4 Ways Effective SEO Can Reduce Your Website’s Carbon Footprint


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By Claire Knights

Claire Knights is a digital strategist and designer. Get in touch to talk about reducing your website's carbon footprint.

Claire Knights

What does search engine optimisation (SEO) have to do with your website’s carbon footprint? A lot more than you might think.

When you think of SEO, what comes to mind?

Keyword research? Being ‘number one’ on Google?

What if I told you that improving your website’s SEO is also a great way to reduce its carbon footprint?

Why search engines love low-carbon websites

Think for a moment: what makes the perfect search experience?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably say the ideal search experience is one where you find what you’re looking for as quickly as possible. From typing in your search term, to completing your task, it’s seamless and efficient.

And it turns out that what’s efficient for you (ie not visiting irrelevant pages or waiting for slow-to-load websites) also is also more efficient energy wise — because fewer server requests are made and less battery is used on your device.

So it follows that because search engines compete to provide us (impatient) humans with the best experience, they tend to boost more energy-efficient websites to the top of their rankings.

But SEO efficiency isn’t just about deploying the latest technology to make your site load quicker.

Here are four more subtle ways SEO contributes to making your website more efficient — and in doing so, helps reduce its carbon footprint.

1) Good SEO saves energy by targeting the right audience

Your website’s rankings will suffer if you attract the wrong audience.

(The ‘wrong’ audience is usually indicated by a high website bounce rate — where people immediately click away without interacting with your site.)

That’s because it suggests you’re wasting people’s time by targeting the wrong keywords or using misleading words in your search results (titles and/or descriptions).

Junk traffic also wastes energy because it makes calls to servers and drains batteries without creating any value for your business or the searcher.

Good SEO means targeting the right audience, which means creating a good keyword strategy that avoids pointless clicks. Which means focusing exclusively on search terms that are truly relevant to your business and creating accurate search results listings.

For example, if you sell high-quality organic T-shirts, a good keyword strategy will avoid targeting the search term ‘cheap t shirts’ because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to offer the searcher what they’re looking for. Not only will you avoid wasting the time of those people who aren’t interested, you’ll avoid wasting energy by minimising unnecessary server calls and page views.

Another important aspect of targeting the right audience is making sure your appearance in the search results is accurate.

With your title and description, you should aim to attract your audience, not the biggest audience.

Words like ‘cheap’ may encourage more clicks in the short term, but if that’s not what your business offers you’ll not only be harming your SEO, you’ll be wasting energy too.

Google search results demonstrating different audience targeting through title tags

Bookshop.org doesn’t use the word ‘Cheap’ in its title tag because they know their audience has different priorities to The Works’.

By targeting the right audience you’ll improve your search engine rankings and your website’s sustainability by reducing empty clicks and cutting unnecessary carbon emissions.

2) Good SEO saves energy by using the latest technology

Search engines tend to penalise websites that are run on old technology.

Why?

Because old technology tends to be inefficient and slow — and searchers are impatient people.

Slow-to-load websites that run on old technology also consume more energy because people (and search engine spiders) have to spend more time waiting for them to load, generating more CO2 along the way.

Good technical SEO creates efficiencies that reduce your website’s carbon footprint because it:

Reduces file sizes

  • Compresses images and videos.
  • Reduces and/or minifies CSS and JavaScript files.

Makes processes quicker and files smaller

  • Hosts websites on a server with up-to-date software.
  • Uses the latest image file formats such as WebP and SVG.

Removes redundancy and duplication

  • Blocks search engine spiders from indexing pages and/or directories if they don’t need to.
  • Avoids broken links and redirects searchers (and spiders) to the relevant page.

Uses hosting that’s local to your audience

  • Is hosted in a location that’s geographically close to the website’s main audience, and/or
  • Uses a content delivery network (CDN) to store a copy of your site locally to your audience.

By ensuring your website’s technology is up to date, you’ll not only speed it up and improve your search rankings, but reduce your website’s carbon footprint, too. Win-win.

3) Good SEO saves energy by eliminating poor-quality content

Search engines rank websites with poor-quality content lower.

That’s because poor-quality content is a waste of searchers’ time. (In a world where there’s too much information, people want the best results, not the most results).

