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What is more important - web design or SEO?

by Chris Sutton | March 17, 2011

In some ways this might seem like an odd topic for a blog but it’s a question that we get asked over and over. In the web design business, we see some horrific examples of sites created purely for SEO that are almost impossible for anyone to read, and we see the graphic design focused sites that are almost invisible to search engines. So what is more important - web design or SEO?

At the risk of stating the obvious, the concepts of good web graphic design and SEO friendly websites are not mutually exclusive. Broadly speaking, if a web site focuses purely on graphic design without appropriate SEO consideration, you’ll end up with a beautiful site that no-one will ever see. Conversely, if you have a web site that ranks really well but doesn’t invite visitors to delve into the site, or explain your sales messages clearly, then it too will fail.

Like most things in business though, you can employ as many experts as you like but you still need to have a significant input yourself into the web development or redevelopment process.

So what do you need to do to ensure that your web site is both attractive to humans and search engines alike?

Planning is always the first step, but it’s not enough to simply say “I want a site that looks like site xyz”, or “these are my business brand colours and logo.” Web design planning requires considerable input from you and when you meet with your designer you need to ensure that your designer understands where your company sits in the market, who your target market is, what your customers typically need, and what would they be looking for when they search for products like yours online. Your designer also needs to understand the style of your business and what message you want to visually project when a visitor reaches your website.

A site visitor will usually make a decision to stay and explore a site, or leave and try elsewhere, within the first 5 seconds. That decision is made purely on a visual assessment of the site, so graphic design is crucial. That doesn’t mean that you have to have an “all singing, all dancing” home page, simple, careful design with good attention to detail can easily create an impression of professionalism to your visitors. So it’s important that your designer understands what image you are trying to project.

The second and just as important area of involvement for you in the development or redevelopment of your web site is the planning and creation of good content. So many otherwise well designed web sites fail dismally in SEO ranking because there simply isn’t enough well crafted content to enable keywords and phrases to be optimized. Nobody knows your products, market, customers etc as well as you do and that’s why writing the content yourself is always preferable. One significant mistake ecommerce site owners make is to simply copy product descriptions from the manufacturers brochures. That’s a recipe low SEO ranking, as in many cases other sites selling the same products will do likewise and the search engines will be confronted with multiple examples of the same content and simply lower the ranking in response. Even if you only rewrite manufacturers descriptions you will be speaking in your own voice and that unique viewpoint will be recognised by search engines.

So to answer the question of what is more important - web design or SEO, both are essential elements when developing a new web site for your business and be prepared to invest a considerable amount of time to work with your web designers to create the best possible site for your business.

 
SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life, www.chrissutton.com

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