Panchanit Thawornwong is a Content Marketing/Digital Marketing intern at Morphosis Apps. She is responsible for researching, planning, cultivating and sharing marketing copy for the company which includes writing blog posts about industry-related topics, as well as promoting content on social media, to attract and convert prospective customers.

Digital Marketing

What Product Designers Need to Know About Search Engine Optimization

Design impacts your brand’s identity and message, while SEO ensures that your brand is discovered by the right people. An understanding of SEO for designers is essential for the success of a digital product and should be considered from the earliest stages of any design or redesign project. Although each is incredibly different, they go hand in hand to create the best possible experience for your users. 

In this article, we’ll be specifically talking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how to design with an SEO-mindset, as well as addressing the different misconceptions around SEO.

  • What is SEO?
  • How does SEO work?
  • What are the different aspects of SEO?
  • Designing with an SEO mindset
  • Common misconceptions about SEO

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it aims to do just that. It is the process of improving your website to increase its visibility on search engines. So, when users are searching for your products or services your website will have a higher chance of grabbing their attention. This ultimately attracts potential customers as well as existing customers to your business. 

SEO increases traffic and conversions to your website and digital products through organic search engine results. To increase traffic, SEO does the following:

  1. Making pages/content appear on the top of google searches when people look for keywords that are relevant to the business
  2. Long-term growth strategy that brings in traffic to your website overtime
  3. Generating visibility and traffic without having to pay for ads

Now we’ve gone through the basics of what SEO is, let’s go explore how it works.

How does SEO work?

To understand how you can leverage SEO and how you can rank your content higher in search engines, you first need to understand how SEO works. There are three main steps search engines take when they are being used. 

  1. Crawling – Search engines will use bots to crawl pages on the web, collecting information from each site they hop onto to put them into an index. This content can vary in format, they could be a webpage, images, videos, PDF files and more, but are always discovered by links.
  1. Indexing – The index is where they will then store and organize the information or content they found during their crawling process. Think of this as a huge database or library of information they have discovered that crawlers deem good enough to be seen by users.
  1. Ranking – Then, algorithms will determine which order pages should appear in search results for a given query. These algorithms are designed to surface the most high-quality and relevant pages in hopes of providing users with an efficient search experience. Which is why optimizing your site and its content is crucial in helping them rank higher.

What are the different aspects of SEO?

Now that you understand what SEO is and how it works, let’s go through the different types of SEO and how you can successfully use each aspect. The three different types of SEO are as follows:

  1. On-page SEO – This aspect of SEO is concerned with the content on the site and how well it is optimized for relevant keywords which will provide a good user experience for those visiting the website. This content could be anything on your web page, from blogs, product copy, web copy and more. It’s also important to note that this aspect of SEO is heavily influenced by design and will have a direct impact on your business’s ranking and bottom line so it’s crucial to invest in an SEO-focused design from the beginning.
  1. Off-page SEO – This type of SEO is concerned with any inbound links from other websites to your site, which is also known as backlinks. Think of this aspect of SEO as anything that happens off your own website that will help you. By having other websites linking to your site it will show search engines that your site is trustworthy and will help it rank higher.
  1. Technical SEO – Last but not least, technical SEO refers to how well search engine bots or spiders are able to crawl your site and index your content. This aspect of SEO could include reducing image files on your site so that it loads faster, optimizing the site for better mobile use and more.

Designing with an SEO Mindset

Search engine optimization can have a great influence on how many users visit your site. With an effective SEO campaign in place, users will easily discover your product on search, landing on various pages throughout the website. 

SEO should become a part of every designer’s thought process and workflow in order to give a website the best and impact, as well as helping search engines easily find you.

1User interaction doesn’t always begin at the homepage

Designers often create pages or screens with a user flow in mind as it helps them determine what screens are needed, which order they should appear in, as well as what components they would need to include in each one. 

However, one of the biggest points to note when designing with an SEO mindset is that user interaction doesn’t always begin at the homepage. What this means is that users will often discover a product and land on various pages of a website that are targeting different keywords or search queries. 

Let’s look at Canva as an example. Canva is a free graphic design platform that is popular for being used to create a variety of things such as invitations, business cards, Instagram posts, and more. With a variety of options to choose from, users don’t often land on the homepage when coming into contact with Canva, instead, they may land on a service page that they are providing. 

For example, when a user is looking to create business cards, they may type “custom business cards” on Google. Instead of the homepage, a user will most likely land on Canva’s page specifically for business cards as it is ranking higher than the homepage in this case.

