[00:00:45] Jonathan Greene: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Friday, which means it must be time for some SEO Domination. All right. It’s podcast time. Today, we’ve got my friend and co-worker, a design aficionado of the highest order who also happens to know an awful lot about SEO. I brought her on here because we want to talk about optimal design tips, tricks, hacks, [and] knowledge, as it were, for SEO. I think, you know, as a marketer [and] somebody who hasn’t spent my whole career in SEO — I sort of came to it a little later on — it seems dichotomous, like design and SEO don’t belong in the same conversation. One is artistic. One is really technical. But they do have a fair amount of overlap, don’t they?

[00:01:34] Julie Manley: Yes, they do for sure.

[00:01:36] JG: Right. So that’s what we’re going to talk about. Welcome Julie [Manley], thanks for being on the show. I’m super glad to have you here. If you don’t know Julie, she does beautiful, simplistic designs, which I happen to love, and also [she’s] very, very deep on the SEO front. I guess the thing to do is just jump right in. Why does design matter in SEO? What can you tell me about that?

[00:01:58] JM: Design matters because search engines really value high design. I really take a lot of pride in helping clients create interesting and highly promotable content that helps them earn links. Also, if you jump on somebody’s site and their design is not really cohesive, [or] they don’t really have a lot of content that makes sense or is of high value, [their] bounce rate’s going to be pretty high and you’re probably not going to want to stay on it for a long time. At least that’s been my experience and the experience of our clients initially. When we start to work with clients who need a little bit of help, once we get in there and clean up their design, their social media assets, [and] their high value content development, we see a lot of success and we can use metrics to back that up.

[00:02:44] JG: I have a sneaking suspicion that design affects the psychological aspects of SEO, perhaps disproportionately than anything else.

[00:02:53] JM: Absolutely.

[00:02:53] JG: What I mean by that is: [let’s say] I’m a talking head in a various industry. I find your article and I want to link to it. But [if your design isn’t good], when I land on the page, I’m like, “it’s kind of gross over here.” It detracts from the authority, right? I mean, good design is authority in a sense, isn’t it?

[00:03:10] JM: Absolutely. It’s all about your reputation. You don’t want to link to a website that is confusing, not designed well, [or] has a long load time. You’re just not going to want to be affiliated with that, so we try and create pages and assets and content that people really want to share.

[00:03:25] JG: Would you think it’s fair to say that backlinks are easier to generate for a well-designed website?

[00:03:31] JM: Absolutely. People want to associate with high-value companies. They want to think of themselves and their peers as classier, more respected leaders in their industry. So because of that, they want the design aesthetic to be very high.

[00:03:50] JG: I think generating back is one of the harder things that we try to do in SEO. I think the good, clean design absolutely helps. There’s a high correlation between highly linked sites and well-designed sites. At least in this marketer’s opinion.

[00:04:04] JM: That’s what we’ve seen, so we’re going to keep doing it.

[00:04:09] JG: Right on. So as I think back through the history of SEO, it used to be, when I was a young buck — and I keep repurposing the story — but I could just go out there and write a keyword-dense headline and a blog post about just about anything, then wait 72 hours and I would be ranking in Google for that thing. But things, they are a-changing. The internet is evolving and a lot more people are beginning to use mobile devices to engage with internet content, and as that happens, the technical aspects of SEO seem to be rising through the ranks of factors that determine how well you rank organically. I think the page load speed is among one of those things that seems to be the most important. So let’s segue for a few moments into optimizing images for SEO. What can you tell me about best practices or how you approach it?

[00:05:05] JM: Sure. Optimizing images is super important. It definitely increases your site rank. If your page is loading for too long, you’re going way, way down on the site rankage. As a professional designer, I use the Adobe Creative Suite. I use Photoshop; I make sure that my images are 72dpi and anywhere from around 30 to 100 kilobytes. However, for me and my colleagues, or anybody else who wants to optimize images, there’s a lot of great platforms that you can use. You can use a website called Compressor [or] a website called Image Optim. You can upload a batch of images and it will spit out the optimized images and you could put them on your site. It’s going to load beautifully. Also, CanIRank uses as a plugin called a Kraken Image Optimizer and that’s definitely helped. I don’t have to waste a bunch of time optimizing images. [I] or anybody else at CanIRank can jump onto your website, upload it, and then your page is loading beautifully. So I definitely recommend it.

