Web Designers, Does SEO Effect Your Creative Freedom?

Right now web design is closely tied to SEO. Mind you, when I say web design, I do not simply mean designing with the use of Adobe Photoshop. I mean the whole deal, from conception to presentation.

Is SEO a good thing for web design? Do you think minding SEO too much limits what designers can do?

Would you sacrifice your creativity for the sake of SEO?

Straight to the point: Should SEO limit Web Designers?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like SEO shouldn’t limit what web designers can do at all. Although I understand that SEO is important, probably more relevant now than ever, isn’t limiting what art can do a little too much?

The Fold

The fold is what visitors initially see on any website, it’s what occupies the whole screen. Usually a lot of web designers would want to impress visitors with an amazing header, but that could be poisonous nowadays. If you checked the post I linked to, you will notice that heavy graphics were used to dress the websites, and they are absolutely gorgeous…and quite slow to fully load. While the content matters, a website’s load speed is also important, and this is where headers like these come in bad light in the web design community.

Take this website of Juan Diego Velasco for example, how long did it take to fully load?

Just in case Juan decides to revamp his website, I’ve posted a screenshot of it above.

I used Pingdom Tools to check the site’s speed and the results aren’t that bad, but it’s only faster than 49% of all websites tested using the tool. If you try testing it, you will see that 92.5% of the content load time is hogged by images alone. How much do images amount to when compared to text content?

Still, I love that website. The catch? Of course there is, it’s a portfolio site, so SEO shouldn’t matter that much. But how about other type of websites? No one in their right mind would probably have a blog that has too much time to waste. Remember, it only takes an average of seven seconds of loading time before a visitor leaves!

It is important to understand that it’s not just speed that determiness if a website is well optimized. The entire structure is important.

Next is navigation. Quite a lot of websites make use of their navigation to appeal to their visitors, but is it SEO friendly? Well, it’s not much of an issue since it’s an easy topic. But what about our unconventional web designer friends? This actually limits new practices, not only for navigation, but for the whole design.

Also, believe it or not, I’ve seen people comment online about how they hate breadcrumbs. Too bad, since breadcrumbs are actually a life saver!

So far we’ve dealt with:

  • the fold – what visitors see first. It is crucial that at first glance there is already valuable content; not images, not advertisements, not fancy navigation, but valuable content.
  • site load speed – SEO is affected by a website’s load speed. Heavy use of images directly points to a larger page size, which will increase the load time. Besides, people won’t just standby and wait for a website to load for 7 seconds or more.
  • navigation – hate breadcrumbs? Well, too bad, they’re good for SEO!

Tread Carefully

I know that by now a lot of you will be saying, “web design means keeping everything in harmony, and if you do not take SEO into account then you’re a terrible web designer,” or something like that, right? Well, it depends on an individual’s opinion. There will be designers who will agree that minding SEO should be a default mindset while others will say that it shouldn’t be at all. In any case, you need to tread carefully even before touching a computer.

You need to keep your CSS files to a minimum, which I personally dislike because I don’t want my CSS to be a mess. Yet having multiple CSS calls is never good. Same goes for JavaScript. If you can skip jQuery and other JavaScript on your page, better. While it leaves fancy flexibility aside, it actually helps with SEO.

YSlow graded me F because of my website’s external Javascript and stylesheets along with its images. In my defense, it’s a theme I bought. I have since started to combine them.

Structure your HTML in a non-convoluted way. Get it right from the start with proper tags. Remember, tags are meant for bots to read through your website and make sense out of it. If you do not use them properly, then I’m afraid you’ll have a bad time.

At the end of the day, it’s really not much of a problem if you’re not flashy. Since there are only a few things you need to follow:

  • minimize the use of images
  • use proper HTML structure
  • always mind the fold

Verdict: Not an Issue

Have you been faced with this issue?