Designing for SEO

After watching a video on lynda.com, a great source of informational videos about all things web-related, I have a few things to share about SEO, design, and how Google’s algorithm functions.

Earlier this year, Google released several updates, including Panda and Penguin, both aimed at providing better results for keyword searches. What’s important about these updates is that finally, our work, as designers, is being taken into consideration when determining page rank. Previously, Google took into account keywords and meta data as its main way of determining the relevance of a particular web page. However, after doing a great deal of research, they are now taking into account the look and feel of the web page.

Google basically began asking the consumer question like “would you be comfortable giving your credit card number to this site?”, “would you trust medical advice and make subsequent medical decisions based on this site?”, and “would you give your child medication prescribed by this site?” In collecting the answers to these questions, Google came to the conclusion that the layout and design of a site is heavily influential to the success and credibility of the site. Therefore, these elements were incorporated into their algorithm.

Essentially, with these Panda and Penguin updates, Google docks sites that wouldn’t be deemed “trustworthy” by a human, taking into consideration the overall look and feel of the site. So, for example, if a site seems cluttered and had ads everywhere, users might find that annoying and possibly not worthy of trust; now, neither does Google. If a website had red text on a blue background or yellow text on a green background, the site’s design will negatively impact its rank on Google. Conversely, if a site appears neat, organized, and generally well thought out, Google will associate positivity and trustworthiness with the site, and therefore, the site will be positively ranked.

What does this mean for designers?

These updates mean several things for designers, not all of which are necessarily good. While the overall update does mean good things for us in general, some of the pitfalls of this update might be an encouragement to conform to the layouts and design elements currently featured in highly-ranked sites. As a community, we designers pride ourselves on creativity and thinking outside the proverbial box. With this new update comes the danger of wanting to do what everyone else is doing simply because it works. So while Panda, specifically, is aimed at raising the bar of website design across the web, it may have the unintended side effect of discouraging creativity and cultivating a more standardized and general layout.