Last updated: The digital butterfly effect: Sustainable websites and SEO

The digital butterfly effect: Sustainable websites and SEO


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When you think about ways to build sustainability into your business, how often do you connect sustainable websites, SEO, and carbon footprints? Probably not often.

With aspects of your business like supply chains, vendors, sourcing, materials, production, offices, storefronts, travel, etc. taking center stage, the environmental impact of your web design may be far down the list – if even on the list.

Evaluating the role SEO plays in the efficiency of your website can seem far-removed from the bigger picture of improving overall sustainability in your business.

But, SEO has a considerable effect on the organic traffic driven to sites.

Sustainable websites and SEO: Small changes, big impact

The Butterfly Effect is the concept that a butterfly flapping its wings could set off a chain reaction that ultimately leads to a tornado halfway across the continent.

As the MIT Technology Review put it simply: small changes can have large consequences.

Using SEO to successfully capture more web traffic contributes to the overall environmental impact of your website, and, ultimately something as massive and interconnected as the internet.

SEO is critical to reaching and engaging prospects and customers where they are, and plays a major role in the marketing, sales, and service efforts of your business.

Let’s examine how it can also contribute to greater sustainability for your business.

How much energy does a website use?

Because you’ve almost certainly experienced it yourself, the fact that websites aren’t equally efficient and sustainable probably isn’t surprising. Some sites make it more difficult than others to find information. It doesn’t take long to bounce to the next site.

However, the infrastructure on which the internet operates – from electricity to data centers to the phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices we use – consumes many resources and produces emissions.

Consider the electricity alone. Every year, approximately 416.2TWh of electricity goes to making the internet run. That means the internet uses more electricity each year than the UK.

With more than 4 billion people actively using the internet, the combined carbon footprint of energy, infrastructure, and communication technologies like smartphones + computers totals about 3.7% of greenhouse emissions globally, which is comparable to the airline industry.

Every web search and page visit contributes to carbon emissions. The faster and easier it is for people to find the content they’re looking for, the more efficient the website and the lower the carbon emissions each page visit produces.

What's the carbon footprint your website leaves on the planet?

Find out HERE.

What do SEO and sustainability have to do with each other?

It can seem like a leap to link optimizing a webpage to reducing the carbon footprint of a single website, not to mention the whole internet. But, as the butterfly effect illustrates, small changes can lead to major changes in the larger ecosystem.

SEO best practices can make change for the greater good, from a better UX for the individual searching for information to more sustainable websites and lower environmental impact.

SEO is all about helping searchers find the most valuable, relevant information as quickly and efficiently as possible. That means less time digging through websites that are difficult to navigate or that provide little valuable or relevant information.

By returning the best results, search engines help reduce the number of pages loaded, which reduces the amount of energy required to retrieve, load, and operate any given web page. Compound this millions of times, and the impact is significant.

Over 53% of all web traffic is driven by organic search, as opposed to paid advertising. By rewarding sites that provide valuable information and a superior UX, search engines create incentive for organizations to compete for higher ranking in the SERPs – and therefore a greater share of that organic traffic – by delivering increasingly better content and UX.

Google, for example, grants ranking power to websites with content and design demonstrating preferred qualities embodied in principles such as EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) and YMYL (your money or your life). These criteria help algorithms determine which content is likely to be most valuable for a given keyword.

Although SEO can be technical and determined by algorithms, it’s driven above all by the principle of creating content for people.

The case is clear for SEO’s impact on sustainability in business and reducing carbon emissions. But what should you focus on to improve your website’s SEO?

Let’s examine some of the SEO butterfly wings you can flap for big ROI in organic traffic as well as contributing to a cleaner, greener internet.

Tips for better SEO and more eco-friendly websites

When it comes to the energy a website consumes, a range of factors make a webpage more or less efficient. For example, the following aspects of your website factor into how much energy your site requires:

  1. Code – Writing and using clean code makes a difference in the efficiency of how your website functions on a given device or platform.
  2. Fonts – Believe it or not, some fonts are more efficient than others due to the file sizes. Larger files demand more energy to store, deliver, and load. Strike a balance between appearance and technical function.
  3. Images – Image size and quantity impact load time, page weight, and energy requirements to make the page function properly. Reduce image size and quantity where possible.
  4. Videos – As video becomes increasingly popular among users, it’s important to optimize video size and quantity to minimize the energy usage against the benefit to UX.
  5. Overall UXDesigning webpages with easy-to-navigate information architecture, high accessibility, and valuable content is increasingly important. The efficiency with which your company delivers this experience plays an important role not only in user satisfaction, but also in managing the environmental impact of your overall website.
  6. On- and off-page content – Content plays an important role in SEO. To help search engines find and understand your webpages, consider these elements when optimizing for search engines:
    • URL
    • Title tag
    • Meta description
    • Headers (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
    • Alt text for images
    • Video transcripts
    • Written copy, videos, and images

Walk the talk: Leverage SEO to commit to sustainability

One of the guiding principles of SEO best practices is to create content that delivers value to the people who find and consume it. By optimizing your website with sustainable web design in mind, with SEO best practices, you improve your chances of reaching the right people at the right time with the right message.

An increasing number of customers – especially millennials and Gen Zers – research and evaluate companies based on purpose. Above all, they find out which companies follow through on commitments to sustainable business practices. This is an ultimate deciding factor in whether many potential customers do business with your company.

The world is searching, so do everything you can to make it easy to find answers and do business with you.

Giants don’t leave (carbon) footprints.
Future-proof your business –
and the world.
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