unsung hero

Digital Design: the Unsung Hero of SEO

When you hear the word ‘SEO’, it’ll no doubt conjure up images of complex technical audits and laborious keyword research (and we’re not saying they aren’t a part of it). What is less commonly associated with SEO, though, is digital design. To many people, the two are considered almost mutually exclusive concepts – to the detriment of their search performance. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text, making graphics the resource that can save your readers time and amplify your engagement manifold.

The mistake many businesses make is thinking you have to choose between style and substance, and that what design ultimately boils down to is window dressing – but we know better. Done the right way, digital design can revolutionise your social presence, brand awareness, link profile and, most importantly, your traffic.

So what is it that makes digital design the hero SEO deserves?

It makes you likeable.

Data shared by the inbound marketing jedis at HubSpot shows us that image-based tweets get 18% more clicks, 89% more favourites and a massive 150% more retweets – making design the ultimate social engagement tool. From high quality stock photos to custom-made graphical assets, there’s a vast spectrum of imagery options out there – and the benefits you’ll reap are generally equal to the effort you’re willing to make.

Social signals play an undeniable role in a site’s performance in search, which makes fan engagement less of an ideal and more of an essential when it comes to social media marketing.

Topshop vs. Urban Outfitters

Top shop twitter

Urban outfitters twitter

Retail giants Topshop and Urban Outfitters know how to squeeze every last drop out of those 140 characters, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Topshop’s tweet, although intriguing, succinct and actionable, lacks any kind of visual supplement – making it infinitely easier for followers to scroll right past without so much as a double take.

Urban Outfitters, on the other hand, has nailed it. Thanks to a concise and cheeky tweet coupled with a vivid supplementary image, UO has created a post that grabs attention and certainly tempts a click. All the proof you need is in the numbers.

Caffe Nero vs. Starbucks

Starbucks vs Cafe Nero

Caffe Nero and Starbucks are always going head-to-head, whether it’s product positioning, promotional offers or seasonal campaigns – and the competition is alive and well on social media. The two coffee shop chains have embraced the summer and made their best efforts to drive big engagement on Facebook – with varying results.

Nero’s video-based content is a creative and energetic attempt at harnessing visuals to boost social engagement – but Starbucks’ equivalent is a testament to the power of bold, uncomplicated aesthetics. The results speak for themselves, as the stronger message, simpler visuals and vibrant shades of Starbucks’ post rake in the ‘likes’ versus Caffe Nero’s small-time success for a company of its size.

It generates shares.

Infographics may be considered a fad on the brink of extinction by many marketers, but that hasn’t stopped brands blazing the content marketing trail with these visual assets well into 2015.

In an ideal world, infographics and other similar resources have the potential to amass huge volumes of links – even transforming relative unknowns into industry authorities overnight, in some cases. At the very least, though, graphical content can be leveraged to earn some serious shares on social platforms.

Data from social-centric content search engine BuzzSumo shows us that infographics generate 2.3x more shares than your standard how-to post – meaning there’s a lot of mileage in trading in text posts for their tried and tested infographic counterparts.

Digital Marketing Magazine vs. Bell Pottinger

digital marketing trends
11 Facebook shares, 46 tweets and 31 LinkedIn shares
bell pottinger
41 Facebook shares, 194 tweets and 502 LinkedIn shares

The measurable impact of infographics becomes all the more clear when we put a popular topic under the microscope to determine whether one approach can really be dubbed ‘best practice’.

Digital Marketing Magazine approached the topic of 2015 marketing trends from a logical perspective – producing a text-based blog post that’s informative, relevant and sprinkled with exciting data. But global PR agency Bell Pottinger took the topic to the next level, creating a bang tidy infographic that presents the stats in all their glory – with the added bonus of eye candy.

It earns you links.

Earlier this year, CoSchedule demonstrated the value of mixed media content – revealing that content including relevant images gets 94% more page views than simple text posts. The more eyes you can get on your content, the greater the likelihood that you’ll convert exposure into equity – and thanks to nifty innovations like image embed codes, you can even capitalise on the people who love your content enough to curate it.

The beauty of visual content is that there are so many formats out there for the taking. Assets like infographics and custom photography have stood the test of time – but video, for example, is still evolving as we speak. Traditional text posts pale in comparison to video-based content, which receives 300% more inbound links according to Moz.

The fact of the matter is that all forms of visual content are valid – and whichever you opt for, the likelihood of earning links is significantly greater.

There are some topics so popular we’ve been reading brand spanking new posts on them for years and will be for years to come. ‘Office hacks’ is one such topic – timeless, broadly relevant and super actionable. It’s no surprise, then, that this post exists in a wide variety of diverse styles, interpretations and formats.

The Muse had a brainwave when they decided to curate a selection of popular posts on this ever popular, evergreen topic – the only thing they neglected to include was some aesthetic impact, bringing in a nevertheless gratifying 7 links. But what the Brit + Co post offers readers is an equally actionable take on the topic, complete with custom photography that adds life to the content and effectively illustrates the concepts therein.

8 desk hacks
8 Desk Hacks that Will Make Your Work Life Better: 7 external backlinks
desk papers
Desk, Paper, Scissors: 44 Office Organization Hacks: 17 external backlinks

It helps you rank.

In light of Google’s mobile update earlier this year, responsive sites are becoming increasingly prominent – and considering the major role that UX plays in how your site converts, there really isn’t any excuse for holding onto an outdated layout.

Sites are now feeling the full force of Google’s wrath when it comes to mobile optimisation, with pages that don’t pass Google’s mobile-ready test dropping off the face of search – leaving room for beautiful, responsive sites to swoop in and seize their spot.

Brains Craft Brewery vs. BrewDog

craft beer
Ranked #63 for ‘craft beer’
love the beer
Ranked #4 for ‘craft beer’

Brew dog

In the craft beer world, a charismatic brand is key – and there’s no denying both Brains Craft Brewery and BrewDog are killing it in that department. The two sites’ homepages are a lesson in engaging web design and between them demonstrate the diverse range of approaches on offer – with the quirky, cartoon-inspired design of Brains Craft Brewery juxtaposed against BrewDog’s stark, no-nonsense approach to website styling.

Where the divide begins to widen, though, is in terms of responsive web design. Search ‘craft beer’ and BrewDog sits an awesome 59 spots above Brains Craft Brewery thanks in no small part to its mobile-ready site. Able to adapt perfectly for viewing across any number of devices, the BrewDog site follows the rules and leaves competitors in its wake as a result.

Rare Tea Company vs. Clipper

rare tea
Ranked #19 for ‘tea’
Ranked #4 for ‘tea’

Rare tea vs Clippers

One final thing worth mentioning is that design isn’t necessarily effective simply because it exists. Responsive web design in particular is a fine art, and involves far more than having your homepage menu adjust in width for mobile users. At its core, responsive design exists to guarantee visitors the best imaginable user experience no matter where they’re from.

In the battle of the Rare Tea Company vs. Clipper, the champion is clear. With all of the vertical space at its disposal, the Rare Tea Company fails to seize the opportunity, while Clipper’s homepage is packed with irresistible sales copy and engaging content – all tied together by some downright heroic digital design.

tl;dr: with all other things being equal, quality design wins every time.

At GNT Media, we understand the role that digital design plays in your site’s performance. Get in touch today to speak to our content marketing team about SEO’s worthy sidekick – or to discuss the possibility of working together on a partnered project.

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