Often, web design theory has got it backwards.
A web site is often conceived as an entity which reflects the company who publishes the web site. A mission statement, given form. The reality is that people don’t care about mission statements, they care about seeing their own reflection. Or “it’s not about you, it’s about me”.
In no environment is this more true than on the web. The web is a two way communication medium, and the control of that communication, unlike, say, a film, rests not with the director, but with the user. The back button is only ever a click away.
For this reason, web design that places too much emphasis on what the publisher wants to say is doomed to irrelevance. The publisher does not have the upper hand when it comes to controlling the flow of web communication, yet a lot of web design theory assumes this as a given, mostly because web design is based on print publishing.
What are the most successful computer applications? Email. Word processing. Spreadsheets, Games. What are the most successful web sites? Amazon, Ebay, Google, MySpace. The history of computing is all about user-centric empowerment.
The way to do web design is to base design around users, specifically their wants and desires. People’s wants and desires should drive the design process, and structures imposed for other reasons will be less successful. This goes beyond usability. Web design should be, fundamentally, about listening to and addressing people’s problems.
This is where SEO-centric web design comes in.
As many SEOs know, people are broadcasting their needs and problems. Every second. They are using keyword queries in search engines to tell the search engine what they need. We can “listen” to these needs by using keyword research tools.
Once we discover the language people are using to describe their needs, we can then build pages, architectures and copy, using their language , and addressing their problems, thereby creating a website that is an accurate reflection of the people who will use the site.
For example, a search engine doesn’t see hierarchy, and most users don’t care about it. Every page is effectively a “home page”. Once people land on a page, they are at the start of the funnel which should quickly and effortlessly lead to desired action, which is the point at which you meet their needs. “Desired action” is often defined in terms of the desires of the publisher, but it’s even more useful to view it in terms of the desires of the visitor.
At this point, some readers will surely be thinking “but people don’t come to my site via search engines”. It doesn’t matter. The site should address people’s problems, and search engines reveal the language people use to do define and frame their problems. Web designers should not ignore this valuable information. Rather, this information should be integrated into the design process.
It is a Google centric web. Google achieved this feat by placing the user first.
SEO should be at the heart of the design process, not something bolted on at the end.