Web design plays a crucial role in conveying legitimacy. If your visitors don’t immediately trust your website, the chances of them converting are slim.
In one study, more than 2,500 participants were asked to evaluate the credibility of two websites. Nearly half of the comments (46.1%) reviewed were related to visual design or how the pages looked. Both examples demonstrate the value and importance of great web design.
But good web design not only considers visual aesthetics but also acknowledges SEO best practices.
Ignoring one for the other is a major lapse in judgment as both complement each other well. A well-designed site keeps visitors engaged and properly optimized pages rank better in search. Despite the obvious benefits, both tend to be treated separately which often leads to poor web design decisions that sabotage SEO.
Here we look at some of the most common web design flaws that can do more harm than good to your site’s rankings.
1. Not Going Mobile
A website may work well on desktops but if it’s not optimized for mobile, users would have to zoom in and out on the page or scroll horizontally. It’s an experience that can be incredibly frustrating. A survey from Google found that online users are 61% more likely to leave sites that aren’t optimized for their devices.
Recognizing that poorly optimized sites lead to awful online experiences, Google has even made mobile friendliness a ranking factor:
“When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns.”
The changes have already been rolled out worldwide. If your website design isn’t mobile friendly, then you can expect rankings in the mobile search results to drop.
One solution is to build out a dedicated mobile site where users on smartphones or tablets are automatically redirected to. But this approach tends to be more costly as it means having another site to maintain. Google would also have to index the URLs separately.
To address these issues and meet all mobile requirements, Google recommends responsive design:
Responsive design dynamically adjusts to fit any screen resolution. Google bots are also able to efficiently crawl and index the site as the same code is served on the same URL.
So how do you make your site mobile friendly?
Instead of building from the ground up, perhaps the easiest solution is to use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress. Its versatility has made it one of the most popular publishing platforms in the world and it can be adapted for different purposes.
Sites such as ThemeForest offer paid themes that are fully responsive so they’ll deliver optimal browsing experience on desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
After installing a responsive design, enter your URL into Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool. You’ll see the following if your site is mobile friendly:
Mobile needs to be a priority if it isn’t already. Not only do you risk visitors bouncing out, but also lower rankings in the search results.
2. Using Intrusive Pop-Ups
Intrusive ads are yet another design flaw that can harm your site’s SEO. They block the entire screen and users often have to carefully tap a small X button to dismiss them. Earlier this year, Google began rolling out an update that penalizes sites that do the following on their website:
Here are the examples that Google provided:
Consumers are constantly bombarded with ads across multiple channels. Not only are certain ads intrusive, but data from Goo Technologies has found that 82% of Americans frequently ignore online ads.
Google’s primary goals for its online users is to deliver optimal browsing experience. Intrusive ads that cover the entire screen prevent users from quickly finding what they’re looking for. Content that has hidden behind such pop-ups lead to frustrating experiences.
Certain pop-ups can still work well depending on how they’re shown. If you decide to use them on your website, they should be:
Google’s update primarily targets intrusive pop-ups that block the entire screen. The following are examples that Google has stated would not be affected by the new changes:
The key is that the pop-up needs to be unobtrusive. Visitors should still be able to view your content and easily dismiss the pop-up with a close button.
As annoying and intrusive that certain pop-ups are, they can also be incredibly effective. One study found that adding a pop-up form to the homepage increased signups by 50%. The key to making pop-ups work is to make it relevant to your audience and include a clear value proposition.
Here is an example from Search Engine Journal that does a good job of doing both:
Pop-ups that are relevant and highlight a clear benefit for visitors stand a much better chance of generating measurable results. While pop-ups can be effective, it’s still a good idea to use them in moderation.
3. Using Flash
Flash makes it possible to display visually appealing multimedia and stream content. But it’s also problematic for a number of reasons:
- Not search engine friendly: Flash may be visually attractive but it’s not search engine friendly and Google even states that it can prevent its spiders from crawling the page. To rank for your target keywords, search engines need to be able to access and crawl your site.
- Not mobile friendly: While Android devices can render Flash content, others such as Apple’s iOS operating system lack support for it. If you’re using Flash for certain parts of your site, those areas would be inaccessible to the millions of mobile users on iOS.
- Massively insecure: Another widespread problem with Flash is that it’s massively insecure and riddled with security vulnerabilities, making it a popular target for hackers.
The example below further illustrates the jarring differences between how users and search engines view Flash content:
A site that is built with Flash may be viewable by online users but search engines are unable to crawl and index that content. Instead, what they see is a blank page along with any text that might be present. This makes it especially difficult to rank in the search results.
Modern websites have now mostly phased out Flash in favor of other alternatives such as HTML5. But there are still a number of WordPress themes and plugins that rely on Flash to display certain content.
If Flash is used for navigation menus or even page headings, it makes it difficult for Google to follow certain links and assess the content on a page—both of which have a negative impact on a page’s optimization for search.
Bottomline: Flash may be visually appealing but it’s also an outdated technology that more companies are phasing out. One survey that polled 579 online users found that a large majority of respondents prefered sites that didn’t use Flash. If you wish to include interactive elements on your site, use more search engine friendly alternatives such as HTML5.
4. Cluttering Your Pages
Imagine that you’re in the market for an ATV. After some initial online research, you land on the following site:
What immediately stands out is that the site is cluttered and has no sense of orders.
New visitors are immediately bombarded with information and may not even know where to focus their attention on first. This business may very well be legitimate with thousands of satisfied customers. But that fact would more than likely be lost on new visitors.
Because data shows that the average page visit frequently lasts less than a minute. The following chart shows that the probability of a visitor leaving a page is highest in the first few seconds:
So what makes visitors more likely to click the back button?
Poor web design.
It’s tempting to pack your pages with as many elements as possible. But as we can see from the example above, too much clutter can overwhelm visitors and make them more likely to click out.
Clutter not only affects a site’s usability but also its SEO. Fancy animations and widgets are certainly visually appealing but they’re resource intensive which affects site performance. Page abandonment rates skyrocket the longer it takes for a page to load.
Each second counts especially for mobile users who don’t have the patience to wait for pages to load. Google has even made page speed a ranking factor. This means that performance issues could reduce your site’s rankings in the search results.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to test your site’s speed. The tool provides a rating for both the mobile and desktop version of your site, and even includes suggestions for boosting performance.
Take steps to optimize your site performance (e.g. enable browser caching, optimize images, etc.) as even a one second improvement can translate to huge benefits. Clean and minimal layouts that are free of clutter tend to work best.
Whether building a new website or redesigning an existing one, SEO is one aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. By steering clear of some of the web design mistakes as covered here, you’ll have a better-designed website that is also optimized for search engines. Both of which will contribute more to your bottom line in the long term.