and separate mobile sites (redirects to a different URL with bidirectional link annotations to show relationship to desktop URL). For many clients, a responsive site really is the best option simply due to a much more simple upkeep. They only have to keep up with one site this way. There will be instances, though, when a client benefits from a separate mobile design, such as an ecommerce site with tons of content. If this is the case, just make sure to use one of the other two formats recognized by Google, and your client will be sitting pretty with Google.
Publish Images Properly
Images and videos are an excellent way for a website to draw in visitors. High quality photographs or videos can be used to add aesthetics to a website design, to provide previews of products, to give a visual for a tutorial, and much more. And videos if also published on YouTube make a website more visible. Both images and videos can also help Google find a website easier – if they are set up properly, that is. Google has an entire web page dedicated to image instructions and another dedicated to videos. Most of the instructions are very straight-forward, such as using creative file names and using schema.org for video markup.
If you have never read through the Google guidelines for images and videos, this is a definite must. After all, websites that appeal most to visitors are often those with incredible visuals such as stunning photos or a video playing in the background. Just make sure you know how to set them up properly for your clients so that Google can easily crawl and decipher their content properly.
Get Involved in Social Media
This is a big way you can encourage your clients to gain organic links. Make sure they are signed up on at least the big social media giants – LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Depending on their industry, they may also possibly benefit from creating accounts on Pinterest, MySpace, Tumblr, or others. Then place their social media buttons in an easy to see location on each page of their site. For their blog posts, make sure that each includes a button for sharing, tweeting, liking, etc.
If a website then posts relevant, helpful content, they will get talked about and retweeted and shared. This kind of organic activity surrounding a brand name lets Google know that a website really is important and an expert in its field.
Another important point to make, if a website uses guest bloggers, request that the bloggers add the site to their Google+ page. If Google sees a blog connected to its Authorship, then it gives that website more weight.
Involve the Experts
By experts, I mean those within an industry that are seen as the big influencers on the web. One way for a website to involve experts is to reference them in articles on the website blog. Another way is to connect with them through social media because then a website owner can provide relevant comments that add to an expert’s posts. You never know when an authority recognized by Google may mention a website to their hundreds of thousands of followers or even on their highly ranked blog or news column.
Use Google Webmaster Tools
One excellent way to ensure that your client’s site is seen the way they want Google to see it is by using Google’s Webmaster Tools. When you submit a site, Google will check it for potential problems, tell you how searchers are finding a website, and help with optimizations so that Google can better understand the site. And any way that you can show Google you are trying to design a site to help them out with providing relevant results for searchers will be a bonus for you! As Eric Covino points out in the Huffington Post, Google’s job is tough, so stick with ethical practices and your client’s site will come out ahead of those who constantly try to underhand Google with bogus link building practices.