Poor content is also a waste of energy since every file on the internet uses electricity — from the power used to run the servers where it’s stored, to that used to transfer, download and display it.

Effective SEO focuses on creating high-quality content doesn’t waste people’s time — content that’s efficient because it’s helpful and unique.

Being genuinely helpful is about getting inside your audience’s head and exploring things like:

  • What problems keep your audience awake at night?
  • Do they want long, detailed articles — or short, snappy ones?
  • Are they comfortable with specialist jargon? Or does it need to be written in plain English?

Creating high-quality content is also about choosing the most helpful format. This could be anything from text and images to video, audio, tables, graphs, videos, maps or even an interactive tool.

Remember that users will still want the page to load quickly, so you’ll need to consider what media is really necessary.

High-quality content is good for everyone — not only will it will boost your SEO, it will cut energy waste by reducing the quantity of unhelpful content stored on servers.

4) Good SEO saves energy by making online journeys shorter

Search engines rank hard-to-use websites lower.

Why?

Because hard-to-use websites waste people’s time by sending them down blind alleys, or forcing them to wade through piles of disorganised content.

Hard-to-use websites also waste energy because people spend more time on your website looking for things — which means unnecessary server calls are made and more energy is consumed.

Improving your SEO involves creating a good user experience (UX) that makes your audience happy because it makes their journey quicker and more efficient.

Good UX includes things like:

  • A solid information architecture — content is logically grouped by topic.
  • Intuitive navigation — uses words and icons that aren’t too ‘cute’ or ‘clever’.
  • Buttons and links are obvious — uses design conventions.
  • Employs descriptive subheadings to aid scanning.
  • Graphic design is used to aid comprehension, eg uses boxes to group related content together or contrasting colour to draw the eye to buttons.

Good UX will help improve your SEO and avoid unnecessary power consumption by guiding your users on a quick and efficient journey through your website.

The future of SEO: sustainability as a ranking factor?

As I write this (autumn 2022), it might seem like improving your website’s energy efficiency is a by-product of SEO, rather than its aim.

But things are changing. Fast.

In the near future, search engines may take into account a more holistic view of sustainability — from whether you use ‘green’ hosting (powered by renewables) to the ethical credentials of your business as a whole.

In fact, it’s already happening.

Ecosia — tagline: ‘the search engine that plants trees’ — already uses a green leaf icon on its results pages to direct searchers to what it calls ‘planet-friendly organizations’.

Ecosia search results showing the green leaf icon

A green leaf icon steers searchers towards more ‘planet-friendly’ choices in Ecosia’s search results.

To get a green leaf icon in Ecosia’s search results you’ll “need to hold a B-corp accreditation or your organization must be listed in either one of the GWÖ, Hilfswerft or Natrue databases.” according to the company’s How to get a green leaf on Ecosia article.

Ecosia currently has less than 1% of the search engine market share, so you might think this isn’t something you need to worry about right now.

But consider that Google (with over 90% of the search engine market) is already moving in a similar direction.

As of late 2022, Google is adding new features to help people make more sustainable travel and shopping choices.

Google's new search results for pre-owned clothing showing a coat with the leaf icon

Google is introducing a leaf icon to search results, highlighting more sustainable clothing choices.

In September 2022, Google published a blog, New ways to make more sustainable choices, where they explained how they will be enhancing search results with information to help people understand the environmental impact of different choices — from choosing a low-emissions car to identifying more sustainable recipes.

In the coming year, we can only expect to see more of this kind of thing, especially as Google has stated:

“At Google, we aim to make our operations more sustainable (like our goal to achieve net-zero emissions across all of our operations and value chain by 2030), and also make it easier for people and businesses to make more sustainable choices.”

Conclusion

The rewards are high when it comes to creating a website with good SEO — for you and for the planet.

Not only will you benefit from higher search rankings (which means you’ll consistently attract a highly motivated audience) you’ll also reduce your website’s environmental impact.

But good SEO also takes a lot of thought and hard work across a wide range of disciplines — from keyword strategy to content strategy, copywriting to UX design and technical know-how, there’s a lot to think about.

Contact us to find out how we can help you with your website’s SEO and creating a low carbon website.

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