5 Ways that SEO is Affected By Your Web Design

“Content is King” they said.  A slogan that is far from being fresh, yet biased and ill-informed whenever it is used.

If your online strategy were a country, your content is more like a right hand however, the online property to which it resides is still the King. Simply put, content only comes in second. A close almost overlapping second, but second nonetheless. First place will always be the design of the website with which all of your content resides. A pretty bold claim to contrast content marketing tropes of late, and one that I hope spurs discussion in boardrooms and at water coolers around the world.

You see, content IS important, just like food is important; however if your food doesn’t look good, no one is going to consume it. It’s that simple.

A recent study called “Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites” by Elizabeth Silence, Pam Briggs, Lesley Fishwick, and Peter Harris concluded that yes, 83% of respondents claimed that content played a role in their decision-making (and conversion!) –however more astoundingly to content marketing rock stars around the internet, a whopping 94% of respondents claimed that the design of a website weighs heavily on the trust factor. In other words, your website’s design can lead to an immediate distrust and no one is going to read your offer if they don’t trust your website.

The Shallow Answers Everyone is Given

Web designers are often asked why their web design matters so much from businesses who obtain new business solely by referrals to pre-Madonna brands who think their marketing team can do better than the user-experience studies that serve as the foundation for modern web design.

The truth of the matter is that web design is not simply another brochure or an interior-design-style wall-to-wall carpeting job that is open entirely to personal taste. Being creative is all well and good, but not at the expense of usability. Communication is all about expressing something to another person along a universal channel, and there is nothing universal about hiding a menu, using colours that repulse, or spending a budget on a website that is not being viewable by all. Good communication is not exclusive, and neither is money.

web design

It’s easy to spot a web designer who doesn’t fully get it; they use lines that don’t succinctly hit the nail on the head, like “it’s the front door to your company” or “it’s important for your integrity and branding” and “it’s how it’s done in your industry”.

Even worse is that many marketing agencies and departments will have a CEO believe that web design falls under the jurisdiction of the artists and they call it branding –instead of an element of branding. Marketing departments often hate sharing their role with the website designer or developer because they prefer to issue the orders, not receive them.

But as with any home renovation, an interior decorator doesn’t get to decide where the supporting pillars go –they have to work within the construct of a container that is decided upon by someone who understands a thing or two about catastrophe. In web design, this person is called a UX designer –aka a “user experience designer”. And they’re in big demand as web companies of every size and configuration rush to meet the demands of website visitors who live firmly rooted in reality.

Web Design and its Effect on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Quality web design is also just as important as the content it houses in terms of search engine optimisation, too. Great content once again comes in a close second to web design in terms of search rank and visibility. A great piece of content might give a brand notoriety and recognition –and yet the same piece of content would be all for naught if it was never found in the first place.

As any hero will note, often they are a sum of their tools and ingenuity. What’s a compelling piece of content without a trusty vehicle of delivery? Let’s take a look at the many ways with which web design affects search rank, traffic, and website conversions –starting from the top.

trust key

1. Trust

Trust online is a really important linchpin for companies that rely on it. Online trust is a currency that is redeemed in the form of valuable customer interactions and website conversions.

Case and point; trust is a key factor for ecommerce websites who rely on customers to feel safe enough to pull out their credit cards on the big, bad internet. And projecting trust works; All websites that transact based on consumer trust are up against the news where every single day it appears there is a new data breach from some mega-corporation.

Tracing the chord back to the wall: Trust leads to integrity, integrity leads to conversions, conversions lead to fans, fans lead to word-of-mouth advertising, social traffic and social media shares –and all of this activity leads to measurable buzz and a healthy backlink profile which enhances search rank.

So, the first real factor that makes web design so important is trust. And trust is a “fleshy” part of search engine optimisation. If you don’t optimise for the human condition, all the SEO in the world cannot save your business.

Achieving a higher level of trust in web design can be accomplished by sticking to best practices and adhering to the status quo in terms of page template structure, imagery, colouring, and without screaming at your website visitors by over-compensating with too much content for a single page. Keep it simple, clean, and without distraction.

2. Responsive Web Design

Put as simply as can be, responsive web design makes your content viewable to all –and it’s a leading factor that Google considers before serving your content up to its audience.

Google relies on ad revenue, it is a business, and it makes more money if it’s serving up content that can be read across devices. And since mobile internet usage has now surpassed that of desktop internet traffic, all content must be optimised for every screen size under the sun.