[00:06:04] JG: Release the Kraken.

[00:06:05] JM: Release the Kraken!

[00:06:06] JG: So lots of really cool tools mentioned there. Listen, it’s worth the investment and time. Even if you’re not a designer, even if you’re not an SEO expert, you’re going to get results that are disproportionate to the amount of time that you spent just installing something like Kraken. It’s definitely worth doing and undertaking. So, a lot of people are not designers, [but] you mentioned a few tools that they can use. How important would you say this is, even for people that are not designers? Should we continue to revisit this? What do you think about that?

[00:06:48] JM: Everybody needs to optimize their images. I remember when I actually first started [at CanIRank], I came from an advertising background, so I started as art designer but I was new to exactly how design affected SEO. So I didn’t understand. I was just uploading

. I was like, “this image is really high-quality, it’s great, it’s going to do awesome on the web site.” And I had a few people in and be like, “No, this is the number one thing. You need to optimize these images.” So that’s [become] my cardinal rule. I make sure that all of the images are optimized. You need to do it. It’s just such an easy step that makes such a big difference, so definitely don’t skimp on that.

[00:07:23] JG: Right. I heard that you have a case study about SEO and social media Design. Do you want to tell me about that real quick? You’ve obviously done some of this in real life, right?

[00:07:35] JM: Yep, for sure. Search engines value social media as do potential customers. It makes you seem relatable. It lets them know that you want to engage in the community, you want to help them out, [and] you want to give them awesome support. We recently helped one of our clients who is a small e-commerce store in the DIY niche with a Memorial Day promotion. It was shared solely on social media. We had 6 promo code sales and we got a total discounted value of around $3000. So that was really cool. That’s just one of those instances where our client’s super happy. They were like, “hey, let’s try out doing some promo sales.” I haven’t done this before and it was super successful. He was happy. That’s my favorite part about working with CanIRank. It’s just a big brainstorm session. There’s no account managers or executives between you and the client. It’s just a big, fun brainstorm session with the CanIRank team and the client. It’s really personable and we really care about our clients.

[00:08:39] JG: So I’m interested to know the difference between a social campaign that’s executed with a designer who understands SEO and how you do it, as opposed to one that doesn’t have the benefit of that. Have you seen that? Do you have horror stories? How does that usually work out?

[00:08:56] JM: Yep. In the past I’ve gotten involved with clients who are like, “hey, we’d like you to recommend some suggestions on how we can up our social media game.” Usually it’s them creating the social media graphics. They don’t understand that getting an inspirational quote or an image from Google that doesn’t represent their brand is not cohesive at all. It’s confusing. You want to tell a story with your social media. I think that’s important more now than ever. Now that people are stepping up their social media game. You want to be on their web site, click on that Facebook or Twitter or Instagram icon, go to that social media platform, and it’s the same consistent message. You can tell that it comes from the same company. They have the same mission. You want them to walk hand in hand together. So with any promotion that you have or any specials going on, when you’re promoting that on your web site, you definitely want to carry that out through all of your platforms.

[00:09:59] JG: That’s sort of the goal of syndication, right? And it’s much easier to get that if you have a coherent design theme that cascades across all your channels. With the way people do consumer research today — I mean, ultimately we’re all trying to sell things. That’s the point of SEO. And I think that the way people are increasingly approaching their research is multi-channel by nature. So they’re going to hop from your Twitter to your Facebook, then they’re going to jump into Google, and then they’re going to go to wherever they can get product reviews.

[00:10:28] JM: Yes. And it’s got to be consistent otherwise it’s confusing. They’re going to back out.

[00:10:30] JG: Yeah. It’s got to look the same across all those channels. I guess from the top down, then, what’s the trick in terms of designing content that people are going to want to share?

