Before diving into this article, I would first like to state that I am not a designer. I certainly hope I can call myself one in the future, but for now, I’ll stick with what I know best.
Having said that, it’s easy for me to write this article because as someone who has worked with a bazillion designers on so many different projects, I’ve seen every one of these mistakes made, of which I have to go back and correct…which is totally cool because contrary to popular belief, being a designer doesn’t mean you’re an SEO expert. But if you, the designer, can knock out some of this stuff before it gets to the marketing/SEO person, it would play a part in boosting productivity and efficiency, which we all know equals more money in the bank.
The following 10 mistakes are very common, and very easy to correct. If anything, at least you’ll know what to do for your own personal website projects, but I can assure you that your clients will appreciate (even if they don’t know it) the extra SEO effort that you can start them out with.
1. Abusing or Ignoring the Title Tag
This may be the most common mistake made when designing a website (and not just by designers). The Title tag is pretty much the first thing someone will see when they view your website in a list of search results. Not only that, but it’s one of the first things a search engine sees when deciding what to rank your site for.
There are a few ways that this incredibly simple, yet important element can be screwed up:
1. Leaving the Title tag blank (see below)
2. Stuffing it with keywords (see below)
So if your title tag looks like either of the above, it’s not going to do anything for you SEO wise, and more importantly, a botched Title tag will harm your overall situation as you’ll lose search visitors and with keyword stuffing, potentially be penalized.
So what’s the proper way to format a Title tag? It’s easy, really. You want a nice, (no more than) 70 character introduction to your page, with a main keyword or two in it at most.
Example of a properly formatted Title tag:
Also, make sure you use your main keyword toward the beginning if possible (just in case your Title is longer and gets truncated), and take the time to create a unique Title tag for each page on your site.
2. Confusing Meta Description and Meta Keywords
Right, right, I know, the Meta keywords tag doesn’t have much bearing (if any at all) on your rankings. The Meta description isn’t seriously high on the priority list, but it’s up there somewhere for a lot of folks. Just hear me out…
All too many times, I’ve seen the two tags flip-flopped around, and instead of entering a nicely formatted Meta description of a page, they jam it up full of 300 keywords AND they do the same thing for the Meta keywords tag. This is a very common mistake, and can easily be corrected.
At one time (long ago), these tags held incredible importance in the ranking of your site (when search engines were stupid), so keyword stuffing everything possible quickly became an effective (albeit blackhat) way to get your site at the top. Of course, this doesn’t hold true anymore, and I’ll go on record of saying that unless I’m being super anal about a site, I rarely mess with the Meta keywords tag anymore because it’s nearly completely useless. The Meta description, however, is something that Google sees and takes into consideration when providing search results, and again, it’s also one of the first things that a visitor will see after performing a search – so properly formatting it is probably worth your time.
A good Meta description should be a nice, 155 character description of your site, incorporating a few target keywords – but make it look “natural”. Usually, describing your site (whether you offer services or products) in a few well written sentences should do the trick, but here is an example of a less desirable Meta description vs. a good one:
Why? The “good” one takes advantage of the space they’re given, uses a couple of good keywords without sounding or looking like spam, and gives the end-user a clear and concise description of the services/products offered.
What’s wrong with the less desirable one? It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s too short, and doesn’t fully explain to me what they have to offer, compared to the next guy.
Just like Title tags, make sure you generate a unique Meta description for each page for maximum benefit.
3. Forgetting Image Alt Attributes
A very common mistake made among all is forgetting (or neglecting) to use good alt tags for the images on a page. Naming the image with a good keyword or phrase that describes the image is key to getting the search engines to recognize it (they can’t see what’s in the image…yet). Not only will it help you in places like Google images, but it will also help search engines more accurately identify what your page is about.
This one is quite simple, but just in case you need a visual…here is what the “Alternate Text” line should say for the following example:
Remember to keep your image sizes as optimized as possible, because you don’t want to slow down load time for your site. This can affect spider performance when they arrive on your page.
4. Too Many H1’s, or None at All
Header tags play an important role in “on-page” SEO, and properly using the available header tags can give the search engines a more clear-cut idea of the theme and idea of your page.
