August 24, 2022

How Bad Website Design Hurts SEO

By: Mary Hiers

Bad website design can eventually make your website invisible to search engines. It can happen regardless of how well you have optimized your website’s content.

Search engines are designed to answer people’s questions with as few clicks as possible. Your website should be designed accordingly.

Some website design elements hinder the visitor’s goal of gathering information. This can cause them to give up and leave your website, maybe before it even finishes loading.

Here are some bad design choices and how they can harm SEO.

Big, Slow-Loading Elements

Have you ever visited a website where you had to wait for a large autoplay video to load before anything happened? It was probably frustrating, right?

Huge images that push content “below the fold” can also frustrate visitors. And if your site uses an uncommon font that has to load before getting down to business, it creates more friction for the visitor. Friction prompts visitors to bail.

Clutter from too many elements can also cause problems. Clutter not only affects the look of your website but also slows down load time too. 

Any friction you add between your visitor and the information they want from your website harms your SEO efforts. As Search Engine Land put it, if you have to include a timer to let visitors know that content is on the way, it’s too slow.

Lack of Mobile-Friendliness

Data from 2021 by Statista found that more than half of all page views now take place on mobile devices. Responsive design helps with mobile-friendliness, but it can’t do everything.

You must also ensure that your navigation works well on mobile devices. Local search results often depend on a good mobile experience (Think of a search on “coffee shops near me.”). 

The last thing you want is for someone searching for your business to encounter cumbersome navigation. Test every page on mobile devices to see how well they function.

Ill-Timed Pop-Ups

While pop-ups can be beneficial if your website implements them correctly, too many websites don’t. We have all found ourselves settling into an article only to be confronted by an obnoxious pop-up asking us to join a mailing list.

While pop-ups should not appear immediately, beware of making them appear after only a few seconds. If you can do an “exit intent” pop-up — where people only see it when they leave the page — you can get your point across with minimal annoyance. 

You can also use pop-ups more effectively if you make them as small as reasonably possible and “stick” them to the top of the site. 

Bad Content

With content, you get what you pay for. Fifteen years or so ago, website owners bought content for a couple of dollars per article just to get pages on their sites filled up. It usually did not go well.

Non-native English speakers would take existing high-ranking content, run it through Google Translate into their own language, and then run that result back through the translator into English. It quickly generated cheap, indecipherable content that could nonetheless rank if it had the right keywords.

Search engines are much smarter now. They recognize (and penalize) keyword stuffing and duplicate content. They also recognize (and boost) high-quality content that answers questions clearly without being crammed with keywords. 

Unfinished Business

Some designers go to the trouble of creating attractive or funny 404 pages. That’s great as long as visitors rarely encounter them.

When users repeatedly bump into these dead ends, they give up on your site. Using 301 redirects instead of leading visitors to 404 pages can help significantly.

But if your site is full of redirects, perhaps it’s time for more drastic action. Does your navigation still suit your needs? Your sitemap and navigation may benefit from an overhaul.

Effects of Bad Website Design

The end result of bad website design is a loss of credibility and trust from your visitors. People who are active in your industry may eventually learn to avoid your website due to repeated bad experiences there.

As a result, your rank on SERPs will drop. This will be due to high bounce rates and shorter time-on-site metrics. 

The problem is, website visitors aren’t always interested in offering second chances. They form their initial impression of your site within 50 milliseconds, and if it’s negative, you’ll have a hard time overcoming it.

Ask Yourself These Questions

To help prevent bad website design from upending your SEO efforts, periodically (at least every six months) ask yourself some hard questions.

  • When was the last time I visited every page of our website?
  • How many 404 pages did I encounter on a tour of the website?
  • Have we recently tried out all the pages on a mobile device?
  • When was the last time we updated our website?
  • Could someone unfamiliar with our site navigate their way around it?
  • How long do our pages take to load?
  • Is it clear from a user’s first visit what we do and what we sell?
  • Does our content perform as we’d like it to?
  • How has our SERP performance changed over time?

If you don’t like the answers to these questions, it is probably time for some light upgrades or even a complete overhaul. Put simply: visitors quickly abandon websites that don’t operate as they expect.

SEO Can’t Do All the Heavy Lifting

SEO in the form of good content, relevant keywords, keyword-containing alt-tags, and a layout designed for readability is necessary for climbing the SERPs. But it can’t do it alone.

Slow-loading pages filled with large, unnecessary elements can undo SEO progress. So can navigation that leads visitors on a wild goose chase. 

Lack of mobile-friendliness is inexcusable today since at least half of your page views are going to come from mobile devices. And while 404 pages are a necessary evil, they should be rare. 

Web Design Evolution

The web design that worked splendidly in 2012 may not work well at all in 2022. The technology has progressed, and web users expect more.

If your website isn’t performing well and you’re not sure why, perhaps you should schedule a call with our team. Our expertise in web design and SEO can get your web presence back on track. 

Whether you need a site refresh, SEO-enriched content, or a complete redesign of your website, we know what to do. Our goal is for you to have a website that you are proud of and that serves your business well, 24/7/365.


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