5 Reasons Why Design Matters To SEO

Doing well in the search engines basically comes down to one thing: being perceived as an important source of information.

You might be wondering how the design of your blog or website could have anything to do with your placement in the search results. Afterall, you’ve probably been told on numerous occassions that the only thing that matters are things like links and keywords. The fact of the matter is that most amateur SEO professionals don’t have the slightest clue about why design matters. Most of them assume that it doesn’t. And you can tell by looking at the kind of content they promote.

Professional SEOs recognize several things that others overlook. Below, I’ve listed the 5 reasons you should pay attention to your blog or website design if you REALLY care about search engine placement.

1. Good design matters to search engines

Over at Search Engine Journal I wrote an article titled SEO Quality Indicators & The Heap Paradox where I basically point out that when evaluating a website, search engines determine the value of a site by adding up “quality indicators.” Quality indicators are signs that your website is a good, strong, well produced source of solid content. The good news is that many quality indicators are related to the design of your site.

For example: a great SEO design will:

  1. Minimize code while highlighting content
  2. Place the content towards the top of the site’s source code
  3. Use html tags and CSS as optimal indicators of your site’s content

2. Good design makes marketing easier

On the Internet, search marketing amounts to getting other sites to mention you on their websites. You do this by building interesting content for other sites to link to. However, website editors are much less likely to link to a site with a poor design, even if that site has great content.

As a marketer of online content, I can tell you without hesitation that the number of one hurdle to promoting your site online is a bad design. A bad design can ruin great services or content.

3. Good design makes branding easier

The holy grail of SEO is to become an authority in your niche. Once you are an authority, you become a link magnet, and your online marketing takes place automatically without much work.

The job of becoming an online authority is made much easier by having a great design that screams quality.

4. Good design gets you noticed by the design community

I didn’t realize this until recently, but one of the largest communities on the Internet is the design community. There are hundreds of design galleries and other sites that highlight great website and blog designs. These end up being free and very valuable links.

As an example, take my site College Crunch which has been featured in the WordPress.org Showcase Gallery as one of the Top Rated sites. This opportunity opened my eyes to the positive effects of having a great site design.

5. Good design lowers your bounce rate

A lot of people don’t know this, but Google and other search engines actually monitor the way visitors interact with your website. If people leave your website moments after first arriving, they are said to have “bounced.” The search engines take this statistic very seriously because if people leave your site quickly, it means they were not happy with the search result. Since search engines want good search results, they move sites with low bounce rates up and sites with high bounce rates down.

Moral of the story: people are more likely to stay at your site and look around if it looks nice. This has a postive effect on your search rankings.

Conclusion

Serious SEOs know the value of having a solid blog or website design. In the ultra competitive world of search, a great design not only sets your site apart in the eyes of visitors, but also in the eyes of the search engines. It can make all the difference


Ryan Caldwell is an experienced online entrepreneur who has built a number of very successful web properties such as PopCrunch, BusinessPundit and RideLust.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

35 comments

  1. Thanks for the post Ryan. #5’s effect on SEO is still debatable I’d say. I’m not sure how much importance search engines place on bounce rates. Of course it’s always better to have people stick around than bounce.

    I do wish more people would see the benefit of good design. I’ve seen too many posts over the years suggesting an ugly site is better. All things being equal the good design will win out every time regardless of the SEO benefit.

    Where I think designers miss the boat is too much emphasis on aesthetics without understanding how poor code could derail search results.

  2. I find it funny that you blog about the importance of design in SEO, and this sites CSS is all in the HTML file, not external. And Google likes websites that pass validation, this page has a whopping 94 code errors.

    Just a thought.

    • Chris the css on this site is external. Unfortunately some plugin developers don’t link to external css, but embed their css in the file. In the past I’ve gone into plugins and rewritten the code so the css would be external, but it becomes a nightmare to maintain.

      All the css I wrote for the site is external. Did you look at the pages of this site outside of the blog? They do validate. On the blog itself, I didn’t write 100% of the code.

      If you bothered to look at what the html errors are the majority are coming from the Social Bookmark This plugin. Looks like the ampersand used in the link to bookmark the post is an actual ampersand and not the character entity for an ampersand.

      Here’s one one of the typical errors says

      This is usually a cascading error caused by a an undefined entity reference or use of an unencoded ampersand (&) in an URL or body text.

      Notice the use of the word cascading. Lots of validation errors coming from a single error.

