What is the job of a web designer?  To create a website that is aesthetically pleasing to their client or a website that is guaranteed to perform well on Google?  What is an SEO?  Is my web designer an SEO?  Is an SEO my web designer?  The answer is yes… and no.  The lines are not always clear and the subject is often open to debate [see thread at the Small Business Forum regarding implementing an SEO friendly design into the build of a website].  Before you hire a web designer then, it is important that you understand the different roles a web designer and SEO can play in the design and ongoing performance of your website… and where the lines sometimes get blurred.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and simply means putting your website into such optimal shape it ranks well on search engines.   This, however, covers a lot of ground.  It involves the careful planning of site structure, the development of relevant content, the use of clean code, how your pages link together, positioning and use of keywords, description and title tags, garnering natural and high quality links to your site and marketing.  On an ongoing basis, SEO may involve the monitoring of statistics and analytics to see which pages are performing well and which are not and making adjustments accordingly.  It also means, when possible, continual adding of fresh content.

Is a “search engine friendly” site the same as a site that has been “search engine optimized”?

You won’t find these terms clearly defined in Webster’s Dictionary for sure, but basically no.  A search engine friendly design means that a site has been designed with search engine ranking in mind.  In other words, the design will not hinder search engine ranking, though it does not guarantee HIGH rankings either.  This includes particular attention to site navigation, internal linking of pages, and the amount and positioning of good, quality, keyword-rich text.

A search engine optimized site has been taken a step further. In this case the focus is on improving a site to the point that it ranks well on a search engine.  As mentioned above this entails a lot of extra work and monitoring of a website, and some argue that for particularly competitive industries the job is never really finished.

Do I need a search engine friendly website?

Believe it or not, there are circumstances when a search engine friendly site is not necessary, but those cases are few and far between. For instance, I once developed a website for a photographer that did business locally and was not concerned about reaching an national market. Their site was used basically as a portfolio and for draft viewing purposes.  Most importantly, they marketed their website frequently in other venues such as direct-mailers, flyers, business cards and other promotional publications.  In this situation, the client felt it was more important to impact their visitors visually and chose to have their home page created as a full page graphic and basically no text.

Why is that important?  Because search engines are not human and can only connect specific keywords to specific sites if those keywords are actually on the website.  So if the keyword “photography” is not on the home page the site generally will not be found when a search is conducted for those terms.  This was a trade off that my client clearly understood and decided to compensate by advertising through other means.  This type of design could be considered search engine unfriendly and is not the norm.

In general you should always expect and require a search engine friendly design as part of your web design package.

Do I need an optimized site?

Whether your site needs to be optimized will generally depend on the competitive nature of your industry and how important search engine rankings are to your business.  Since the only value a search engine can offer it’s visitors is relevant results, it is no surprise that they are constantly tweaking the formula by which they determine which sites are ranked the highest.  As forumlas become more sophisticated so has the “art” of website optimization.  Tricks and quick fixes that you may have heard of in the past no longer work with reputable search engines like Google and could even cause your site to be banned.  If you choose to have your website optimized, it is always best to go with a professional.

So can my web designer do it all?  What should I expect?

A good web designer should always have a working knowledge of SEO – enough knowledge to create a search engine FRIENDLY website.  This is standard.  This is also where the lines sometimes become blurred.  There are web designers that specialize in optimization and offer ongoing optimization services, but not always.  In the case where a web designer does not offer these services, they are still responsible for some optimization basics, such as careful planning of site structure, clean coding and optimal page linking, but cannot be held responsible for continued upward movement in rankings.

If it is clear that ongoing marketing and adding of content will be necessary to increase site ranking and the web designer cannot offer such services, then site structure must be a main consideration in the site plan.  The site must be created in such a way that adding content in the future does not require a redesign of the whole site.

What’s the bottom line?

Not all web designers have the SEO skills to ensure that your website ranks highly on search engines, especially in highly competitive industries.  Conversely, not All SEO’s have the skill to create an attractive website.  The important thing is that before you start your website design you discuss the scope of services with your web designer.  Be aware that even if your web designer does offer optimization services, those services will generally be an add-on service and not included in the cost of your website design.

Before contracting with a web designer, here are the 10 most important questions to ask:

(1) How important is search engine ranking to you?

(2) What do you do to ensure your designs are search engine friendly?

(3) Can you show me examples of web designs you have created that rank well in Google?

(4) Should my site require ongoing optimization, including the adding of content, do you offer those services?

(5) If you do offer ongoing optimization services, are they included in the cost of the web design or is it an add-on service?

(6) If ongoing optimization is an add-on service, how much will it cost?

(7) How much experience do you have in website marketing?

(8) Can you give me examples of websites you have optimized and records of your results?

(9) Can you provide me with references?

(10) If you cannot offer ongoing optimization services, what will you do to ensure that my site is easy to add on to or update by a SEO professional in the future.

In most cases a web designer can and should meet your basic optimization needs.  If more advanced optimization skills are needed, however, you may have to contract with an SEO specialist.

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