How Design & SEO Can Work Together for Web Design Success

Most of you are aware just how smart Google’s search ranking algorithm is. It crawls the world’s data and makes sense of it all. What does this have to do with design? Everything.

Google’s goal is not to reward people who try to manipulate their website rankings with keywords and flimsy content. Its goal is to mimic human behavior to deliver search results that satisfy the user’s goals.

It’s both scary and beautiful at the same time.

As Google’s search ranking algorithm becomes more and more intelligent, it can better interpret user experience and user satisfaction on websites. Great design plays a critical role in this process. This is why there’s never been a better time for designers and SEOs to collaborate on one of the most complicated and high-stress projects on the web: website redesigns.

Website redesigns often start out with grand optimism and dreams of more money and visitors thanks to a brand new site. Often times, however, the project is late and over budget, riddled with errors upon launch. This is often due to problems stemming from multiple people in multiple different departments working together without a clear framework.

It’s challenging to manage a process with so many moving pieces and a specific deadline. A redesign involves designers, writers, developers, SEOs, marketers, and project managers, as well as a few executives thrown in for fun. Without a strategic plan to help all of these disciplines mesh together perfectly, things get lost in the shuffle.

Let’s look at how two of those disciplines above — design and SEO — can work together better to make a website redesign seamless.

1. Earlier Planning Periods

How many times have you as a designer sent in your designs, only to have changes requested at the last minute due to some other expert making requests later on in the project after you designs are approved? I’m guessing 95% of you have. Planning early solves many problems, but how early should you plan?

There’s a human tendency to not want to cause too much of a stir in a project. It’s often the case that one of the experts mentioned above knew that there would be a problem in the future but wanted to wait for the right moment to bring up the problem.

From my experience, the best way to solve this problem is to get everything out on the table early on in the process. As an SEO specialist myself, I’ve seen beautiful designs approved by the project manager or executive, only to find it problematic in the way it would affect the SEO of the website.

Both sides of the table need to get together early on and bring up the issues that each discipline sees. Just a one-hour meeting between the design and SEO team early on can save dozens of hours of corrections later down the line in the project.

2. One-Page Guides for Each Department

You’re the specialist at your discipline and I’m the specialist at mine. So how can each of us expect to know whether our own best practice is actually a bad practice for the other?

The miscommunication happens often, but thankfully there’s a solution that will prevent 90% of the problems: a one-page guide that you can give to your colleague.

I believe this is an underutilized tool, and it can make the whole project more efficient. We often know in our heads the reason we need to make that recommendation to our colleague, but are they convinced? A one-pager should include specific guidelines for the project, as well as references to back up the best practices.

For example, a common problem is that designers often want minimal text on a page to keep a clean design. SEOs want more text on the page because Google most often ranks more substantial content than thin content on pages.

What’s the solution?

There’s often a way to find middle ground by nicely incorporating expanding elements and well done typography. But unless each of us clearly defines up front what we need and why we need it, wasted time and arguments will ensue.

3. Do’s and Don’ts

Closely related to the above one-page guide is a list of do’s and don’ts that will help each colleague understand the other. If you as the designer think that hero sliders are the bane of your existence but I was expecting and additional area to include descriptive content, there’s going to be an argument.

Where this do’s and don’ts list would differ from the one-pager is this list would be more evergreen. It would include common questions that come up in every project that there is a clear answer for. You can either incorporate this list in your one-page guide above, or have it as a separate document.

Just as important as good things to do, would be the inverse of what not to do. Google’s material design guide is a great example of how to show do’s and don’ts in action.

4. Common Project Goal

In politics, there are multiple parties that all have the same end goal, but have different opinions on the way to get there. The same can be said for the specialists working on a redesign project. We all want more traffic, more revenue, more prestige for the new website, but we have different opinions on the best way to get there.

This natural tension is a good thing if it happens in a healthy environment. One way to keep the project progress moving forward in a healthy way is by staying focused on the end goal.

The common project goal should be stated early on to make sure all colleagues are on the same page. All members should agree upon the project goal so that one party doesn’t feel diminished. When problems arise, the team should look to the project goal and discuss how their problem should be solved to meet that goal.

If the whole goal of the website redesign is to improve user experience, but if I’m under the assumption that our main problem is not enough traffic, well we’re not on the same page. State the project goal early, and stick to it.

5. Clear Schedules and Deadlines

We’ve all missed deadlines and felt unclear on expectations. Sometimes it’s my fault and sometimes it’s yours. This happens in many projects but there’s a way to improve with more clarity.

The previous steps will all contribute to more realistic deadlines and scheduling, so we’re already making progress. Congrats! Even better is putting down in writing what the expectations for deadlines are for this project. With earlier discussions between designers, SEOs, and project managers we can better understand the work involved. With this information we can set a realistic schedule that we can all stick to.

Just the act of making sure everybody is on board with the schedule and deadlines will do wonders for the website redesign.

6. Data-Backed Examples

In the middle of a heated discussion saying “because I said so” doesn’t do much to build trust or understanding. Unless you’re the CEO and I’m a junior member of the team, most arguments are between specialists on the same level.

Related to the above one-page guide and do’s and don’ts list, I believe data-backed examples can go a long way towards understanding.

I’m not really talking about graphs and analytics data, more so about citing industry experts and articles to convey the reasoning for a decision.

If I’m stuck in 2008 and still believe that sliders are the key to visitor happiness, but you’re citing VWO, Conversion XL, and as reasons not to, well I can’t argue with that.

We should be making more decisions based on best practices, and less based on in-the-moment thinking.

7. Collaborative Tools and Real Time Information

It feels like a new collaboration tool is released every week. Between Basecamp, Trello, Asana and dozens of others, the options are limitless. It’s less important to find the perfect tool, and more important to find one that your team will actually use.

The website redesign project will not be solved from the beginning. It’s an iterative process and there needs to be consistent communication. Changes happen throughout, and if designers and SEOs share their recommendations early and often, the project will be a success.

Next Steps

What problems have you run into working with other members of your team?

What tips do you have for making website redesigns even smoother?

Originally published by Joe Robison at on October 12, 2016.