So if users don’t just magically land on the homepage and make their way through your website, we need to design every page to make sure that they are friendly for people directly landing on them and interacting with the product for the first time.

2Mobile-first mindset and indexing

The next point to note is about mobile-first indexing. Back in 2019, Google announced it’s mobile-first indexing policy which means that Google will index and rank mobile versions of digital products instead of the desktop version. What this means for SEO is the following:

  • Content availability: All HTML content on the desktop version should be kept in the mobile version so that they are counted in the ranking process
  • Link placement consistency: All internal links embedded in the body must be the same in the mobile version
  • Heading tag consistency: All heading tags must be consistent between desktop and mobile versions

3SEO crawl depth and website navigation in design

Crawl depth is how deep Google has to crawl to discover each page (in relation to the home page). The closer a page is to the home page, the more perceived importance it has in Google’s assessment.

For site navigation, this means that having a mega-menu is often recommended to minimize the crawl depth of all target SEO pages in the website. These mega-menus are great design choices for accommodating a large number of options and also helps to reveal lower-level site pages at a glance.

Here’s an example of a great mega-menu from Canva:

Homepage of Canva

Another solution is also to feature links to each SEO landing page directly on the home page body (common practice for eCommerce sites).

4On-page signals & heading tag assignments

As previously mentioned, heading tags are the strongest on-page signal to Google as to what the main topic of a page is about, especially the <h1>. Heading tags or header tags, are used to separate headings and subheadings on a webpage. They rank in order of importance, from H1 to H6, with H1s usually being the title and the biggest in size. 

The best practices apply for heading tags: 

  • One <h1> tag per page
  • Each page has a unique <h1>
  • <h1> must content words related to the main topic of a page

For instance, if you want your logo-maker page to show up when people search for “design business cards” your <h1> and <h2> should contain a variation of those words. 

Let’s take a look at Canva as an example again.

Business card page of Canva

Here you can see that for the business card design page, there is a clear h1 and h2 that contains keywords related to the main topic of the page. There are no duplicate h1s that would confuse search engines and it is easy to understand what the page is about.

Websites with a complex architecture, containing millions of pages can be very difficult for Google not only to crawl, but to also figure out the role of all the pages in relation to one another. 

This is where breadcrumbs come in. Google uses breadcrumbs to help figure out the site hierarchy, making it very important for eCommerce sites with many 3rd, 4th and 5th layer pages. 

Let’s take a look at Amazon as an example:

Amazon product page of Spigen Thin Fit Designed for Google Pixel 6 Case (2021) – Black

In this example, the breadcrumbs are on the left hand side right above the image of the Google Pixel 6 phone case. It shows that this page belongs to a larger category of pages which is “Cases, Holders & Sleeves” which belongs within the “Cell Phones & Accessories” page. As you can see, this helps Google determine the hierarchy of this website. 

Common misconceptions about SEO (designer’s edition)

Search Engine Optimization is relatively new so there are a few common misconceptions about it that have popped up over the years. Let’s debunk them below.

1Accordion content is bad for SEO

The short answer is no, accordion content is not bad for SEO. In fact, keeping content in tabs makes pages easier to navigate which gives users a better experience and better usability. This in turn helps your website’s ranking. 

Social media links are not important for SEO, they are good for referral traffic however they are not important for ranking higher on organic searches.

3Home page is the only important landing page

When SEO is involved, the homepage is not the only important landing page. As we previously mentioned, when designing with an SEO mindset in mind we treat every page as if that is the first page a user will see from our brand so every page is important.

4Font size and spacing matters directly for SEO ranking

A website’s font size has no real effect on SEO. You can create a page in any font-size ranging from 10 – 14 and it would not make any difference. It is your site’s readability that will impact the user experience.

5The more keywords you have, the higher you’ll rank for that keyword

This is false. It does not matter how many keywords you include in your website’s pages, what matters is how relevant those keywords are to your users’ queries and searches. 

6Bounce rate, drop-off rate and exit rate matters for SEO

There is no direct evidence that these matter for SEO. Google has come forward and denied that bounce rates, drop-off rates as well as exit rates do not matter for SEO as well. 

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Over the past 15+ years at Morphosis, we’ve acquired an exceptional team of talent with a diverse range of capabilities from different countries around the world. With Morphosis, you won’t only be working with an account manager, but a full team of experts ready to support you throughout the entire campaign. 

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