      I removed the Social Bookmark This plugin and the errors were cut in half. Looks like the rest of the errors are a mix of the threaded comment plugin and the avatars coming from MyBlogLog. Try looking a little deeper next time.

      But please don’t pretend that Google cares about validation. Check Google’s site and check those sites that come up at the top of the search results. Most won’t validate.

    • Nick it would be a nice thought, but it’s a dirty signal. Too easy to spam. Keep visiting your competitor sites and bouncing and keep visiting your own and stick around.

      Maybe it will play a part to some degree, but it seems to open to manipulation for it to be able to weigh heavily.

  3. I think that overall the most important point is no. 5. Assuming you want to ear at least some cash of your blog ;) Because in the long run, your pagerank, links etc won’t matter unless you have quality content to back it up. And it won’t matter if you’ve failed at designing your page, because if it looks ugly and amateur-ish, your bounce rate will be too high for profit, regardless of content or pagerank.
    Think of design as a packaging for your product (content). No one will buy your stuff if it’s wrapped in brown paper ;)

    • I think there’s more to success than bounce rate, but I agree that keeping people on your site once they arrive is more important than getting them there in the first place.

      You do need to have a quality site to convince people to buy from you, even if buying only means subscribing to your blog or filling out a form.

  4. I wrote a blog post on this not too long ago, it is so important to know where to draw the line on functionality/design and SEO best practices.

    Search Engine Optimization will only get you so far and then the design and functionality will take over.

    Check out my post, i’d love to hear your feedback:

    • Lucy, I agree that you should always design for users first. The great thing is usually when you design a site with real people in mind you often end up with a site that search engines like too.

  5. I agree that good design is very important. “Design” does not mean producing visually appealing effects only. It should also include information presentation and usability issues. Unfortunately, many clients do not aware of it.

  6. I hired a web developer to do the customized design of my blog. Aside from the design having to do with my niche, adsense were also highlighted in the design that I had it made for me.

  7. I’d say that after a long time i’ve seen a pure article related to the design of the web site. Yes! People actually thing that the content and keywords are the only things that matter in SEO. I went to work in a company, they already had an SEO expert working with them. And that guy only put the content on the pages. The whole outlook of the website was so jumbled up, that a new visitor gets confused at the very first look that where he has to go? Keep the outlook of the site as simple as you can :)

    • It’s interesting because from a search spider perspective nothing but text on the page might be preferred, but when real people arrive…

      People do make instant decisions so a quality design can go a long way toward keeping them on the site and leading them down your conversion funnel. It might also lead some to be more likely to link to your content.

      Deign is important to SEO.

  8. I always had this idea that a good design would keep visitors coming back. But I really had no idea about point #1. I never knew coding mattered with search engines

    • Ninah, code definitely matters. My own feeling is it’s more that poor code will put up roadblocks for search engines. For example search engines still have trouble reading links in javascript so if your menu is all javascript search engines may not find most of your pages since they won’t find the links.

  9. Yes, i am completely agree with you that good designs helps to make bounce rate lower. Because if website is good looking and also it takes little time to loading then visitors would like to spend more time on browsing your site and bounce rate becomes lower….

  10. Great advice. A good design will really attract visitors. You have a lot of advantage when your web is well designed. Your site becomes noticeable thus making visitors keep coming back for more.

    • I always think it’s silly when I see people suggest that design isn’t important. Do you need to have the most well designed site in the world? Probably not, but to dismiss what a good design can do doesn’t make sense.

  11. This has shed some light on the matter for me definitely and I intend to use this in the future. Well done a very simple and concise post. Looking forward to learning more from reading your blog.

  12. Technically, people think that if their website is ranking high in Google they well get clients as well. But what they fail to see is that when people are on their website, they should be convincing enough to close a sale. 1st impressions last.

  13. Thanks for the interesting points.
    I have to agree with number 5 that a great design really lowers your bounce rate. Whether we like it or not, humans are attracted to nice looking things. If someone arrives at a site that looks like it cost $2 to build, they will click the close button quicker than you can say “bounce”!
    Thanks for the read

    • Absolutely. People like beautiful things. An attractive site will likely keep people on the site longer, all other things being equal. Keep people on site is more than just looking good, but it should help.

  14. I had never thought of the importance of a site’s design and clean HTML, and its effect on seo. This has actually opened my eyes to a broader way of looking at seo strategy.

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