Corners used to get cut in this regard; a company with a tight budget might have made a second “mobile friendly” version of their website to counter the onslaught of mobile traffic they were receiving, however this lead to problems. A mobile website version of an existing website typically lead to duplicate content; the same content as the desktop version of a website, modified into separate “bite size” mobile pages.

responsive design laptop and tablet

Duplicate content is widely known as a trip-wire for Google’s algorithms which dictate how websites are ranked on Google. A little bit of duplicate content is one thing –but your whole website appearing twice in search lowers the quality of Google’s search engine and is therefore considered taboo and penalised. Adjusting your duplicate content with a “noindex” tag might work, but then that means you’re forced to choose one audience or another; those on desktop machines, or those on mobile.

A responsive website allows your website to dynamically alter itself to fit a screen on the fly, making it universally acceptable for all devices with one website, and one piece of content. As an example if you’re still not able to picture how a responsive website works, simply drag the corner of your browser window right now and slowly make the viewable space of this article smaller and larger. Widgets should move around or even disappear, and the content should remain the prominent element on the page to make it very readable at any browser window size.

This is what Google and other popular search engines are looking for, and this is one factor that will earn you a higher rank across all of them.

3. On-Page Adjustments

On-page adjustments for search engine optimisation are usually referred to as “on-page SEO”. Some of the adjustments that fall into this category include;

  • Rich media uses relevant file names and alternative text – an image of a skateboard will have “skateboard” in the filename as opposed to being called 501337.jpg
  • Page content will have  “meta” information, which is a brief snippet for search engines which clearly describe the content of the page and appears in search results for humans to read
  • Page titles (title tag) and URLs will also possess keywords within them that give a clue as to what the page subject is about
  • Links used in content should typically possess an “anchor text” that makes it easy for humans and search engines which crawl your website to figure out the relevance of said link –keywords are important for most links (too many and Google might assume you’re “link stuffing”, but that’s another story altogether)

In plain English: Content should always supply a demand, be linkable, and possess a title, description, and titles or sub-headers with relevant keywords within them.

While there are other factors which come into play here, these are certainly the most pivotal on-page SEO factors to consider from a high level. Without them search engines will fill in the gaps and they may not always be conducive to drawing website traffic.

4. Site Map and “Robots.txt”

A site map is just that: a map that makes navigating around your website easier. A site map is typically designed with search engines in mind to help them index every page on your website that you would like indexed.

A site map speeds up the process for search engines and therefore is an absolute must to remain competitive in your niche by having all website changes and updates recorded in search results as soon as robotically possible. If you don’t tell the search engines what to index, you run the risk of having them make decisions at your behest which can be a serious problem.

At the end of the day you want content indexed, not index pages. On most CMS-based websites, the default for search engine indexing includes auto-generated pages for a tag, category, or author. Meaning that these auto-generated pages simply just list articles and other content that they are related to. An author page is just a listing of all articles written by that author, and a tag or category page is simply a page that lists all content dynamically associated to a particular category or tag.

image of site robots

And the last thing any website visitor wants a search engine to do is lead it to a page where they still need to sift through page listings. That’s why only content pages should be indexed into a search engine, and why you should never want to leave your website indexing to be left up to a bot. They’ll suck everything in like a Hoover vacuum.

5. Colours

Colours are also incredibly important to ensure that people remain on your web page and will organically affect your rank in search engines. The more reader-friendly and consumable your content is, the more it will be shared, linked to –and visitors will remain longer to read until the end of the page.

Without toning down the use of loud colours you are flirting with the attention of your website visitors. The same applies to all other forms of media from television to print, and the web is no exception to this rule.

information specificity people

6. Information Specificity vs Visitor Bombardment

The last point on our list still happens a lot, especially on larger websites that carry a lot of content; too much information on one page can do a lot of damage to a website’s search rank and it is up to the web designer to dictate what stays and what goes. There is little room for marketing team preferences here. Too many windows to other content on a website can chip away at trust perception because it looks like an over-compensation –and it can also confuse the heck out of your website visitors and search engines alike.

A clean, well laid out web page template that follows best practices for user experience is a must. If the current era in web design were to be labelled similarly to those of the arts, contemporary web design would fall under the minimalist era.

All information on any given website should relate to a central topic –the same topic all of those titles, headers, and keywords relate to and there is no room for diluting the message of a particular page.

In web design this translates into “related articles” or widgets which pull up more content which can be viewed elsewhere on a website. To keep all dynamically generated references to other site content in check, it is common to use categories and tags to serve up information that is honed for the same specific subject matter as the central content on the page.

In Conclusion

We’ve still only scraped the surface of how web design has the potential to affect your rank on popular search engines. That content you have worked so hard on may likely go unnoticed if your website is a poorly organised eye-sore, so for the maximum leverage with your website content, ensure you take your web design seriously.

Any additional thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

References:
http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=985776
http://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhendricks/2015/02/11/understanding-the-full-impact-of-web-design-on-seo-branding-and-more/