Most clients and designers alike tend to think that the first step of building a Web site is creating or choosing the graphic design and layout of the site, or perhaps planning the site using a flow chart or sitemap. But the first step of design is not the graphical design, nor the overall functional design of the site.
Rather, it is the essential task of defining the core Search Engine Optimization needed for the site. This is the nucleus of design since it establishes a niche, targeted audience, tone and intensity of presence. This starts with assessing the prospective client's business goals and determining how to best illustrate these goals and their unique online presence by something as simple as their domain name. The domain name is a great example of SEO as design since it is the key to attracting and illustrating a company on the Web, even before the actual site design is seen or a menu button has been pressed. Whether or not the domain is even full of relevant keywords, an essential nature of the domain name is that it is there to attract and deliver a message - just as the design does.
So, when has SEO ever been seen as actual design? SEO is usually discussed in terms of bots and directories, meta tags, keyword density and search engine ranking. But seeing SEO as an integral part of the design, rather than just its tools and methods, helps us to move more into the creative nature of the Internet and Web design.
Generally, a designer will start to integrate SEO at the initial stage of graphics development; how a website is built graphically can affect the overall effects of its organic search results. That is, the natural result of the Website being indexed by search engines and the consequent flow of visitors to the site. So, in the same way, that SEO is part of the design, the design is also part of SEO.
At the core of this pairing are two values: Attraction and Delivery.
SEO and Web design can easily see as separate since they involve different terms, tools, and techniques to implement them. However, they ultimately play the same roles - to attract and deliver.
Attracting a visitor, whether it is human or an algorithmic robot, takes research and skill. To make attraction as inherent within the site design and SEO results as possible we need to connect with both sides of the "Internet coin" - say heads for the public, viewership side, and tails for the back-end development. You should get a great website for your company for they lead to great results. The value of any successful website is the continuous ability to remain visible and attract visitors to the site. This is achieved by the initial work of the focused development of the Website to be as attractive as possible (in word and image) with following, responsive development to how the public side of the site is evaluated by search engines and visitors. The two sides of a coin create a unity of value, one side inherently needed by the other to hold value.
But like a shiny coin given a pre-defined value, a website ranking on the first few pages of Google pre-supposes a level of success over those sites back on the 100th page. The value of a coin is only ever experienced when it is transferred from one to another. Having a million dollars is great, but it is only of value to those who can exchange it for something else they value more. It is the same for any Web site, it is the nature of a successful Web site to deliver something of value to its audience (and by extension, its creators) otherwise it is deemed worthless.
Design and SEO both are crafted to equally create a Web site's value, since they are equally responsible for delivery of information. As a Web designer, I have increasingly become aware of how important it is to have a strong attractive design, but the strongest design is one that surrounds and supports the content and helps delivery of information. This has more value than design that is just eye candy, which may help the attraction factor but does not necessarily help the final goal and richest value found in information delivery.
Is SEO actually Web Design? I believe it is...sure, we can separate the two during the development process, since they require different production methods and analysis, but the essential, integral nature and the end goal of both processes join them together, like the two sides of a coin.