[00:10:45] JM: At CanIRank, every time that we’re about to start developing some new high-value content, we’ll think to ourselves: Number one, are we the first to do this? Number two, is it better? Number three: are we different? For example, if we’re going to create an infographic, we want to go out and see if somebody else has made an infographic with the same subject matter that we’re considering, and if they [have], how can we make [ours] better or different? We want to come at it from a different approach; we don’t want to just take that copy from that infographic, rework it, and slap our client’s logo on it. We really want to come from a space where this can be super valuable for them. It takes a different approach, and it’s better design-wise. I’ll always try and elevate the design. I’ll work with my co-workers to come up with some awesome copy. Then, we also want to make it different. A good example of that is we recently created an infographic for Massage Tables Now, and it was titled “7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Posture”. We were the first company to come out with an infographic of that subject matter, and it did really, really well. We were able to share some links that got published on their site and our client was super happy. That was a fun one.

[00:12:01] JG: Cool. Yeah, I’m always impressed with CanIRank, particularly, with the level of thoughtfulness. Not just with the execution of design and content development, but with the thoughtfulness about what it should be in the first place. Definitely a competitive advantage.

[00:12:17] JM: Definitely. We really care; we really want our clients to be excited. We don’t want them to be like, “I’ve seen this before.” So that’s definitely top of our mind.

[00:12:25] JG: So there’s a little impetus on you to go create something that’s visually compelling as well. You can just show the same boring stuff.

[00:12:33] JM: No not at all. The first thing that I do is take note of the company’s colors, their fonts, and their visual style. That really doesn’t take more than five minutes to jot down and then from there, I have a pretty good map for where to go with graphics.

[00:12:52] JG: Yeah. Something you and I’ve been jamming on too in the last couple of weeks — and this is not something we necessarily discussed in our pre-game here — but increasingly, the design has to be platform-appropriate. Facebook’s not going to allow you to go do these big masthead headlines and insert the image. So if you want people to be able to boost that post or share it, or if you want to run it as an ad in the future, you have to factor all that into the design from the word go. All of that plays into syndication, which, you know, social signals are really important, in terms of strength.

[00:13:30] JM: Yeah, and that’s kind of been a challenge for me. Every designer has their own style, and I tend to really like big, bold headlines [and a] compelling image. But now, when we were trying to get some images together last week [for a client], they were like, “that’s a big no-no. You have to make that text tiny.” We compromised because we have these awesome data visualizations now and we can just put the headline up top on Facebook, so I think that we came to a really good resolution.

[00:13:55] JG: Yeah, absolutely. You know, social media is sort of a new entrant in terms of SEO as far as a major consideration. But the old faithfuls are blogs and category pages and the things that have always been around as long as SEO has been a thing. So give me some tips for upping my design game in terms of a blog article or a simple post.

[00:14:20] JM: Yeah, definitely. At CanIRank, with each blog post, we want to tell a compelling visual story. If we have a really long article, we’ll have a menu up top and then that’ll hotlink to the different section. That’s a really good way to make sure that people stay on your page and don’t get too overwhelmed with big, chunky blocks of text. We try to break up a post with a featured image, so that when you’re on the blog page, you get a nice visual grid of each image. Then, we always try to have some in-text images to make sure that people keep getting engaged. We’ll mix that up with some CTAs throughout. We have some short codes that we’ll add in there. Every now and then, if I’m working on a blog for another client, if they have a whitepaper, an infographic, or any high-value content to promote, then we can add in some CTAs there, like “download here.” You just want to keep people as engaged with your site, with you, with the company’s personality as they can. So you definitely don’t want to serve up just — “Here’s the article” — block of text. You want to be interacting with them constantly, so that’s what I try to do.

[00:15:30] JG: Yeah. I think it’s super important from the psychological perspective in terms of generating backlinks. People want to see well-designed, well-thought-out content. And I think they’re more likely to do as you wish when you provide it for them. Ultimately, we want them to link to us or link to our download. We want them to go and syndicate their content, so it’s super important from a design perspective. So, anything else? Last thoughts, as it were? Extra tips for designing in terms of SEO?

[00:15:59] JM: Yeah. I think it’s really important to find a way to incorporate the text signals that search engines want to see without interfering with the clean design aesthetic. This is really important for users and conversion rates. CanIRank has mastered that by designing beefed up category pages for a number of clients and they perform much better for SEO, while still being very usable and not loaded with text. Doing category pages has definitely helped a lot of our clients.

[00:16:29] JG: Right on. I see we have some users online here, so I’m going to go ahead and open it up for questions. We’ll just give them a minute to respond. It does seem to lag by a few seconds. What I’m going to do in the meantime is give you a minute to just go ahead and say whatever you want to say. What’s on your mind?

