How To: SEO Web Design

We take on a lot of SEO design projects where we help clients design sites from the ground up in a way that will be conducive to search engine spidering and eventually competitive rankings. You’ll often hear how search engine optimization shouldn’t be an afterthought in site design, but what does that actually mean? For us, the SEO Design process looks something like this

Step 1: Select Keywords

If you tell your design/search engine optimization company that you’re looking to create a new site and they don’t immediately ask you what your keywords are, run! I’m not kidding. If they try to build you an SEO-friendly Web site without first finding out your key terms, they’re clearly not in the right mindset and you shouldn’t be working with them. Knowing what keywords you’ll be targeting is essential so that you can start brainstorming what topics you’ll need to cover, how many pages you’ll need, who your competitors are, etc. This information is going to lay the framework for your new Web site. If you don’t know what words you’re going to be putting on the page, how will you be able to intelligently make any of these decisions and avoid placing things out of sequence?

Step 2: Define Architectural Structure

Once you know the keywords that are most important to your site, you can start laying out the framework and planning the more technical elements. This is when you should start brainstorming your silos, thinking about how all of your pages and topics are going to come together to create solid themes, and exploring different URL structures. Some CMS programs spit out some ugly, ugly default URLs. This is an issue you want to deal with before the site goes live. You should also be thinking about your style sheets and how you’re going to design your site without having 2,000 lines of JavaScript cluttering up your code and pushing down your content.

Step 3: Create Content

You’re not going to get too far into the SEO design process without having something to put on the page. After step one you should know what pages and site sections are going to be important in helping you reach your ranking goals. You should be working on creating optimized content and thinking about potential link magnets. As you’re writing content, make sure that your keywords are being used properly throughout your pages and site. This means including them in the heading (h1, h2, h3) tags, throughout the body, and as anchor text for internal linking. You can check out our Copywriting 101 or How to Use Keywords for some more information about.

Step 4: Wireframe Review

You know your keywords, how things are going to be structured and you’re working on getting the content pieces together. Now it’s time for the wireframe review so that everyone on the team can take a look and agree that things are moving in the right direction. Wireframes are a stripped down version of your site, very similar to a blueprint for a house, and help ensure that you’ve created a solid foundation for your overall site themes. You don’t want to launch only to realize that you’ve forgotten to connect the roof to the top of the house. This is also a good time to really look at the site from a usability perspective. And when your SEO provides you with a wireframe, don’t just tack it on the wall. Make notes and give it back to their team. Comment on how you want things to be displayed, what headings you think should be on each page, and other SEO-related decisions. You can find some good examples of wireframe templates at StrangeSystems.

Step 5: Façade

Once all the technical stuff has been taken care of, it’s time to consider design. You have your content, but how are you going to display it in a way that appeals to visitors? Consider what’s going to be above the fold, what kind of calls to action will be on the page, how your navigation will look, how you’ll visually represent your brand, whether you’ll include graphics or video, if your pages will be printer-friendly etc. You don’t want to invest all that time creating your structure and making sure you’re following SEO-friendly design methodology, only to develop the ugliest site on the planet. Sure, your information is what users are after, but if it’s not presented to them in a way that is easily understood and visually appealing, they may not even take the time to appreciate the information you’re offering. It’s an MTV world, my friend.

Step 6: Implementation

If you’ve made it this far (and, um, hopefully you have), it’s time to launch your brand new SEO-friendly Web site. There may still be content to write and minor tweaks to make, but the foundation and the site structure that is going to be conducive to being spidered by the search engines are all in place. When you launch, make sure you have some hefty analytics in place so that you can stay abreast of how your visitors are interacting with your new site. If you find that they’re getting stuck on certain pages or abandoning the conversion path at a particular point, go back into your site and remove these obstacles.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (12)
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12 Replies to “How To: SEO Web Design”

However, there are times that SEO perspective and Designer’s perspective are having a clash since both parties do have some rules and guidelines when it comes to a website’s structure. And that’s one of the problems I have encountered so far..

Hi there !
Nice vision of things. SEO it`s in a continuous change and re definition. For a web-designer , or web-developer it`s vital nowdays to know the basics and principles of SEO . Best Regards , Albert !

Lisa Barone,
I agree with the points you bring up Lisa as the best practice, but another issue that seems to come up is if you get the site top placement and ranking and they don’t have a visually appealing site the odds are that bounce rates and conversions will be as if the site wasn’t ranked anymore. Like Christian said Balance.. I quess in the world of SEO finding the balance is the true art of design.
Mike Kelly

I’d have liked to have seen a bit more on the importance of keyword selection and original content however it doesn’t take away that this was an excellent post on SEO-friendly web design, Lisa.

So many business owners and marketing directors are looking for SEO-friendly web design but haven’t a clue about what their part is in the matrix. This is a great read for anyone considering site design or redesign.

Going back to the importance of keywords and original copy, I’d like to add that before speaking to a web designer or search specialist, one should consult their [customer-centric] “elevator speech”.

I’ve found that encouraging clients to prepare an elevator speech (and sometimes even a sound bite) helps the design / SEO process immensely and also helps them to grow… which looks great on a web design portfolio and / or SEO case study.


Great web site – lots of useful information!


Does anyone know if there is an impact on SEO when using wire frame in the design?

Nice post.
I would just say that it may be over simplifying to intimate that the client would be the provider of keywords without adding that extensive independent keyword research should be undertaken on the back of a client providing information on their products and/or services.


Good overview, though one important thing missing is front-end build standards. Always, always build a site using progressive enhancement and web standards – this ensures there aren’t any barriers preventing the spiders from crawling your optimised content.


That is certainly the way we would like things to work.

For us, step one is always the hardest.

We build sites for small businesses. I am continually amazed how many business owners cannot susinctly describe their product, or identify their target market. Sometimes, coming up with keywords is like pulling teeth – a slow and painful process.

Great Point Lisa:

I think more people are either obsessed with rankings and forget that design is what fuels conversion via comfort, or so preoccupied with design that they forget the visitor portion of the equation to appreciate it. It truly is about striking a balance. Hence, yielding the beauty of true “SEO Web Design”.


I am not one to usually throw praise around to the SEO writing crowd, but I really enjoyed your piece.
There are too many people in the dustry these days learning Internet Marketing without understanding technical basics.
Your break-down, while pretty general, was a good introduction for those that feel that they need to become more technical, but perhaps don’t know where to start.
Good show.

Spot on! Lisa. From experience I’ve found that the real “SEO work” starts after this point where you are looking for experiments with different keyword combinations, keyword proximities etc. In fact, the design part is the easiest of it all right?


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