Form Ever Follows Function
On-Page Content & SEO Challenges
(from a Design Perspective)
“Form ever follows function” is an architectural concept that the shape of a building (the Form) should be based upon its use (the Function). The phrase is credited to Louis Sullivan, a prominent American architect who was instrumental in the development of skyscrapers in late 19th century Chicago.
Facing new technologies and tastes, he knew that it was necessary to abandon precedent in order to meet the demands of his day. Although the name Louis Sullivan isn’t widely known outside of industry circles, his assistant, Frank Lloyd Wright, would go on to become one of America’s most revered architects.
As businesses began to understand that great design is a competitive advantage, the notion that function should directly influence form (design) soon rippled its way across several industries. Web Design is a clear example of the close relationship between design and user experience.
Unfortunately, the goals of designing for users and optimizing for search engines are often at odds with one another, which creates tension at opposing ends of the spectrum.
So, how do we handle this issue at Astute?
Form Ever Follows Function:
Web Design and SEO
One of the biggest challenges we face as a Web Design and SEO agency is in how we go about resolving the tension between form and function. There are two important considerations when creating a website that aims to appeal to users and search engines alike:
Websites that focus less on written content and more on user experience are typically better designed (from a modern aesthetic), and perform better from a conversion standpoint.
Website pages with a lot of content (several hundred words) typically rank better than website pages with little to no content.
In general, a website will rank better by having more in-depth content. This is because search engines go to great lengths to deliver the most relevant results to a query. A lengthier article is seen as more comprehensive and relevant than a shorter article that is attempting to rank for the same keywords.
On the other hand, websites that focus on design elements rather than written content are more visually appealing, leading to a better user experience. If we’re being perfectly honest, design is sexy, and users aren’t always in the mood for reading in-depth material.
Smart design that emphasizes visual components and navigation appeals to users that want to quickly find what they’re looking for without digging too deep.
Of course there are exceptions, but in general, we find that elegant design with thin content is often ranked lower than a poor design with heavy content. If organizations are looking to rank for a competitive keyword without sacrificing user experience, what steps should they take?
Improving SEO Without Sacrificing User Experience
Diversify Your SEO Efforts
In financial investing, there’s an old adage that you should never put all of your eggs in one basket. By having a diversified portfolio, you are better equipped to handle unforeseeable circumstances. This is equally true for SEO.
It is important to broaden the focus of your strategy by balancing different approaches. Having in-depth content is important and should not be overlooked, but there are other ways you can improve your SERP rankings. The three pillars of SEO are:
1. Technical SEO
Technical SEO focuses on how well search engines can crawl your site and index your content. The faster and more effectively they can do so, the better your chances of ranking higher. Technical SEO involves factors such as: site architecture, page speed, structured data markup, and mobile usability, to name a few.
Having strong site architecture can suit both form and function. By structuring your site in a clear and logical way, both users and search engines can efficiently find what they are looking for. In addition to the Home Page, websites typically consist of Category Pages, Subcategory Pages, and Detail Pages.
The goal is for each page on your site to be no more the a few clicks away. Users and bots will both appreciate the effort. Once your site architecture is solidified, it is important to submit a sitemap to Google and request that your page be crawled. This speeds up the process and can be done through Google Search Console.
Search engine spiders read in code, so it is essential to make your code as clean as possible. Next, address any redirects and duplicate content. These issues can slow down page speed significantly. Lastly, optimize your images. Make sure that image file sizes are no larger than necessary.
By improving site speed, you once again appeal to both users and search engines.
Structured Data Markup
Using structured data markup can make crawling more efficient for search engines. The most popular way of doing this is through Schema. Schema terms describe and categorize content to search engines, and work by being inserted into existing HTML.
Using Schema does not affect ranking factors directly, but search engines can use it to sort categories and create rich snippets that are relevant to user queries. Implementing Schema into your site can take some time to get the hang of, but it is an effective and underutilized way of improving the SEO of your website.
According to Google, over 50% of searches are now done on mobile devices. It is recommended that you make your site mobile friendly. You can test the mobile friendliness of your website here. The same technical factors that need to be addressed on websites also need to be applied to their mobile counterparts.
2. On-Page SEO
Taking time to maximize On-Page SEO before digging into to the Off-Site work can be beneficial. Doing so upfront will ensure that your site is ready to maximize any incoming opportunities, and have the added benefit of making relationship building more attractive to the other party when they decide to do a little research. Factors to consider when working on On-Page SEO are: primary keyword usage, user experience, content value, related keyword usage, and page topic. It is also recommended that websites have a blog. Blogging is a great way to continue creating fresh and relevant content that can be used to attract traffic to your site. Furthermore, blogs are great opportunities for creating continuity and connectivity on your site by using internal and external linking.
Primary Keyword Usage
Primary keywords are the keywords being targeting for any given page. It is wise to do the research and know ahead of time which keywords you want to target so they can be written into your copy and headers. It makes your intentions clear to search engines and users as to what the page is all about.
This is the functional aspect of your website. We want users to love our site so they stay awhile and click through to sub-pages and detail pages. When this happens, search engines take note that the site is providing relevant answers to user queries. User experience is increased when quality content is coupled with appropriate visuals (form) and layout (function).
Valuable content effectively attracts whoever it is meant for. This can vary depending on industry and location. In any case, the content you are providing must have perceived value to the traffic you are drawing to your site.
Related Keyword Usage
In addition to including primary keywords in your content and headers that are page-specific, it is also good practice to include related keywords. Doing so provides useful opportunities for internal and external linking opportunities, and also gives search engines further relevance and context to your content.
Proper usage of headers is a good signal to search engines as to what your content is about. By having a clearly defined topic that contains targeted keywords, you can improve your site’s crawlability as well as improve user experience. Both of which, ultimately lead to better ranking.
3. Off-Page SEO
Off-Page SEO involves any tactic used to signal positive interaction with your site. This can be in the form of a bookmark, comment, share, or (hopefully) a guest blog or a backlink. Tactics for garnering this type of positive interaction include:
Social Media Activity
and many more…
It is absolutely essential to regularly work on Off-Page SEO. It takes patience and a lot of effort, but the higher you are able to rank in search engines, the more visibility and traffic your site will get.
One of the many time honored ways we focus on Off-Page SEO at Astute Communications is by being diligent about link building and blog outreach. In particular, blog outreach and link building from reputable domains that have high authority.
We spend a lot of time conducting niche-based research for our clients in order to compile a relevant list of prospects that we can then reach out to in an effort to build a relationship. Securing relevant and authoritative links can give websites a big boost on the Google SERP, leading to increased traffic.
Likewise, building relationships with industry specific bloggers can be a mutually beneficial way to earn backlinks and spread our client’s expertise. For more on link building, click here.
It is important to consider design and quality of content when marketing a business. Creating a user experience that is visually stunning and easy to navigate often leads to higher conversion rates and perceived professionalism.
On the other hand, creating consistently in-depth content that satisfies search engine ranking factors and queries gives better visibility to your site. It is a lot to consider, but keeping it all in mind when strategizing and executing SEO efforts can allow you to work backwards in order to prioritize and execute your marketing plans.
Knowing where you want to go in advance is an excellent starting point for moving forward. Allow form to follow function.