It’s War – Design vs SEO

You may not know this, but there is a war going on. It doesn’t get reported in the Guardian. It doesn’t get discussed on Newsnight. But it’s happening, and I am reporting from the ground, living amongst the fight every day… It’s the prolific war of will between SEO consultants and website designers

As a search-led marketing agency, we pride ourselves in creating websites that will give you the best possible start to climb up those Google rankings and achieving you that coveted page 1, position 1 top spot. We also want to make you beautiful, user-friendly websites that show off your business in the best possible way. This is the battleground upon which I, a Project Manager, torn between the two sides, stand. 

Let’s start with some basics. What do each of the two disciplines want to see on a website?

A Designers’ Dream Website…

  • Minimal content 
  • Beautiful, high-quality images & video 
  • Intricate and thought-provoking design features 
  • Interesting and eye-catching CSS to create movement and draw the eye 

An SEO Consultants’ Dream Website…

  • Thousands of words of copy 
  • Limited images which are small in file size
  • Interlinking between all pages 
  • Lightweight, minimal & clean code 
  • One keyword being targeted on each page

As you can see from the differences two lists, there are a number of specific battles upon which the war is waged… 

The Content Battle

Google, and, by proxy, SEO consultants, love… CONTENT. I’m simplifying, but generally, we can boil SEO best practice down to plenty of rich, good quality content (aka words on a page) and good quality links. In fact, in our web team training session with our SEO guru James Welch, he told us that the average number of words on a position 1 website page is 2,460 words, and this figure is likely to top 3,000 in the near future. This pains our designers who love clean, minimal designs, and who hate those goddam SEO consultants that demand having space for up to 6,000 words of content on the home and service pages. 

However, our designers are skilled folk. After a few (fairly heated) discussions which ended with us, as we always do, doing what is best for the client, we are now happily integrating thousands of words of copy into beautifully designed websites. A few examples I’d love to show you… 

Elite Aesthetics

This is a website we’ve designed with 3143 words of content on the home page (and counting!) 

Portman Recruitment

Another website we’ve recently set live has 1893 words of content on the home page, with plans for plenty more to be added. 

The outcome of the content battle is… 

SEO Team: 1 

Design Team: 0 

The Image Battle

Everyone has heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and this seems to be true in every situation apart from when you’re trying to get your website ranking well on Google. 

During our training, James explained that in an ideal world, an SEO client website would have no images at all in order to get it climbing those rankings. However, James also conceded that it’s all well and good getting to the coveted position 1, page 1 position by having a super fast website with no images and loads of content, if when the user gets to that bland and personality-less site, they won’t actually get in touch with you or buy anything from you because your website looks pants. James used his own Innovation Company website as a perfect example of this in action, which is position 1 for Innovation Company Manchester, gets loads of traffic but he has only ever received one phone call from!

So, as with anything in life, there needs to be a balance. High resolution, high-quality images are a pinnacle of website design (and design in general). People love pictures. All you have to do to prove that is to look around at the majority of our society spending 30mins plus per day gawping at their Instagram feed.

Luckily, our SEO consultants are magicians. Our team can resize, optimise, cache, scale and serve your images in a way that means users can see your images in perfect quality, but it doesn’t significantly slow down your site. 

So, the outcome of the image battle is…

SEO Team: 0 

Design Team: 1 

The Mega Menu Battle

It’s easy to anthropomorphise Google, but in its essence, it’s just a hell of a lot of bots following links around websites and “reading” the content from top to bottom. One of the core principles of SEO is creating a page for every service, topic or keyword you are wanting to rank for, which contains concentrated, quality content which is all about that subject. This is where a mega menu can cause problems.

Having a mega menu that is accessible from every page and which links to every single service/product/treatment you have on your website can actually convolute the message you are giving Google about the topic you are trying to rank for. This is because the code of the mega menu, which is on every single page, lists all of the pages on the website, meaning all of the keywords in your menu are also listed on every single page.

Clear as mud?

Traditionally, a mega menu would be accessible from the top of the website. This means this code is at the top of the page and it’s therefore what Google’s bots ‘read’ first. If you are trying to rank your web page for ‘SEO Agency Manchester’ (like we are), the bots read lots of other keywords such as About, Services, Thoughts, Case Studies, Careers, Let’s Talk, PPC, Content Marketing, Social Media, Website Development and Website Design, first. 

“Alas!” Cries the clever amongst you. “You are a search-led agency, AND you have a mega menu AND you are ranking well” (very well might I add) “for SEO Agency Manchester!” 

Yes, indeed we are. The battle of the mega menu has resulted in a truce because our designers and our SEO team have found a compromise. Our ingenious developer Cameron has got around this issue by moving the mega menu code to the very bottom of the page, meaning, Google reads it last. This gives the mentions of our other services much less weight than if they were at the top of the page. 

So, for the final round, it’s… 

SEO Team: 1 

Design Team: 1 

If you like the sound of having a lightweight, copy-heavy website that Google will love, whilst at the same time having a beautiful, user-friendly website that will convert your traffic to customers? 

Get in touch! 


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