[00:16:45] JM: I’m very excited for the Fourth of July. I, of course, will not be celebrating at all, and just working on high-value content.

[00:16:51] JG: She’s all work and no play. Definitely no fruity drinks are going to happen.

[00:16:56] JM: No, not at all. Not at all.

[00:16:59] JG: You know, I’m a big fan of frozen fruity drinks. You would think, if you look at me, like, “there’s a Scotch guy ever I saw one”, right?

[00:17:07] JM: Right.

[00:17:08] JG: I do enjoy a good scotch.

[00:17:10] JM: But you don’t shy away from a girly, fruity drink?

[00:17:13] JG: I will strawberry daiquiri it all day long. No shame in my game. I love it. Umbrella? Even better. Little pineapple slice? I’m game.

[00:17:23] JM: Or when they have a little mermaid decorations, you know. The extra flair is always nice.

[00:17:29] JG: It’s got to be frozen, though. I don’t understand why nobody has frozen drinks in Florida. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

[00:17:34] JM: You would think they would have those [ice] machines.

[00:17:39] JG: Nope.

[00:17:39] JM: Really? They definitely don’t have them in Minnesota.

[00:17:42] JG: Alright, John’s asking us a question — thank you for saving me from my mediocrity. “Any advice on how those of us with zero design skills can easily make our pages more appealing?”.

[00:17:52] JM: Yeah for sure. I definitely would say, like I was talking about earlier, [you should] make a mini brand guideline doc for yourself. Note their colors. You can always use view source when you’re viewing the web page and search for fonts, search for colors, if you can’t identify them just from looking at the page straight on. Identify their colors [and] their fonts. Try and take a look at how the font sizes are for their H1s and H2s and how they interact with each other. You definitely want the H1s, H2s, and the paragraphs size to be consistent throughout. That’s definitely very important to take note on. If they have mainly photographed styles on their site, or if it’s more illustration-based, when you’re developing content, try and match that as much as possible. Really, you don’t need to be a designer. There’s also some other really cool design platforms that you can use without having the creative suite, [such] as Canva. I’ve actually used them just because I like using that platform. You can get on there and add the hex colors from the site [and] you can add the fonts from the site. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Don’t be intimidated. Anybody can push out some really cool designs just have a little bit of research upfront. Just take the time to really get to know the brand before you start pushing stuff out.

[00:19:16] JG: I think one of the easiest ways to improve the quality of the design of your site — it really is a no brainer — is to have a coherent type kit. A lot of people’s typography is just absolute garbage. Just Google. There are a lot of Google fonts out there and they’re already organized into coherent type kits that tou can just simply integrate into your web page and use. I think typography probably is the number one easiest way to de-uglify a very bad site.

[00:19:46] JM: Exactly. And when it’s consistent, it shows. It will make your site more professional, more respected in the community, therefore earning more links.

[00:19:55] JG: Also, there’s a there’s been this trend for the last year or two and I don’t understand it: to put grey text on a grey background, essentially. Like, dark grey text on a light grey background, or something like that. Listen, a lot of times, in terms of usability and people just sticking on your website, just having a good black text on a white background [is enough]. Just increasing or decreasing opacity of the text and making it visible. Super important thing to do. So that’s more pragmatic than beautification, but people will stick longer if you don’t give them a headache trying to read your text.

[00:20:30] JM: They will, for sure.

[00:20:32] JG: All right, we’ve got a couple more questions. This is Good. Wait a minute. Here’s Jessica. This is her comment: she’s just crying, laughing so hard she’s crying. Probably at my fruity drink reference. So A.J. wants to know: “How do you balance design and SEO?” That’s an interesting question.

[00:20:51] JM: That is an interesting question. I guess I would say, they really talk to each other. If I do a bad job design-wise, the SEO is going to not be as great, so I need to be super mindful of checking in with my teammates and saying like, “Hey guys, what’s the data on this high-value content that we developed? Did it perform well? Did it not? If it didn’t, what can we do to improve it next the time around? If it did perform well, then how can we even make it perform even better?” I mean, the cool part of our job is we measure our performance based on data, and we have sprint reviews where we discuss that for every project that we do. So we constantly are in the know of what performed well [and] what didn’t. My team will tell me if we need to up our ante on design and they’ll let me know if what we’re doing is working. It’s a partnership. It’s like any friendship or relationship; you have to make sure that they’re talking together and working together.