I’ve seen some projects use several H1’s (do they think they’re going to fool someone?), and completely ignore any other tags. The general rule is to use one H1 per page, and you want to use it for that particular page’s most important keyword (in other words, the text in your H1 should pretty much portray the content of the entire page). Then use your H2’s, H3’s and so on.
As a designer, you should know that you can style the header tags any way you’d like, so that shouldn’t be an excuse to use them improperly. H1 tags are huge by default, but with a little CSS, you can hook it up real nice.
5. Internal Linking – Not Using Good Anchor Text
This is a simple, yet potentially large issue. Internal linking (meaning, links that link pages of your entire website together) plays a part in your overall SEO situation. Google and others like to see healthy amounts of internal linking, so while its good to get in the habit of linking to your other pages in a proper, SEO friendly way.
To this day, I still see new sites that have fantastic internal linking, but they lack the ability to make the links really work for them by linking with proper anchor text. The most common instance of this is the dreadful “Click Here” anchor text. I have nothing against using “Click Here” for quick blog posts or things like that, but when it comes down to linking products or services, instead of using “Click Here” for blah blah blah, try using an anchor text that describes the page you’re linking to.
Example: Instead of “Click here to see the latest iPhone cases” you could use “Check out the latest iPhone cases” (using “iPhone cases” as the anchor text).
6. Forgetting to Leave Room for Text
Designers love to use all sorts of images and graphics wherever possible, which can make for a pretty page, but don’t forget to leave plenty of room for actual text!
While I hate using the phrase, “content is king”, it really still holds true, and allowing your clients to have a healthy amount of text on that newly designed page will help them achieve better rankings in the long run.
Organize your pages, and don’t be scared of using fancy images and graphics, just try not to overdo it. Simple, really.
7. Dirty Code
Again, I’m not a designer or coder, but I do know that Google and other search engines are not a fan of dirty, cluttered code. Having ugly and messy code can hurt your search rankings tremendously.
You want to make the job of searching the page as easy as possible on the search spiders, so that they’ll keep coming back on a regular basis.
Make sure HTML is validated and W3C compliant, and to go a step further for even more gains, try to bring your website up to 508 compliance, which is designed to allow sites to be accessible by those with disabilities. This is a relatively quiet subject, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that 508 compliant sites enjoy an extra boost when it comes to rankings. Here’s more on 508 compliancy standards.
8. Not Using Clean and Descriptive URLs
You’d think that by now, most people (even those that aren’t that familiar with SEO) would know that a cleaner, more keyword friendly URL is easier for the user and the search engines, but to this day, it’s still common to see URLs structured like this:
While Google and other search engines are still smart enough to find out what the page is about, there is still plenty of evidence that having a keyword descriptive URL will give you an edge when it comes to organic rankings.
An example of a search engine friendly URL:
So, why not play it safe, and make sure your URLs are looking as friendly as possible? Name your pages with keywords that appropriately describe them, and if you’re using a WordPress platform, make sure and change the permalink structure to something like /%postname%/
9. Too Much Flash
We all understand that flash can make a page look extremely attractive (if done right), and that you have a wide range of design possibilities when implementing it.
However, flash is the bane of Google’s existence. While Google and Adobe announced an initiative last year to allow Google to more deeply and thoroughly index and read flash, it’s still not anywhere near an optimal experience.
Using flash in your site should be limited to a supplemental design element at most – and if you remember anything, don’t put any important keyword rich text in the flash element where Google can’t see it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with incorporating a bit of flash into a page, but just keep in mind that search engine’s are still pretty much blind to it.
Are you making any of the 10 mistakes above in your design process?
If so, that’s alright, because it’s never too late to start adapting better SEO practices. Like I said at the beginning, your clients will appreciate the added SEO boost (even if they don’t know it) when you design a site that has a lot of the basics already implemented. Not only that, but the term “SEO” is a hot buzzword and through personal experience, a lot of clients have heard of it, but are not quite sure what it means – so being able to proudly say that your sites are “Search Engine Optimized” could make the difference between them selecting your or your competition.