Most people tend to think search engine optimization (SEO) is something you add to your website. A more integrated approach would be to view your website as merely one outcome of your SEO efforts.

We call including SEO in the beginning and throughout web design, rather than as an afterthought, “baking search in.” When ZOG Digital was tasked with designing the Fiesta Bowl’s new website, we made sure to make SEO a priority by baking search in.

There are two primary ways at ZOG Digital that we go about baking search in: 1) within the strategic planning process, via keyword research, and 2) within the construction of the technological infrastructure of the site.

If search data, to paraphrase www.battellemedia.com blogger John Battelle, acts as “the database of human intentions,” then certainly knowing what people are searching for before building it necessarily makes a website more relevant (as it is by design tailored to those intentions). Websites that are designed with search keywords at the core become natural outgrowths of those intentions.

At ZOG Digital, we first understand what people are searching for and how they think about it, and that then guides our website content strategy by informing:

  • New content areas: Popular keywords drive content areas tailored to those topics.
  • Content priority: We know which content areas should be given greater prominence.
  • Content nomenclature: Even subtle differences in keyword name can have a profound impact on the volume of traffic that can be driven to site. As a simple example, while the term “Cable Television” draws 3,600 searches per month, “Cable TV” (as a time saver) garners 40,500 searches per month.

A prime example of how search-oriented content strategy plays out in practice is for our recent work with the Fiesta Bowl. In our research, we noticed a large number of people searching for hotels around the event. We saw this as a content opportunity that most sites were not capturing due to the short timespan and the high demand around these terms. Armed with this search insight, we created several pages (see “content areas,” above) on the website that targeted terms like “Fiesta Bowl hotels,” and “Hotel near the Fiesta Bowl.” These new content areas allowed the Fiesta Bowl to promote certain hotels that they felt best fit the needs of their fans on their site and through search.

In addition to content planning, baking search in also encompasses the technical build itself. In the case of all our clients, and here, too, for the fiesta Fiesta Bowl website build, we architected it so that there would be no obstacles, and it would be easily visible to all search engines. In general, some typical tactics we see design-focused shops utilize in web design, that become technical obstacles to visibility and need to be remedied after the site is created at additional cost of time and money, include: image-based navigation, lack of H1 tags or space in design to accommodate them, content in images and incorrect or missing meta information.

While creative freedom and design elements are certainly critical to successful web design, equally as important in our view is solid design informed by and within the constraints of a rigorous search-oriented build process. By baking search in, you truly could say, and it would be true, that, “If you build it, they will come”–as visibility from search engines will help to ensure people find the content they’re interested in, when they’re interested in it, on your site.