Today, there are strong signs that digital designers for SaaS providers need to learn, or be taught, SEO logic and give it due consideration when designing websites.
What are the signs?
Well, for one thing, SaaS is an increasingly competitive space. While your product may be terrific, if it’s not getting seen in organic search, another product is.
And, for another thing, if your digital designers can competently factor in SEO from the start, you can expect a faster, better, more effective design process. You’ll also have better search rankings to look forward to.
I have identified five reasons to teach digital designers SEO. Where practical, I have illustrated each reason with examples from leading SaaS providers, including pointers on what they’re doing (or not doing) and how they’re performing in organic search.
Note: Wherever search terms have been tested, they have been tested using keywords from the AdWords Keyword Planner, and they have been tested in Google’s AdWords Preview Tool set to United States.
1. Your Website Will Receive More Backlinks
The Mona Lisa, the Empire State Building, the Ferrari, and the iPhone are examples of great designs. People love things that are well designed, and they tend to talk about them a lot. In the virtual world, an equivalent of being talked about is your website receiving an incoming link, which improves its rankings in search engines.
Consider cloud accounting software company Xero. Here’s a company that has taken one of life’s more tedious tasks and made it sexy by design. It’s even in their tagline:
If they have the best software, then why bother making it “beautiful”? The beauty aspect instills trust, increases uptake, and gets talked about. And, a by-product of being talked about in the SaaS world is backlinks.
So, has being beautiful contributed to attracting lots of links for Xero? It sure has:
Is this helping Xero in its quest for organic search supremacy?
In my testing of 25 relevant search terms with monthly searches ranging from 220 to 3,600, Xero was on page 1 for 76% of them and in the top 3 spots for 48% of them. Those are strong results for a relatively new entrant in the U.S. in a very competitive space. Already, they are either above, or just a single position behind, their main rival, Intuit. On their current trajectory, they are set to dominate the organic search market.
2. Your Content Will Get More Social Media “Shares”
Social validation – despite what your parents might say – is important, in an SEO context, at least. It’s important because social media shares today are to SEO what guest blogging was in 2012. But, while most designers will automatically decorate their content with the obligatory “share” buttons, few will devote an extra bit of time and thought to consider the essence of the content and the user’s thought process that is likely to increase their chances of actually sharing it.
Now, what does thoughtful and effective social media share design integration look like? One of the better examples I’ve seen is the Squarespace blog where, through its “share” functionality, their designers demonstrate a prescient understanding of thought processes in the user’s mind, both before and during the share process.
Squarespace’s “share” functionality demonstrates a prescient understanding of thought processes in the user’s mind.
Here are some points to note:
- The call to action to “continue the conversation with us on Twitter using the hashtag #sleepingtapes” leaves nothing to chance!
- The share section contains 3 parts: a love heart (if the reader finishes the article and appreciates it, the reader is instantly shown an icon to demonstrate their appreciation), the # of “likes” the article has received (this reassures the reader they’re not alone in liking this article), and the word “SHARE” (the reader is presented with an actionable way to demonstrate their appreciation and to be associated with this article).
- In fairness, the drop down share field could use some work. At the time of writing, the social outlet “share” buttons are out of whack and not aligned (simple coding fix, though).
- The page design is exceptional. You might need a larger screen (21” plus) to experience all its responsive breaks. But, regardless of screen size, the page itself is going to look great, and it’s a page anyone would be proud to be associated with through sharing.
Does it work? Well, its Super Bowl ad campaign featuring Jeff Bridges sure helped. Squarespace has some pretty impressive social media clout, including:
- Twitter – 132,000 followers, following 2
- Facebook – 76,000 likes
- Google + – 9,600 followers
And, those blog posts appear to rack up some pretty good share statistics, too (anywhere from 73 to 300 “likes” per post from the 15 posts I checked).
So, how does Squarespace fare with organic search rankings? For the 25 relevant keywords I tested on Google, they are in the top 3 spots for 64% and in the top 5 for 84% (trailing Wix, interestingly, though Wix’s whopping Page Rank 8 may have something to do with that!).
Given the amount of influence “shareability” wields in SEO these days, it’s an area worthy of more time in the design process than simply adding social media icons to an article. Digital designers should be encouraged and empowered to spend ample time giving every bit of “shareworthy” content on your website the best possible chance of being passed on.
3. Your Website Will Receive More Long-Tail Search Traffic
People find websites through a variety of search terms. A SEO-aware designer knows this and accommodates the terms in designs.
The designer styles each page to comfortably make room for keyword-rich H2 sub headers to complement the keyword-rich H1 headers, leaving their copywriters a nice clear space to populate with engaging, targeted titles.
To demonstrate, I looked at the source code of 4 up-and-coming SaaS providers, as well as 4 highly established ones, but I didn’t find one of them doing this well.
