What comes first: the website design or the SEO?

Karlie Plowman, founder of Techno Bird, is a website designer specialising in service-based websites for small & micro businesses. She is also an SEO Specialist who provides SEO services to help businesses & brands to thrive online. Clicks, menus, online design, and mastering the Google algorithm feel like home to her. In this guest blog, she tackles the question – what comes first: the website design or the SEO?

A website is not all fancy fonts, crisp colours & pretty photos – it also needs to please the Google Gods, so how do you make sure it ticks ALL the boxes?

So, you’re about to build a website or hire a professional to build it for you, how exciting!

I bet you’re knee-deep in thoughts like:

“I want it to look AMAZING”

“I want heaps of cool images on it”

“I want it to look super custom and unique”

Yeah sure, designing the website and making it all fancy with your branding assets and funky fonts is super fun – but what about SEO; should you be thinking about the SEO part of your website just as much as the design?

What comes first – the website design or SEO? Or both? And what about other website elements such as website copy, third party integrations, graphic design, keywords… There’s so much more to building a website than the aesthetic – it also HAS to also please the Gods of Google!

And what I mean by that is that your website, whether you’re DIY-ing it or hiring a pro, should be 50/50 when it comes to the design and the SEO.

Lets track back a bit...why does your business NEED a website and what does a website *actually* do?

Think of your website as your very own digital home; it represents you/the business owner, your brand, your values, your personality, your tone of voice, and your amazing services and products.

Your digital home should be a beautiful space that feels welcoming, warm, inviting and attracts the right kind of visitors (the people that you want to work with or buy your products).

When you welcome your visitors to your digital home, you want them to behave a certain way that helps them to feel welcomed and supported, safe, and that they're in the right place and you can solve their problems.

 But you also want Google to notice these behaviours, because this helps them to understand your website and match your website to your future clients’ and customers’ search queries in Google.

Such behaviours can include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Spending quality time on your website
  • Clicking around and browsing your multiple pages
  • Reading your blog
  • Engaging with your content
  • Interacting with your website features
  • Completing your quiz
  • Add to cart, sign up, download, fill in a form, and more

Is there an order of sorts that you can follow when you’re about to build a website? 

Sure - here’s what I suggest:

Step 1:

Define what your website’s purpose is – this could be more than 1 thing, such as to capture emails for your upcoming course launch, build an email list, sell your digital products, sign clients up for your services, offer online resources…

Step 2:

Set your website structure – how many pages do you need and what are their individual purposes?

Step 3A:

Write your website copy or hire a professional copywriter – this is a very important part of the process that’s often overlooked or neglected completely! Your website copy needs to be keyword rich, it should speak your customers’ language, the tone of voice should be on point, the words should attract the right type of client or buyer and so much more. Each page of your website should have a minimum of 300 words. It’s not about ‘more is more’ or ‘less is more’ – it’s what fits you, your brand, and your message.

Side note: Not all copywriters will offer keyword research as part of their services, so make sure you ask them before you consider hiring one. It’s OK if they don’t offer it, because there are people like me that offer this exact service! Check out my keyword research & on-page SEO plan here.

Step 3B:

Keyword research & on-page SEO plan – as mentioned above, not all copywriters offer keyword research, so if this is the case, then you need to conduct your own keyword research or hire a professional to do this for you.

Keywords are the 'golden ticket' when it comes to getting found on Google; by not using the best keywords for your business and within your website, it's unlikely you will rank highly in Google search results pages.

 These keywords need to be found in very specific locations within your website, such as your page titles, meta descriptions, heading tags, image alt titles, content, blog posts etc. So pencil this part in as a VIP task!

Step 4:

Gather your content into a neat folder(s) on Dropbox or Google Drive (or similar).

This includes things like your:

  • Branding assets (logos, vector art, illustrations, brand kit, colour codes, font types etc.)
  • Website images (avoid crappy stock images – if your budget allows, book yourself and your team in for a professional branding shoot whether that just be headshots, or headshots and team bio photos, flatlays, website banners images etc)
  • Graphics
  • Style guides
  • Any content that you want on the website (this can also include third party integrations such as email marketing sign up form codes, custom form codes, etc.)

Step 5:

If you’re DIY-ing your website, carefully select your website platform – Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, Wordpress? It will really depend on many factors such as your ability to learn how to design a website, how to implement your SEO, what theme is best for you, how to integrate third party apps, understanding website psychology and more. Which platform is best for you? That’s a whole other blog topic! 😅

Most web designers have their preferred platforms that they build with; some will exclusively work with one platform, others will offer more than one platform, it really depends on your website needs and all web designers should base their platform decision based on your needs rather than their own.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – ask the web designer:

  • If they build with SEO in mind, or if they implement SEO or you’re expected to do this part yourself or hire someone else? 
  • If you’re involved in the web build process? 
  • At what stages do you get to preview the site and provide feedback? 
  • What hosting options are there?
  • If they set up Google Analytics for you? 
  • How much experience they have in building websites… 

Be thorough with your questions to help you make an informed decision on who to hire and who not to hire.

LET’S SAY YOUR WEBSITE IS NOW LIVE…

What next?

My absolute essentials include:

  • Set up Google Analytics and Search Console – connect these to your website to track website performance.
  • Add your website link to all your social media profiles and anywhere your business is listed (including online directories).
  •  Send an email to your subscribers (if you have any yet) and announce your new website is live – offer some type of incentive for them to click through to your website and check it out, ask their opinions on your new site, get feedback.
  • Promote promote promote!
  • Keep track of your keywords – you can use Search Console or Google Analytics do this, or you could sign up to a program/software such as Ubersuggest, SEMrush, AHREFS or SE Ranking to get performance reports and analytics, track your Google rankings and so much more.
  • Set up a free Google My Business account.
  • Jump into your Facebook groups and check if/when you’re allowed to promote your business and do a post about your new website – don’t just say “my website is live please check it out” and add your link. Instead, tell the group about your business, what you do, what you offer, what you sell, tell them your ‘why’, tell them about your incentive etc. as well as adding the direct link to your website.

So, what comes first: the website design or the SEO? 

Both - they’re besties! They go hand in hand and shouldn’t be separated. 

And when you get the balance right? You should see online success!