SEO 101: Valuing SEO-Conscious Web Design

SEO 101 listener Paul Mycroft asked (via the SEO 101 forum on WebProWorld) what SEO services we think a web designer like him could offer/should be offering and how those services would differ/compare to a full-time SEO specialist.

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Originally aired on Webmaster Radio on 1/9/2008

From the question, it sounds like his clients are small to medium sized businesses that either aren’t ready for a full blown SEO specialist or don’t have the budget for a dedicated SEO person right now.

Paul says he spends much of his time each month designing, building and maintaining web sites and, in the process of doing so, he also performs some monthly SEO maintenance for those clients. The monthly SEO maintenance includes Google Analytics/traffic software analysis, keyword and internal linking adjustments, and some external link development. Paul estimates that he spends about four hours per month per client on these activities, and that the clients are getting what he considers to be “decent results”.

Our analysis
Additional services Paul could offer, like more intensive link development or linkbait/content writing would add a tremendous amount of time per client and would cause his workload to bloat to the point he needs to start outsourcing to other SEOs or developers, hire help, or try to handle everything by himself (and probably burn out in the process).

If hiring help or outsourcing aren’t in the plans, Paul should continue to provide the services he’s already performing for his clients, but make sure he’s educating them on the actual value of what he’s doing for them. He might also want to update his promotional literature to reflect a greater emphasis on SEO-conscious web design and list all of the benefits of building SEO into your website from the get-go, rather than trying to optimize a site as an afterthought to the design process.

So what are the benefits that should be emphasized?

  • A bot friendly site. The most awesome website in the universe is a waste of time and money if no one ever visits it.
  • Proper use of stylesheets. Way, way, WAY too many web designers and developers think it’s good, right and proper to use stylesheets for *everything* and do so to the point they omit important things like H1 tags and <strong> tags, and other HTML structures that the bots use to understand what is important on the page.
  • Good content. It’s not that most businesses can’t come up with quality content for their websites — most people in general just don’t know what defines good content. Having a developer or SEO consultant who can guide the client and educate them on how to locate good content, and then tweak it to be perfect content, is practically priceless.
  • Good URL structure. Do you have any idea what a colossal pain in the keister it is to try to fix bad url structure after the fact, or patch a content management system that makes crappy URLs by default — especially AFTER the site has gone live? Trust me… this is another one of those things that you just don’t fully appreciate until you’ve had to do it the hard way.
  • Graceful degradation. Graceful degradation is when your site is viewed by users who don’t have a browser capable of rendering it as it was intended to be viewed, but it is STILL USABLE despite not being as pretty as originally planned. Good SEO generally leads to good usability… and to steal a line from St. Martha, “that’s a good thing.”

What Paul is already doing for these businesses is probably worth a lot more than they realize, and worth a lot more than they’re paying. He should probably raise his rates. ;)

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SEO 101: Valuing SEO-Conscious Web Design

11 Responses

  1. Nice!

    These considerations are critical for any site, but my experience is that it takes hard numbers (analytics) in order to dislodge the pattern of “make me a site like that one” approach.

    People are always astounded when you can show them a landing page with 14-20% conversion rate that has almost no design at all to it. EVEN AFTER the numbers are shown, I get fights by people saying “I don’t like the way it looks.”

    Much love for decision makers who say “I don’t care what you “like”, mr./ms. pretty pictures, we’re designing for business success and long term, word-of-mouth marketing of our brand.”

    Sadly, this is exceedingly rare.

    SMALL companies can take full advantage of these concepts once they get over the fact that they don’t need to win a Webby to succeed. Spending more of your budget on SEM/SEO/SMM is very often a far better way to use limited funds – I don’t care if your site is 2 pages of text…. if it makes the phone ring, SMBs are happy.

    Scott Clark January 22, 2008 at 11:11 am #
  2. But if you you do that…then, when you get paid for seo?

    andy January 23, 2008 at 1:40 am #
  3. You hit on something major here, which is the communication gap between SEOs and designers. Would be great if someone would write a manual on how these two should interact…

    Paul Burani, Clicksharp Marketing January 23, 2008 at 7:40 pm #
  4. Very good points, most web designers don’t bother with seo when making a web site, and as an seo I have to spend a great deal of time cleaning-up their code. When people hire a web designer they should ask if the designer keeps seo in mind and if they will consider how the site is crawled when the information is organized in the code. That is why we all loved absolute position CSS, you could place the search engine friendly information first.

    New Orleans SEO January 24, 2008 at 12:28 am #
  5. Communication gap is a big problem as well as finding a designer who really knows about SEO.

    Rajat Garg January 24, 2008 at 9:31 am #
  6. Fantastic article!

    We’ve been doing humor hook linkbait on the web since 1995 at

    It would be great to get your feedback on the comedy linkbait angle!

    Marketing Assistant January 27, 2008 at 10:25 pm #
  7. Ah, I’d be the first to argue for business results. However, SEO is not the end all. It’s a piece of the puzzle. Conversion, too, is not the end all. Quite an important piece. The sum of the parts to achieve the business goal is what we’re looking for, and typically, one of those parts is branding. So a page with no or bad design that still gets “conversions” may be good in the short term, but may prove not so swell for the long term.

    It’s a balance, and if we had to go to extremes, sure, I’d vote for conversions. But since we rarely have to live in extreme-land, why not go for the cake and eat it too and have great web design (branding) with great SEO?

    Adam Landrum January 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm #
  8. this is a common problem with web designers and seo’s. they have different approaches in the development of a site. i hope that web designers should also include seo,specially on site opt. so that we could just focus on offsite optimization strategies.

    jun - a seo February 16, 2008 at 2:08 am #
  9. Great article cshel, stumbled!

    Kyle Healey May 26, 2008 at 3:22 am #
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