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by Ade Lewis on 6th February 2013
Web designers and SEOs don’t always see eye-to-eye, which is why Ade Lewis from Teapot Creative takes a look at what the two disciplines can learn from each other. Can’t we all just get along?
You have to have been asleep for a very long time to realise that what we generically call ‘SEO’ has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. Spam is dead (or should be), SEO agencies are getting bigger; there are increasingly more of them and individual roles within agencies are getting more specialised. A great many things have changed over the years but one unfortunate area still remains largely ignored by SEOs the world over: Web Design.
We all know that conversions are better than traffic, that brand reputation, trust and customer loyalty are hugely important to being successful and that sales rely on usability and user experience, so why do many agencies and freelancers seem to have a blind spot when it comes to web design?
I don’t know if it is that people see coding and design as being too complicated and out of their realm, but almost anyone can look at a website and say whether they like it or not. Just ask your self the question – “Would you buy from that website?” That’s it.
You don’t need to know how to fix it, you just need to identify that there is an issue that needs resolving. Design and trust are always a personal thing, so it may be that you end up in the minority and everyone else thinks the site is great; but don’t be scared of questioning the design of a website if you don’t think that it is good enough to convert site visitors to customers.
SEO has gone beyond simply raising the profile of a website in search engines. It used to be that if you were ranking number 1 for your top keyword then you were winning. You could have a crappy website sitting at the top of Google and the money would keep rolling in. This doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Websites have improved massively; there’s more interaction, better design, better usability, quicker navigation from Home page to product or from Home page to service and increasing numbers of visitors are landing on websites from sources other than search engines.
So let’s take a look at five reasons why web design should be your first stop in any SEO campaign.
If Joe Bloggs hits your website and doesn’t instantly like what he sees then there is a very high chance that he will bounce back to Google, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever he came from within seconds.
There is often a lot of confusion and controversy about bounce rates. What is classed as a high bounce rate? Do Google penalise a site if the bounce rate is high? These are questions for another blog post, but it is safe to say that if the aim of your website is to sell a product or a service then if your site visitors are bouncing then they aren’t buying.
An ugly website will sell less, this is a fact.
Here are a few things to look out for :-
a) Is it immediately clear what the site does?
b) Would you trust the information on the site?
c) Would you recommend it to a friend?
d) Are the business contact details easy to find?
e) Does the site use stock photography images featuring the same people that we’ve all seen a thousand times before?
f) Is the site packed to the eyeballs with advertising?
g) Is it hard to tell which parts of the site are adverts and which parts are meant to be content?
h) Do your competitors’ sites look a hundred times better?
Improving the look of a website is by far the easiest way of reducing the bounce rate and improving the stickiness of a site. It doesn’t need to have award-winning design that utilises the latest techniques, it just needs to look professional, be easy to read, the styling needs to match the target audience and it should be trustworthy.
When people think about web design, the first thought is normally about how a site looks but the architecture and layout of a site is just as important. Poorly designed websites not only look bad but they are often really badly planned with no thought put into why they were built in the first place. Here’s a standard conversation that leads to a poorly designed website :-
Client – Hi. I need a web site.
Web Designer – How many pages do you need?
Client – Uhhmm, Maybe 25.
Web Designer – No problem. If you send me the web addresses of a few sites that you like and the text copy then I’ll build one for you. Do you have a logo?
Client – Yes, my wife did it in Microsoft Word for me.
Web Designer – Great. That will be £1000 please.
Client – That sounds quite expensive.
Web Designer – How about £900 and I’ll include the web hosting for free?
Client – Ok. When will it be ready?
Web Designer – Tomorrow.
Ok, I may have taken this hypothetical conversation to the extreme but it illustrates a stripped down version of the common process that results in an unsuccessful website. There is often no thought given to why the site is being built, who the target audience are or what the business goals are likely to be. This type of website planning is completely lead by the client, it may contain the text copy that the client wants to include but very often isn’t structured to logically funnel site visitors towards the business goals.
If you are starting a new SEO campaign then it is worthwhile getting a couple of other people that don’t know the details of the job to visit the site. Watch them and see how long it takes them to understand what the site is about, how it works and if they complete a goal such as following a purchase through to the checkout stage or completing a contact form. At a minimum it should be clear and easy for site visitors to complete the goals of the business.
If you find that there are issues that need addressing and they can be sorted out from the start, then it will make the success of the campaign much more likely. A lot of the time it isn’t possible to get site changes made at the start of a project (normally down to client budget) but if you are aware of the issues early on then it will still help shape the way that you run the campaign and you can raise these issues again later on in the project.
Good site content is an absolute must. Content that interests, engages, inspires or amuses can be the difference between a successful website and an unsuccessful one.
You can have the best written content in the world packed with interesting, relevant and witty information, but the truth is that if your website looks like it was built in 1993 then hardly anyone is going to read it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have good copy, but just don’t waste it.
Your content should be clear and easy to read. Where possible it should start above the fold and the font colour should not induce any level of headache.
Oh and the use of Comic Sans is still a crime.
Is it clear that there is a credible person or company behind the website?
The use of ‘obvious’ stock photography throughout a website can give it a faceless and overly corporate feel; I say ‘obvious’ because not all stock photography is bad.
We have all seen the standard stock photos of perfect employees with impossibly white teeth, groups of young male-model businessmen clutching their briefcases and punching the air depicting deserved success. These images fill space on a website and they break up text content but they do nothing to inspire trust and loyalty from your site visitors. Ahem….
As a general rule, if images are being used to depict members of staff then these should be images of the ‘actual’ members of staff. The photography may not be as high quality and the people may not be as beautiful but it is honest and that honesty will be picked up.
Make sure that contact details are really easy to find with telephone numbers in headers and physical addresses in footers. Nothing shouts ‘Dodgy!’ more than a site with no contact details. If you can show a local number that can also help build trust although that is not always possible for large brands and those using phone number tracking services. The end goal is to show people you want them to know who you are, that you are a real business and you want them to get in touch.
Clearly communicating your logo and brand through the design of your site reinforces that your business is comfortable and confident with its own identity. A website may well be the first impression that someone has of your brand.
Ensuring that a website is trustworthy and branded helps to provide a positive user experience. Site visitors will be much more likely to trust content, much more likely share content via social media and much more likely to link to it.
Link building is normally the most expensive part of any on-going SEO campaign. Building high quality links takes a large amount of time and effort and the easier you can build these links the more cost effective your agency will be.
Link builders can often be quite removed from the site that they are trying to build links to, their whole focus is on finding the best link prospects and crafting a cleverly personalised outreach email. It can be easy to overlook the fact that at some point between outreach and placing a link, the link prospect will visit the website and, like our friend Joe Bloggs from earlier, if they don’t like what they see they too are likely to bounce.
No Trust = No Link
If at all possible you should never get to the outreach stage of a project still trying to promote a crappy website. If you are at this stage then updating the site styling should be a no brainer.
How many SEO agencies write their own copy?
How many SEO agencies film and produce their own video content?
I would estimate that 99.9% of agencies outsource at least some of their regular tasks, why should web design be any different?
Give a decent web designer FTP access to a site for a day and they can work wonders. Two days and they can work miracles.
Business Man Jumping of Joy from BigStock
Business Man Writing The Web Design Concepts On a Black Board from BigStock
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.