Being involved in Magento and SilverStripe development myself, both the Magento and SilverStripe websites were among the established providers I looked at, but their use of H1, H2, and H3 headers was far from exemplary.
So, I looked at an ecommerce rival in the small business space, Shopify. I found that Shopify is utterly dominating its organic search competition, largely owing to exactly this.
Shopify is utterly dominating its organic search competition, largely owing to the website’s design that accommodates keyword-rich Header tags.
Note the following in the screenshot above, taken from a page on the Shopify website:
H1 keywords include: “secure shopping cart”
H2 keywords include: “pci-dss compliant shopping cart,” “secure shopping cart,” “secure online store”
And, what are the search results? Below is a randomly selected sample of 12 terms I tested. Shopify’s position on page 1 of Google is shown alongside on the right.
Shopify is doing pretty well in the mainstream search terms:
- ecommerce shopping cart #4
- ecommerce shopping carts #2
- shopping cart ecommerce #2
- ecommerce cart #4
- shopping cart software #3
- shopping cart #6
And, Shopify is the clear leader in long-tail search terms:
- secure shopping cart #1
- secure ecommerce hosting #1
- start selling online #1 (tagline to their main pitch)
- create an online store #1
- pci-dss compliant shopping cart #3
- reliable ecommerce hosting #3
SEO-friendly H1, H2, and even H3 tags will enhance any website’s chance of getting to the top of Google for long-tail search terms, as well as more mainstream terms (though these may take a while longer). Digital designers who know this and proactively seek out opportunities for SEO-rich headers in their designs provide copywriters with a splendid platform for writing targeted copy for SEO.
4. Your Website Will Get More Mobile Search Visitors
Hopefully, this comes as no surprise: mobile friendliness affects SEO. Digital designers everywhere need to be on top of this.
Google began including its “mobile-friendly” labels next to websites in its search results in November 2014 as a means of directing more traffic toward mobile-friendly websites. Later this month – April 21 to be precise – Google will increase the weight of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal.
Taken at face value, the excerpt below from Google’s official announcement of the April 21 update could suggest that websites not deemed mobile-friendly will be surpassed in the rankings by mobile-friendly ones, on mobile devices, at least.
Google makes its intentions clear.
Considering more people now browse on mobile devices than desktops, the message couldn’t be any clearer: make your website mobile-friendly or fewer people will see it.
Generally speaking, “mobile-friendly” refers to responsive web design (RWD). While RWD proficiency is widespread among leading digital designers these days, the fact that Google is taking these steps now to push RWD even more is proof that it’s not widespread enough.
So, if you want to be found by the ever-increasing number of people searching for companies like yours on mobile devices, you’re going to need one of the little labels below. And, you’re going to need a digital designer who knows their RWD inside and out.
Google’s mobile-friendly tag on mobile search results.
Is your website mobile-friendly? Click here to find out.
5. Your Website Will Be Faster and Rank Better
Ask any digital designer if they optimize their images for web, and the answer will invariably be yes. But, dig a little deeper and you’ll often be surprised at how unnecessarily large the files they’re preparing for website use are.
Why is this important for SEO? Because, as Google puts it:
High performance web sites lead to higher visitor engagement, retention, and conversions.
Lightweight images are a simple, effective way to reduce a website’s load time, which provides a better user experience for your website visitors. And, Google rewards faster websites with better rankings.
Properly optimizing images for web is a simple way to get an edge over your competition in organic search. If your designer is using 150KB JPEGs, why not ask whether they could bring it down to 80KB with a PNG instead? And, while you’re at it, explain the SEO advantages of making this a regular part of their design routine.
Continuing with the subject of images, let’s discuss something else a SEO-aware designer can do – label their images.
I’m not talking about alt tags, which is, and should remain, the duty of the actual SEO, but rather the image source (img src). In the words of Matt Cutts, this is “advanced.” But, hey, we’re looking for an edge, right?
It’s so easy for the digital designer to save their images as something that will be beneficial to the website’s SEO. If your website features photos of people interacting with your software, why not describe this to Google? So, instead of this:
<img src = “DSC4500752.PNG” alt = “Businesswoman using cloud software”
Your organic rankings would be better served by something like:
<img src = “cloud_software.PNG” alt = “Businesswoman using cloud software”
Sure, there may be things to work through to ensure consistency between what the designer is labeling and what the SEO is targeting, as well as the order in which the images can easily be categorized; but, speaking from experience, these are small hurdles on the path to a highly effective SEO advantage.
Organic search for SaaS providers will become even more competitive in the coming years as the broader industry matures. If your company is looking for an edge in getting pole position in organic search, look to educate your designers on ways to modify their design approach to incorporate highly effective SEO tactics like the ones mentioned here.
About the Author: Toby Burrows is the Director of Matterhorn Digital in Sydney, Australia.