Web Designers, Does SEO Affect Your Creative Freedom?


Right now web design is closely tied to SEO. Mind you, when I say web design, I do not simply mean designing with the use of Adobe Photoshop. I mean the whole deal, from conception to presentation.

Is SEO a good thing for web design? Do you think minding SEO too much limits what designers can do?

Would you sacrifice your creativity for the sake of SEO?

Straight to the point: Should SEO limit Web Designers?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like SEO shouldn’t limit what web designers can do at all. Although I understand that SEO is important, probably more relevant now than ever, isn’t limiting what art can do a little too much?

The Fold

The fold is what visitors initially see on any website, it’s what occupies the whole screen. Usually a lot of web designers would want to impress visitors with an amazing header, but that could be poisonous nowadays. If you checked the post I linked to, you will notice that heavy graphics were used to dress the websites, and they are absolutely gorgeous…and quite slow to fully load. While the content matters, a website’s load speed is also important, and this is where headers like these come in bad light in the web design community.

Take this website of Juan Diego Velasco for example, how long did it take to fully load?

Just in case Juan decides to revamp his website, I’ve posted a screenshot of it above.

I used Pingdom Tools to check the site’s speed and the results aren’t that bad, but it’s only faster than 49% of all websites tested using the tool. If you try testing it, you will see that 92.5% of the content load time is hogged by images alone. How much do images amount to when compared to text content?

Still, I love that website. The catch? Of course there is, it’s a portfolio site, so SEO shouldn’t matter that much. But how about other type of websites? No one in their right mind would probably have a blog that has too much time to waste. Remember, it only takes an average of seven seconds of loading time before a visitor leaves!

It is important to understand that it’s not just speed that determiness if a website is well optimized. The entire structure is important.

Next is navigation. Quite a lot of websites make use of their navigation to appeal to their visitors, but is it SEO friendly? Well, it’s not much of an issue since it’s an easy topic. But what about our unconventional web designer friends? This actually limits new practices, not only for navigation, but for the whole design.

Also, believe it or not, I’ve seen people comment online about how they hate breadcrumbs. Too bad, since breadcrumbs are actually a life saver!

So far we’ve dealt with:

  • the fold – what visitors see first. It is crucial that at first glance there is already valuable content; not images, not advertisements, not fancy navigation, but valuable content.
  • site load speed – SEO is affected by a website’s load speed. Heavy use of images directly points to a larger page size, which will increase the load time. Besides, people won’t just standby and wait for a website to load for 7 seconds or more.
  • navigation – hate breadcrumbs? Well, too bad, they’re good for SEO!

Tread Carefully

I know that by now a lot of you will be saying, “web design means keeping everything in harmony, and if you do not take SEO into account then you’re a terrible web designer,” or something like that, right? Well, it depends on an individual’s opinion. There will be designers who will agree that minding SEO should be a default mindset while others will say that it shouldn’t be at all. In any case, you need to tread carefully even before touching a computer.

You need to keep your CSS files to a minimum, which I personally dislike because I don’t want my CSS to be a mess. Yet having multiple CSS calls is never good. Same goes for JavaScript. If you can skip jQuery and other JavaScript on your page, better. While it leaves fancy flexibility aside, it actually helps with SEO.

YSlow graded me F because of my website’s external Javascript and stylesheets along with its images. In my defense, it’s a theme I bought. I have since started to combine them.

Structure your HTML in a non-convoluted way. Get it right from the start with proper tags. Remember, tags are meant for bots to read through your website and make sense out of it. If you do not use them properly, then I’m afraid you’ll have a bad time.

At the end of the day, it’s really not much of a problem if you’re not flashy. Since there are only a few things you need to follow:

  • minimize the use of images
  • use proper HTML structure
  • always mind the fold

Verdict: Not an Issue

Have you been faced with this issue?



  1. Wayne

    Personally I think in this day and age SEO and web design have to work together, and I don’t think either needs to be massively sacrificed to boost the other, but at the end of the day what is the point in having a fantastic website if no one is ever going to find it?

    Also, the points you make about site load speed and content below the fold, whilst they do hold some SEO relevancy, I think its just as much, if not more, about the fact that If you’ve got a website with poor load speed, or no useful content “above the fold” then your traffic is simply going to go elsewhere, and the aim of both SEO’s and designers is surely to bring users in, and keep them on for as long as possible!

  2. Ajit

    nice advise and excellen info for SEO,
    SEO is a most importent carrer OF our life
    Thank u!!

  3. Anthea

    Hmm personally… first and foremost when planning a web site design, USABILITY should be the primary focus. Design for the intended audience, then design for the SE’s. I think all designers should make an attempt to stay up to date on good SEO practices, it goes a long way to producing a much better final product, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of good web site design.

    A great web site is a web site that is brand-appropriate (if you’re designing for a business or organization – even for yourself – you are your own brand!), is user-friendly, has visual appeal, has great original copy that compels users to buy into the brand, provides the user with the information they seek (users come to your web site with a specific goal in mind – satisfy that goal and you have a winner!). Too much emphasis on designing for SEO can be a big negative.

    So… proper research and planning, and yes, striking a good balance – the fine art of creating really good web sites! Valid semantic markup, great visual design, correct meta, good original copy and great navigational structure (tie the site together properly in a logical, intuitive format) all make for a more SEO friendly site.

    Yes, page load time can be improved by optimizing graphics, clean markup and minimizing CSS and JS, etc., and it can improve SEO but it’s not the most important consideration. I do however recommend doing so. And yes, I will confess, I don’t necessarily do it myself and perhaps I should give more attention to page load… especially important with responsive design and development, keeping mobile in mind – a biggie. So lesson taken. :)

  4. tina

    seo always affects search results and ultimately to the traffic from the site. most of the flash sites are not seo friendly…

  5. Jonathan

    I think usuability first, and with this comes in a lot of SEO quality too, like good loading speed = good usuability = good SEO
    It’s all about having a good balance, just like with everything in life :-)

  6. In order to survive the competition website design should adhere to SEO standards. And this makes the designer job tough as well. They too need to competite for excellence by following SEO standards.

  7. J

    SEO becomes incredibly important for ecommerce websites. And it does affect design freedom quite heavily. There is nothing to be done about it, though. Clients need to rank in Google.

  8. Nice Rean! SEO and Web designing are two separate fields but they both play a very important role in defining website existence. I would like to suggest that a web designer should maintain harmony between SEO strategies and his creativeness. You are right in suggesting that for Portfolio websites, SEO does not matter much but in case of HTML websites, SEO do play a very important role. Moreover, I would like to suggest that a Designer should use codes that are search engine friendly; images that are used should have alt tags, keeping tables in the web design to a minimum and less use of flash will do just fine. Last but not the least HTML5 does include SEO friendly syntax.

  9. I totally agree with what you are say. But, without a doubt, you shouldnt worry about seo – coming from one myself. Im not saying you should write sloppy markup and have no regard for file and image sizes, but if you focus on pulling traffic from other sources besides search engines, you’ll not have to worry about seo. Search traffic should just be a little extra gift.

  10. Max DSouza

    Just as in case of many other pairs, one needs to tread carefully when it comes to designing and SEO.

    SEO in any case is pretty vast and difficult to conquer. At times it boils down to toning down a design a bit to make it optimized.

    Anyways, thanks for the precious resource.