Why Design Matters to SEO

what is design?
What is design?
When I refer to the term Design, in this instance I mean graphic design specifically – Design in relation to product design has other connotations and theories and is not included in this discussion.

Design is about communication. Design is the visual representation of information in a clear and structured manner. If you stop and think for one minute, without design we could not have books, newspapers, posters, road signs, maps, advertisements or websites: information would be reduced to long strings of words which would be almost inaccessible.

Design groups content logically and it creates a structured order. It creates a visual cohesion and hierarchy where the eye and brain can absorb information more quickly than if it has to waste time breaking down the layout structure.

Design means that you can drive at 70 miles-per-hour on a motorway and read the signage at a glance; that you can find your way from Kings Cross to Wimbledon on the tube map in seconds; that you can glance at a billboard advertisement and know the brand instantly; that you can read the contents label on a can of beans and that you can access a computer through its visual interface.

Information distribution

Information distribution
The impact of the distribution of information has revolutionised the sharing of knowledge and is something we take for granted today. At our fingertips is the answer to any question we may have. Only 17 years ago, when I wrote my dissertation, I had to get on a train and visit libraries to gather my research – there was no Google. It was time consuming and expensive.

Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, the only time the average person came into contact with the written word was through the bible and these were hand written by a learned, chosen few and kept in the church. Information was tightly controlled. The invention of the internet has revolutionised our lives to the extent that we have an information overload – the challenge in online marketing is to rise above the noise and be seen.

Information distribution

The evolution of SEO
SEO in my opinion means technical: on-site optimisation and analysis. Online marketing, to me, is not SEO – I consider the two exist symbiotically but fundamentally are independent entities. (I might be called to task on this but it’s just how I see it). The reason I am stressing this point is that recently we are hearing more and more sensationalist claims about the Death of SEO. It’s not going to happen – SEO will always be essential.

Online marketing is evolving and can no longer rely on technical means alone to generate traffic. The marketing of a website is now becoming less reliant on search engine rankings and is now concerned with website awareness: building the brand. Content marketing and the use of content for outreach have risen to be the current trend.

Content marketing is not a new thing. Brands such as Nestlé and Kraft were producing free recipe books for housewives since the 1950s. Free magazines from supermarkets have been around for years. Proctor and Gamble created the Soap Opera in the 1930s, originally for radio, as a form of content marketing.

Online marketing has now come full circle and is utilising traditional marketing methods translated for a digital format.

“Everything old is new again.”

Information distribution

How does design impact on SEO?
As I said above, design is the communication of information. Design organises all the information that we have into a visually literate language that we can easily translate. Without design, information would just be a mass of words – we can all relate to the early websites which had a solid block of text (which I like to call the brick wall of death) with no formatting, subheads or barely even paragraphs – even worse if it was a white text on a dark background. How long do you persevere trying to read a solid block of text? It might be the most interesting, factual piece of copy ever to be written by the hand of man but it is nearly impossible for the eye and brain to keep engaged. Therefore it won’t be read.

With the ever-increasing overload of information that now exists design must deliver the key messages of an individual piece of content within seconds and engage the reader’s information and weary brain before they are lost forever. Your content must rise above the noise. You can have the best content in the world but if it can’t be found and it can’t be quickly accessed, then it doesn’t even exist.

Design and presentation of the content is as essential a part of the content marketing strategy as the content itself.

Information distribution

Bridging the gap between SEO to design
I have been working in design for over 16 years. I have been involved in SEO, ecommerce and online marketing for five. In my experience:

Not many designers understand SEO or online marketing.
AND not many SEOs/online marketers understand design.

Being able to think creatively and to brief a designer is a lot harder than any non-creative person considers. Fact is, designers don’t think logically and they don’t think the same way as everyone else – that’s what makes them good designers. It’s a bit like having to deal with shell commands on a Linux server with no interface – unless you know the language it all breaks down in communication.

Moving forward the key to content success is being able to bridge the gap between SEO and design. Anyone who understands both worlds of design, online marketing and SEO has real value and is currently in short supply to the industry.

Over the next few years I predict we will see a lot of big agencies investing in their creative departments and become more classic marketing orientated.

Information distribution

Design within an SEO framework – where to begin?
Creating good content is a subject in itself and not one I can cover in a few paragraphs. As a starting point I have outlined the key points of the design process:

Concept:
Brainstorm your subject. You can do this by yourself or best in the synergy of a group. Think creatively and laterally – mentally let go.

Relevance:
You must know your consumer’s persona before you can consider what will engage them specifically. Don’t create general ‘one size fits all’ content.

Research:
If you can find unique data sets and exclusive information you are ahead of the game. Use a wide variety of sources and fact check again and then again.

Layout:
Create a visual hierarchy on the page to highlight key points. Use imagery to Illustrate key points as visual information is absorbed more quickly. Keep text blocks short and to the point. Keep fonts and colours to a minimum to avoid garish visual overload.


Take it away:

  • Design is the visual representation of information in a clear and structured manner.
  • The invention of the internet has revolutionised our lives to the extent that we have an information overload. The challenge in online marketing is to rise above the noise and be seen.
  • Technical SEO will always be essential. It is online marketing that is evolving.
  • Design must deliver the key messages of an individual piece of content within seconds and engage the reader’s information weary brain before they are lost forever.
  • Design and presentation of the content is as essential a part of the content marketing strategy as the content itself.
  • Anyone who understands the worlds of design, online marketing and SEO has real value and is currently in short supply to the industry.
  • To produce good content start with: concept, relevance, research and layout.

Article originally posted on October 12, 2012

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