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Technical SEO x Web Design: The Ultimate Guide

Elijah-Blue Vieau
Written By
Elijah-Blue Vieau
Published On
Apr 03, 2023
An SEO expert and a web designer talking about a website under development

Just like how technology has made leaps and bounds over the years, so has website design. Back in the day, having a website alone was considered a competitive advantage. But today, it’s all about breaking through the noise and creating a holistic and memorable experience. 

The way that customers interact with information has also changed. We’ve said goodbye to static website designs that were only hardwired for desktops and mobile optimization has taken center stage in recent years—especially with Google’s introduction of mobile-first indexing and voice search.

Evolve or get left behind by the competition. 

Such is the nature of establishing a digital presence in today’s landscape. This creates a higher demand for the efforts of SEO experts and web designers alike. 

To help shed more light on the relationship between effective website design and SEO, we created this complete guide that breaks down the following core topics:

Let’s dig in.

Overhead shot of a meeting about website design among website designers and SEO experts

Why is SEO Important in Web Design? (And Not Just an After-Thought)

SEO is crucial for any website, because a good web design alone is not enough to sustainably bring in high-quality traffic. At the same time, there cannot be a bias towards SEO purely—because if user experience is not optimized, bounce rates will go up and time spent on the site will go down. All of this can be disastrous for the website’s rankings.

So when you really think about it, synergy is the name of the game.

Neither SEO nor web design can be an afterthought. Instead, SEO experts and web designers need to work together to build a well-designed, user-friendly, and aesthetically-pleasing website that also ranks well on the search engine results page.

Establishing Common Ground

The easiest way to establish synergy is to find common ground. And when we consider the work of SEO agencies, web design companies, and even Google’s ranking algorithm itself, they all revolve around the same entity: the user. 

Google is in the business of “user experience”—and so are SEO experts and web designers. The goal for both roles is to enhance user experience, and the fuel underneath it all is empathy.

SEO x Web Design: How to Build User-Friendly Websites that Rank Well

1. The Basics

a. Loading Time

Before we go into each part of the website and the best practices for each, make sure that you have the basics covered. First and foremost, your website needs to load quickly. Even a one-second delay in your website’s loading time could reduce page views by up to 11 percent.

One of the most actionable items to benefit both design and SEO is to compress your website imagery and eliminate auto-play function for videos. 

b. Information Architecture

Another aspect to consider is your website’s information architecture. The simpler your website structure, the easier it will be for Google to index your pages. As a general rule, make sure that your important pages are four clicks or less from the homepage. 

c. Responsiveness

A responsive website is industry standard. This means the design and code should make use of flexible layouts that adjust based on the size of the user’s screen. Even though responsive design isn’t a blatantly declared ranking factor, Google has implied its importance. 

d. Ads on Your Website

When it comes to ads, less can be more. However, most sites can’t do away with them entirely. Whether you are showing your own ads—or you offer paid advertising on your site as a publisher—it’s all about finding the best balance between visibility and user experience. 

For example, if you have free downloads or an event coming up, banner advertising can work well on your own website to make sure that customers see these messages on eye-catching media.

However, if you’re showing third-party ads on a content or media site, make sure that the website does not become cluttered. This can ruin the user experience. A good way to go about this is to explore Google’s Auto Ads, which will optimize ads for you automatically as you monetize your content or media site.  

In any case, put on your “empathy lenses” regularly and review your website on mobile and desktop modes to make sure that ads are not getting in the way. 

e. Website Accessibility

How soon should you think about making your website accessible to the differently abled? Our recommendation is: as soon as possible. After all, if you’re still in the process of building your website, this is a good opportunity to cover all bases from the get-go. 

Learn more about accessibility optimizations in our guide: Top 5 Web Accessibility Considerations.

f. Website Security

No amount of website design and SEO practices can save a website that seems unsafe. If you do not enable HTTPS, potential visitors will receive a warning about your website before entering. A majority of users will end up clicking the back button instead of proceeding. This is why checking your SSL certificate should be part of your website pre-launch checklist.

 A warning message shown on websites that do not have HTTPS enabled, which is detrimental to website design and SEO efforts

With these crucial basics covered, we can now move on to SEO and web design best practices. In the next sections, we’ll be giving vital tips for each part of the website, from top to bottom. 

2. Headers

Essentially, the header of your website welcomes visitors. It is meant to introduce your brand, help with site navigation, and more. The following elements are best placed on the header of the site: 

  • Company logo (typically on the left side);
  • The key “call/s to action” (e.g. contact us, get a quote, book a table);
  • Toggle for multiple languages or countries;
  • Shopping cart; and
  • Navigation elements. 

Though the header is responsible for a good number of things, it should not interfere with the user experience. Avoid using sticky headers (a.k.a fixed headers) that obstruct content viewability. 

3. Navigation

Now, let’s talk more about navigation elements. Having complete navigation elements helps your website’s SEO. But from a web design perspective, the header should not be overloaded with links. 

Make use of the following techniques to enrich your header’s navigation (without cluttering it):

  • Know when to use icons, links, or CTA buttons;
  • Use dropdown menus;
  • Avoid dropdowns with more than two levels. Instead, consider using mega menus if you have numerous options under each main dropdown menu; and
  • Don’t throw away the breadcrumbs;
      • Note: they may seem outdated, and many designers will be willing to scrap them altogether, but this simple element will help both site visitors and Google when it comes to assessing your website.
Overhead shot of a hand laying out cut-out icons on a paper that looks like a web design interface

3. Hero Image or Slider

All website images need to be compressed—especially hero images and slider images, because they are often high-quality. If uncompressed, these large images can slow down loading times significantly. 