[00:21:56] JG: Absolutely. That was a great question, actually. Mike wants to know: “Are there any tips for using design to break up really long blog articles?” Actually you’re really good at this, so take it away.

[00:22:05] JM: Yeah. Definitely utilizing CTAs [or] utilizing infographics. I try to think about blog posts being editorial magazines, so when you’re reading through it, you don’t just want to long blog post. You’re used to seeing text or images, a little infographic, a little sidebar over here, etc. I try to think about it like you’re taking in print, which is what we all took in before we started looking at blogs every day. I try and add in-text images, I always use a feature image, and CTAs. If it’s super long, use the menu up top with the hotlinks. Use CTAs to promote any whitepapers or high-value content that our customers may have. We really try to dig in at the beginning of each of our relationships with our new clients and see what kind of content they have that we can promote for them. So we’ll try and include links there, so that they can view those resources. We try to make the whole page a champion for the brand and not just a blog post.

[00:23:13] JG: Most blog softwares have come a million miles in the last 10 years and WordPress is no exception. There are a lot of really cool configurable themes out there, like the Divis of the world, where you can just inject really cool stuff right in the middle of blog posts and they look good.

[00:23:31] JM: And you don’t need to be a designer. That’s something that anybody can go in and customize.

[00:23:35] JG: Yeah. So if you’re still on your old 2004 blog platform, you may want to think about upgrading to something with a little more octane that will allow you to configure these things. While the design prowess of theme designers has going up, the attention span of people on the internet has gone down and the number one way to run people off is giant blocks of text with no visual relief. They just won’t read it. You could be giving away the secrets of life and if you don’t incorporate some graphics, nobody’s going to read it.

[00:24:06] JM: People want to be interacting with stuff nonstop, you know? They want to have stuff to click on [and] they want to have different areas of the page to look at. Definitely, Divi is an awesome, awesome theme. People are up in their game. They want to be interacting with stuff.

[00:24:22] JG: Yeah. So we got another question from Jessica: “You said it’s important to tell a cohesive story with images and posts on social media. Are there any brands that you think do an exceptional job with that?”.

[00:24:38] JM: Yeah. So I’m just going to say I live in Minneapolis, and we have two pretty big brands here: Target and General Mills. I actually have friends who work in social media for both of those, so I hear at the end of the day things like, “oh, I’m working on this campaign or that campaign.” My good friend actually does the social media for Gushers, which is a general brand, but it’s been kind of cool to see how she’s developed her campaign. If you look at the website and you click on any of the social media icons, it all tells the same story. It’s very meme-focused and very silly. So that’s been kind of cool to see. I think that Target does a great job. I’m a huge Target fan for life. I look at their web site, I follow their social media, but then I have Cartwheel — all of their apps — I registered for my wedding with the Target app. [I love] seeing how all of their different platforms come together to tell a cohesive story. I think you should take that message and implement it amongst the smallest brands. Start looking at the companies that you interact with every day and you’re like, “oh, that’s funny, that’s cool, that’s interesting. I like what they’re doing.” Take note of that, even if you’re a super small startup. You can still start doing some cool stuff right off the bat.

[00:26:01] JG: Absolutely. I think I’m personally a fan of Social Media Examiner. If you’re ever bored, go check that out. It’s on a flat design and it is really coherent across all the channels. They design exceptionally well; they do an excellent job not just putting images in posts, but images that contribute to the overall story. They’re a very well-designed brand and a very coherent presentation across social channels. Check that out when you get a chance.

[00:26:29] JM: Definitely.

[00:26:31] JG: All right, well that’s about it. I don’t see more questions so I’m going to go out and shut it down. It’s been real. It’s Friday. It’s time for some frozen drinks.

[00:26:38] JM: Thanks Jonathon.

[00:26:39] JG: Thanks for being on, Julie. Really a pleasure to have you. Lots of knowledge and gold nuggets have been dropped here today. You would be remiss if you didn’t go back and write it all down. So this has been an episode 4 of the SEO Domination podcast. Pleasure to have you guys on and we will talk to you all next week. Peace. Grumpy Cat says what’s up.