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How Web Design Can Make or Break Your SEO [2023]

Philip Westfall, September 5, 2023

“Does aesthetic design affect my SEO?”

This is a frequently asked question amongst amateur web designers, or those with no web design experience who are getting started with a website builder. 

To put it simply: Bad design is bad for SEO. 

Putting aside all the other SEO considerations (which are equally important), we can examine how CONTENT specifically (text, images, videos, and layout) affects your SEO.

Bad design will hurt your SEO

Someone goes online and searches for an answer, a service, or a product, and it leads them to your website. Sweet!

…But suppose they choose not to engage with your content because of poor design. It’s too hard to read, too ugly, or too hard to navigate. They’ll return to the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) to find a better answer to their query.

This action, also known as bouncing or “pogo sticking”, tells search engines that their query was not satisfied; you weren’t the right answer or solution to their search. Google's RankBrain update picks up these behavioural signals so that it can continuously optimize the algorithm to rank the best results. If your design is turning people off, your rankings will drop. 

Here are a few poor design mistakes you want to avoid at all costs:

Pop ups:

Pop ups can be useful, but serve as a pain point for your online audience, especially if they haven’t accessed any of your content yet. Use them sparingly, and not as soon as someone arrives at your site. Generally, you need to build trust with your audience before making an ask for their contact information or a commitment like subscription sign up.

Illegible text:

If you’ve chosen a font that is too small, too hard to read, or is presented as part of an offensive color scheme, people will not stick around to decipher your messaging. Using a readability tool will help you ensure that your text is always a delight for your visitors to read.

Loud sounds:

You should never make audio tracks or video play automatically on your website. If you do have a clip playing automatically, ensure that it's muted.

Large files (images, videos) that slow down your pages

Not everyone has incredible high speed internet at their disposal, so if your site is full of images and video that slow down your pages, you will want to fix that ASAP. 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less. Use online tools to check your page load speeds regularly!

A great layout improves SEO.

A beautiful, clean layout is ideal for engaging users and reducing their chances of “bouncing” off your page back to the SERP.

Search engines also like it when answers are easy to find, like at the top of your pages. This is because if someone has typed in a query, they’re looking for an answer. The faster an answer is given, the better - so remember content at the top of a page will always have more value.

You don’t want to make people searching for answers on your page - that’s what Google is for!

If an oversized hero image is pushing your content “below the fold” (the upper half of a web page that is visible without scrolling) your design is not SEO friendly, and you should rethink your layout structure.

While we’re talking about layout, remember that whitespace is your friend. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong with whitespace, so go ahead and give your images some more elbow room.

While you’re at it, give your text some room to breathe, too. This will help focus your readers and increase engagement without overwhelming them.

Functional navigation is another important factor. A consistent header and footer is a great place to start, and will help anyone visiting your site access your content without hair-pulling frustration.

Quality content improves SEO.

Once you’ve got your layout down, you want to fill it with epic or amazing content that makes your page stand out. This amazing content not only increases engagement, but it’s also a magnet for backlinks!

Other sites will link to you if they find that your content provides their users with additional quality information.

Here are some quality content examples that are great for harvesting backlinks:

Original videosInfographicsStunning photographySurveys and statisticsInterviews with thought leadersGreat writingOnline Tools

You need to look good on ALL devices.

This is pretty straight forward. If you content isn’t properly designed for every screen size, you will have trouble getting high rankings. As of 2017, over 61.2% of internet traffic is on small devices, like smartphones and tablets. If you aren’t designing for them in mind, you’re going to be left behind.

Need some solid insight? Tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test can help you determine if your pages are accessible on mobile.

If you have a poorly designed website, it’s going to hurt your SEO.

So how can you know if you’ve got a winning design, or something you need to take back to the drawing board?

To figure out if you have a good design, you can do some user testing. There are a ton of agencies and services that will interact (and provide feedback) on your website design and functionality.

These services (like UserBrain, Usertesting, Crazy Egg, Unbounce, Hotjar and Usability-Hub, to name a few) will give you valid insights about how people are interacting with your online content.

If you don’t have a budget to run tests, you can ask friends and family to make notes on what they liked, what parts of your site were the most appealing, and if there were any frustrations.

You should always keep testing! Using free services like Google Optimize is a great way to always put your best foot forward, especially when it comes to landing pages.

Remember: being able to make design changes on the fly is crucial. Avoid rigid templates or platforms that don’t allow you to make changes and improvements to suit your audience and your preferred aesthetic.

If you don’t know how to code, you need an easy to use website builder. Pagecloud offers you the flexibility to stand out online.

Written by

Philip Westfall

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