Does Optimising for search engines mean stifling creativity

Sat 16 May 2009 09:51, Peter Young

There is a still a perception amongst many non-SEO savvy professionals that optimising for the search engines means stifling creativity, stuffing a page full of keywords and creating a number of irrelevant and useless pages for the purposes of gaming the search engines. However modern day SEO is a different game - and there is more considerations to SEO now than ever before.

With more and more organisations turning to SEO in order to drive greater volumes of searchers to their websites, ticking the SEO boxes is becoming more and more important and the role of on-page within the various search engine algorithms will always play an important part in ultimately determining relevancy. Even the simplest of changes to a page can drive a site from 800 to 300, however given the lack of traction that low in the search engines one ultimately has to determine your objectives and priorities when determining what level of interaction to deploy within a website.

One such issue always revolves around the use of technologies such as Flash and more recently Ajax. There are however clever uses of these technologies littered around the internet from organisations as diverse as insurance (visually appealing) to home study companies (great use of Ajax whilst still being SEO friendly), highlighting that one can utilise these technologies without necessarily impacting on the visibility of the site. In these situations compromise is often key, and establishing early priorities can often result in less heartache down the line.

That said, the issue of flash is always contentious. Google in particular has made significant strides in its indexation of technologies such as Flash, to a point where content such assets can now be indexed. However much like putting bubbles in wine doesn't make it champagne, just because a file can be indexed does not make it search engine optimised. SEO and Design have one significant thing in common. Good design, usability and SEO all need to be built in from the very start, strongly rooted into every aspect of the website in a true symbiotic relationship. In order for either to work effectively both requirements should be considered in order to ensure that one aspect is not compromised at the expense of the other.

There are certain SEO criteria which are fundamental, and should always be considered during the development process. Page Structure, Navigation (and Contextual linkage), and content are all essentials and should be considered givens, however there is no reason why any design shouldn't be able to work around such briefs and incorporate a visually stimulating yet effective website. Key aspects of the website should always be considered with search engines in mind no matter whether or not SEO is a primary consideration, in particular navigation (and the context thereof), page content, and url/page structure. Visual stimulation such as flash elements can easily be integrated, however not at the expense of good navigation or usability.

To develop a cohesive strategy that utilises both, ask yourself

  1. Is your brand name a common generic one - If your brand name a common generic name, this could suggest that brand visibility is not a given, and as such optimisation will need to be a consideration.
  2. What is the goal of your website? Who is the target audience. Are they likely to be existing clients is the primary function new customer acquisition - If you are targeting existing customers they are likely to already be targetable via other means such as E-mail, ATL, and BTL.
  3. Are you undertaking any other activity, or are you relying on organic search as a primary traffic acquisition channel. Are you undertaking any other marketing activity? - If the web is your only channel of traffic, all your boxes in terms of optimisation should be ticked.
  4. How closely does your website have to reflect other brand collateral? - Such guidelines may mean certain visual features need to be included.
  5. Is your website a support vehicle to an existing sales force - or is the website your sales force

There is no reason why good design and good SEO shouldn't be able cohabit side by side. However it is a case of finding that balance, without compromising either the potential convertibility and impact of the site, nor its potential in terms of competing effectively on your chosen keywords.

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