Designing for Algorithms

“Focus on the user and all else will follow” is the Google mantra, yet when a search engine is making value judgements using an algorithm, how important is the “user”?

Arguably the “user” takes on a secondary role and is not really an individual at all. The user can be considered “an average user”, the result of combining a wide number of users and reducing their opinions to a small collection of “values”.

How then should that affect the design process? We can use this knowledge to better influence our page ranking from the outset, by building on a secure foundation.

Initially, it is a good idea to consider what Google’s algorithm “likes and dislikes”, particularly the latter. Though a complex and ever-changing mechanism, it likes clarity and dislikes irrelevance. Page content should be structured so that headlines are clear and unambiguous and subsequent paragraphs relevant and informational.

Think of your “conversation” with Google’s algorithm as you would one with someone that is not quite fluent in your language. Although Google is constantly changing ‘the rules’, in order to better reflect the way people think, clear language is currently the safest option.

What about website images?

Huge improvements in algorithm “Object Detection” means that website images are very important too. Before placing an image on a page, it is wise to consider how precisely the picture relates to the content.

Additionally, if the subject of a picture is not likely to be widely recognised, would it be better to use a subject that can be easily related to it instead? An algorithm may have difficulty recognising the latest central heating boiler, yet it will have little difficulty recognising a person warming blue hands over a candle.

Updating Sitemaps

Adding new content to your website shows that it is still active and that means yours is amongst the 12% that still are. If you leave it to Google to “find” your pages and index them you are wasting valuable time.