Want to Design an SEO-Friendly Website? Be User-Friendly Instead.

Web DesignWhen you think about design for your website, you’re not only going to be determining the layout, colors and font. The most important thing for you to consider is the overall user experience. A good user experience will make customers more likely to stay on your site and perform the actions your site is intended for, like make a purchase or request more information. Thoughtful design will also make your site easier for search engines to crawl, which will improve your ranking in the search results, and in turn, revenue or conversions for your site.

Here are some tips on how to design a user-friendly and SEO-friendly website:

1) Pick One Target Audience

It’s not a good idea to try to create a website design meant to appeal to more than one target audience. If you try to satisfy everyone, you’ll end up satisfying no one. Find out which customer segment most frequently visits your website and tailor your website to that one segment.

Now that you know your target audience, you need to do lots of research to truly understand your customer. You need to know how they browse the web (mobile? desktop?) and what they want to find on your site. What keywords do they search for? What stage of the buying process are they in – research or purchase? You should also establish how your customer likes to be communicated with. Does your product or service require a more formal tone or can you be more laid-back? Choose your voice and be consistent throughout your site.

Along with researching your target customer, you need to analyze your competitor’s sites. Find out what methods they’re using to accomplish their goals and whether or not those methods are successful. See what they are offering customers and find a way to offer something better with your site that will set you apart. Also, learn what keywords your competitors are targeting. You can use tools such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer to gain insight into your competitors.

2) Architecture

When you begin constructing the architecture of your site, your business’s mission should be the foundation. As you design each page, you should be able to determine how the page will impact your mission so you can create a structure and user experience that will bring the best possible results.

Websites that are architected correctly organize content into related categories that use intelligent internal linking. Check out this infographic of a silo structure from Trond Lyngbø at Search Engine Land. Using a silo structure of Home – Category- Sub-Category – Topic – Content makes it easy for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for and navigate quickly through many different pages on your site.

3) Design

Appearance

As I mentioned earlier, design encompasses much more than just the appearance of your site. However, the appearance is still extremely important. You don’t want to over-design your site. If a user can’t find what they’re looking for in as little as three seconds, they’re going to leave. You want your website design to facilitate your customer’s course of action, not inhibit it. Think about if there are any extra, unnecessary steps that are blocking your customer from their ultimate goal. For example, years ago it was trendy to have a fancy introduction page for your site. Today, if users are blocked from the content they want by some useless, minute-long introduction, they’re definitely going to leave.

When you’re choosing your web designer or agency, research your needs and determine a realistic budget. Then find a web designer or agency who can deliver what you need. If you’re a small company, you probably don’t need a huge, super-expensive agency. But you shouldn’t just hire the cheapest designer you can find either. You’ll get what you pay for in terms of design quality.

Content

Your content should be designed around a call to action. Don’t leave your customer wondering what they should do next on your page. Have a clear call to action that will help your customer get exactly what your content has been guiding them towards. If they’re in the research stage, you can offer a free white paper download. If they’re ready to purchase, get them to your shopping cart in one click.

Having great content is important, and continuously updating your content goes hand-in-hand with that. New, fresh content has a number of benefits for your site including showing your customers that you are a thought leader in your industry as well as causing your site to be crawled more often by search engines.

The keywords you choose are also an important part of your site design. You should include relevant keywords in your titles, urls and categories. Good titles will help draw users to your site much like an enticing news headline. Including keywords in your page titles will also improve your page rank for those terms. By including keywords in your urls and categories, you help improve the ease of navigating your site, not to mention SEO. There are a number of keyword research tools available you can use for free, like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

4) Maintenance

One thing you should avoid is taking all the time and effort needed to create a flawless experience for your users only to never check on your site’s performance again. Just like you want to test your site before you make changes, you should continuously check your site to make sure it is still working as it should. Put systems in place to make sure your links are still functioning. Do continuous competitive analysis, keyword research and usability testing. Monitor your site analytics to see what works and what doesn’t so you can keep evolving your content to fit customer needs. User experience and design is not a one-time endeavor but a continuous process that your organization will need to commit to in order to stay ahead of the competition and keep users engaged with your site.

What do you think is the best way to make your site more user-friendly? How can you use web design to improve SEO? Leave your comments below.

More Reading

I referenced these articles to create this post. Check them out!

The Pillars Of Strategic SEO & A Primer On Website Design – Trond Lyngbø

SEO Web Design Methodology – Bruce Clay, Inc.

8 Web Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make – Illya Pozin

What I Learned About “Social Proof” From My Trip to Total Wine

Total WineThe other day I was at Total Wine, a wonderful store. I don’t know anything about wine, which is why this store is perfect for me. They have so many features on the shelves that help me pick out a wine. They tell me if the wine has won any fancy wine awards or if it has a high rating from those people who rate wines. I told you, I know nothing about wine!

What I love the most about Total Wine are the “staff favorites.” “Staff favorites” are marked throughout the store with a picture of the staff member and a callout that says, “[Staff Person]’s Favorite.” Then, the staff member will personalize it by writing a short statement about why they love that particular wine. For me, it’s a no-brainer: If the price is right on a bottle of “staff favorite” wine, that’s the one that’s going in my shopping cart. It saves me from spending hours wandering around the store trying to find the right wine and it cures me of the uncertainty that I’ve just purchased a crappy bottle. If someone who works at a wine store recommends it and it’s a style of wine I know I like, I’m willing to give it a try! And I’m not the only one – there were consistently less bottles left on the shelves where the little “staff favorite” cards were positioned. Some of the staff-picked wines had already sold out, or only one or two bottles were left.

It is obvious that personal recommendations are extremely important for businesses today, whether or not the store has a physical location. I’d say it’s even more important for an online business to eliminate customer doubt because of the lack of physical evidence when it comes to online purchasing. Everyone needs assurance that what they’re buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a bigger commitment like a car, is going to be a good investment. As I looked at the dwindling inventory of staff picks at Total Wine, I wondered what the best way would be to create an experience like this online where the customer feels more assured of their purchase. What was the answer? More reviews on Yelp? More Facebook likes? I wasn’t really sure.

About a week later, I read an article on Fast Company by Russell Kogan that identified what I’d experienced at Total Wine as “Social Proof.” The article talks more about how people tend to follow a crowd (i.e. pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one) because if other people are doing something, it lets our brains know that it is safe for us to do the same thing. That’s because we assume that the other people have assessed the risk and deemed the action as safe or good. In the case of Total Wine, it only took one person (a staff member) to say that a certain bottle of wine was good. However, coupling that with the missing bottles demonstrated that lots of other people agreed, making it more likely that I would trust the recommendation and buy the wine myself.

The problem for an online business is that people can’t see whether or not you have a crowd. Reviews and likes on social media are definitely a great way to show people that you’ve built a community and that people trust you . One way to get more reviews for your site is to ask your customers for them. You can prompt them to write a review after they make a purchase, for example.

While reviews on social media are important for any business (not just ecommerce sites), there are a lot of other methods you can use to “Social Proof” your business’s online presence. For example, Kogan uses a live sales feed on his business’s website. Having a live sales feed creates an environment where the customer feels less alone in their shopping experience. Seeing that others are making purchases at the same time will make them feel more at ease that the products are good and the site is trustworthy.

Do you have any ideas on how you can “Social Proof” a website or get more online reviews?