Though hero images and sliders are here on this list, not all websites need them. Here’s how to know if you need these website elements:

Consider having a hero image if you aim to…

  • Visually present differentiation points (or the unique value proposition) of your product;
  • Build more trust and authority with a relevant hero image; and
  • Add a personal touch or create a positive first impression. 

Given the above purposes of hero images, keep in mind that generic stock photos and other generic imagery that do not convey a good story won’t add much value to the experience.   

Consider having a slider if you aim to…

  • Display newly launched products;
  • Show new deals or promos on your website; and
  • Showcase product categories that can be boosted by visual aids. 

4. Search Bar

Navigation links can’t take the place of an internal search bar. This is because up to 59% of website users will use the search bar instead of the navigation elements. Essentially, search bars take over when navigation elements fail.  

The best place to put a search bar on your website is somewhere expected, which is usually either on the top-right or top-center of the website. 

The search bar can either be a classic white space that is readily available or a search icon (i.e. magnifying glass) that drops down the search bar when clicked or tapped. The latter option is advisable if you already have plenty of navigation elements on your header. 

5. Sidebars

Most websites no longer have sidebars on the main page or landing pages. However, they are still common elements found in blog sites to showcase related posts, recent posts, and/or subscription options. 

It is important to note that sidebars usually appear at the very bottom when a responsive website is accessed on a smaller mobile device.

A smartphone showing the words “Mobile Friendly” on the screen, which represents a mobile-optimized website

6. Content

Website content usually takes the form of product information, service information, “about us” content, news, blogs, testimonials, reviews, and so on. These are the wordy and/or media-intensive parts of the website—and rightfully so, because they contain most of the information visitors would expect to see.

Optimal information architecture serves as the skeletal structure of what the website pages will be like, and the content is built up from there. Then, SEO and web design best practices take over to make the pages rank high on the SERP. 

The following are a few best practices when it comes to optimizing website content:

  • Speed up the page’s loading time by compressing all images. 
  • Add alt text on images to improve accessibility.
  • Using keywords on your alt text will help you rank on image search.
  • Make sure that the content looks good on all devices.
  • Choose font styles and colours wisely as these will impact readability.
  • Make sure that fixed headings don’t interfere with content viewability. 
  • Having organized headings doesn’t just look good—they also help with SEO. 
  • Make sure that the content is SEO optimized with solid keyword strategies, backlinking strategies, and so on. 
  • Optimize your title metadata, description metadata, and keyword metadata. 
  • Pay attention to the design of your “404 Not Found” page. You can include subtle visuals and textual comic relief—while also adding a section for your best content to possibly help visitors get back on track.  

7. Popups: Modal vs Non-Modal

There are two main types of popups: modal windows and non-modal windows. They behave differently and thus, they have different roles to play on your website. 

Whether you choose to use modal windows or non-modal windows on your website, here are some best practices in using them: 

  • Make sure that the design and messaging on these windows give clear and concise instructions. 
  • If the user can close the window without taking action (i.e. for less important announcement popups), make sure that the window is easy to close. 
  • Check and optimize how modal and non-modal windows appear on mobile devices. 

When to Use Modal Windows

Modals, also known as overlays or modal windows, are used for important notifications on your website. They work by disabling the rest of the webpage behind them so that the user’s attention is directed to the modal window’s content. They should be used only when necessary; otherwise, they have the potential to frustrate users. 

Modals are generally best used for the following: 

  • Showing cookie declarations; and
  • Preventing the user from exiting a page where they’ve failed to do an important action (e.g. save changes or add a needed attachment). 

When to Use Non-Modal Windows

The less obstructive version of a modal window is a non-modal window. This element still pops up, but it does not disable the rest of the website when doing so. 

Non-modal windows are best for the following: 

  • Less important announcements like discounts and sign-up offers; and
  • Tasks wherein users need to easily switch between modes to get access to particular information.
    • The best example of this is Gmail’s non-modal windows for composing new emails.
An example of a popup ad on a mobile device

8. Footer

In many cases, the footer—which is the last portion of the website—is underused or overused. Striking a balance here is key. There should be enough relevant links on the footer to improve user experience and boost SEO. However, from a design standpoint, this part cannot be overloaded with links and the links chosen need to be laid out properly. 

Typically, the following links are included in a website’s footer:

  • Contact information
  • Email sign-up
  • Social media icons
  • The sitemap
  • Copyright information
  • Privacy policy

Build Better Websites with The Influence Agency

In this article, we explored ways in which SEO and web design can find common ground to provide a better user experience—which is a win-win for everyone.

If you’re looking for a team of digital experts with years of experience in designing websites that offer the best of both worlds, The Influence Agency has got you covered. We are a leading digital marketing agency in North America that has worked with various companies to build websites that consistently drive traffic and put brands on the map. 

Contact our team today to learn more!



  • Elijah-Blue Vieau

    Elijah-Blue Vieau is the Director of Digital Marketing at TIA. Outside of digital, he's an unknown multi-instrumentalist, dedicated hugger, and tree climber.

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  • Elijah-Blue Vieau

    Elijah-Blue Vieau is the Director of Digital Marketing at TIA. Outside of digital, he's an unknown multi-instrumentalist, dedicated hugger, and tree climber.

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