I’m sure you already know that humans are innately visual creatures. We eat with our eyes first, we’re attracted to aesthetically pleasing objects and we most certainly judge a book by its cover. In fact, visual marketing will make up beyond 84% of our communications by 2018.

So yes – visuals are vital. In all my years of online marketing, I’ve always agreed that good web design is a crucial aspect of any marketing strategy.

But I have a question – why create eye-catching, aesthetically pleasing website if no one can find them? If your site isn’t search engine friendly, it won’t appear in search results, and your sales will stagnate.

Through my work in SEO, I’ve seen a few common web design mistakes crop up time and again, hampering the search performance of otherwise sales-worthy websites.

So let’s take a step back.

Before you design or redesign your website, I’ve pulled together 6 of the frequent mistakes I see on a daily basis. Avoiding these 6 faux pas will help you get your work to the screens and eyes of the people who really matter: your customers.

Know what you’re after? Jump to the section:

1. Never Neglect the Navigation Standards
2. Less is more: Don’t Saturate Your Screens
3. If you want to optimise, you have to modernise
4. Optimise your Images – for SEO and for your users
5. Go back to the SEO basics: meta titles and descriptions
6. Make sure you’re designing for a mobile-first world

1. Never Neglect the Navigation Standards

First up, let’s talk about Horizontal Navigation and Footer Links:

Properly organised, naturally intuitive navigation isn’t just essential for visitor satisfaction, it’s an integral driver of SEO success.

I’ve met some designers who seem to believe that super minimal, uber-bare sites that lack regular navigation elements or footer links actually attract users, or seem original and unique to everyone. Perhaps, in the minority of cases, they’re right.

But search engines actually treat wrongly-applied creative art like poor internal linking structures, harming your rankings and reputation.
Getting lost is only fun if you’re doing it on purpose. In my experience, a global navigation bar must be present on each web page; otherwise there’s a large chance that your users will get over trying to find what they were looking for – and leave.

horizontal navigational menu for seoFigure 1: Example of SEO friendly site-wide horizontal menu

I’ve also often seen designers and developers underestimate the power of footer links. They are a key SEO element: any links in the main menu and footer will be carried out site-wide and expand your business’s internet footprint, helping you gain better rankings – especially locally.

Here are 6 of my recommendations for critical footer elements to include:

  •  Name, Address and Phone number (schema markup)
  • Main services and products, along with ranking pages
  • Your ABN number
  • Your credibility: membership, certification logos, payment method logos
  • Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions
  • Social media links

footer example for seo benefitsFigure 2: Example of SEO friendly footer

Secondly, don’t forget the Breadcrumbs:

Universe > Solar System > Internet > Your Website > Your Success: I’ve often found that a perfectly constructed breadcrumb trail matrix significantly increases a site’s search engine performance.

Not only are text links easily read by search engines, but they also provide a transparent hierarchical navigation structure for your site. Happy eyes, lots of buys. Right?

Unfortunately, designers often neglect breadcrumb pathways – despite their significant increase of a website’s user-friendliness. Why are we not responding to the stats? Why are we skirting small changes that could have meaningful impact on our SEO?

breadcrumb for seo for medical practicesFigure 3: Breadcrumb structure example – this is good for both users and search engines to understand the structure of the website

2. Less is more: Don’t Saturate Your Screens

Any internet whizz knows that fancy graphics, animations, redundant code and excessive widgets are a sure way to generate achingly slow load times.

And slow pages don’t only incite bad user experiences. Besides degrading your conversions, they’re also a critical search engine ranking factor.

Google agrees with me. In the last few years, ‘slow to load’ labels were introduced in Google search results for mobile devices. No one is going to want to click through to a site that drains data and takes up precious time – myself included.

So what’s the first step to fast success? Fix the speed-killing elements on your website. Here are some of my favourite testing tools – don’t just test your home page, test all the important and ranking pages too:

3. If you want to optimise, you have to modernise

Scratch the splash:
I know that splash screens are somewhat eye-catching, and I’ve seen some really great ones in my years of online marketing. But in reality, splash screens act as barriers between search engines and your website.

I can promise you that an empty, directionless homepage won’t be favoured by search engines because it causes an improper indexation of the entire site. I can recommend two things: either abandon the splash page entirely, or, if it is an absolute must-have, make it meaningful.
I can’t denounce a splash screen with plenty of textual content and directional value in the body of the page.

splash page puma seoFigure 4: Impressive design for Puma’s home page splash page, it looks great but not SEO friendly

Too Much Flash can kill your SEO and conversion:

Flash just isn’t flashy anymore. A Flash-based homepage is one of the biggest, and yet still staggeringly common SEO blunders that I encounter on a regular basis.

I think we often assume that as long as it engages an audience, then it is a good thing – and its SEO friendliness is of lesser importance.

But – Flash, Java applets, and other non-textual content hinder ultimate SEO favourability, and are all increasingly devalued and ignored by search engine spiders.

I also recently saw that Google Chrome has already stopped auto-playing flash ads, as they halt the web browsing experience.

But zero Flash isn’t my only solution – I suggest that we just avoid applying it to important content and navigation elements.

Using flash in your website’s core spaces seriously affects your website’s usability – you’ll experience issues with your navigation, bookmarking, font resizing and more.

Most importantly,you’ll inadvertently turn both search engines and potential customers away. And we all know that that’s not a good thing.

Avoid Obsolete iframes at all costs:

If you thought Flash belonged in the archives of yesteryear, there’s another obsolete, SEO-unfriendly technology I want you to meet: iframes.

The content inside them is hidden and difficult for search engines to comprehend – no matter how valuable it may be. Plus, they’re difficult to navigate, and are – in my opinion – essentially redundant.

It’s time to move on.

iframes bad for seoFigure 5: Ask your developer not to use Iframes if possible

4. Optimise your Images – for SEO and for your users

I’ve seen no shortage of effective ways to increase readability – paragraphs are paramount, as are short snappy sentences, headings, and sub-headings. But my favourite way to make attractive content is by using lots of images – remember, humans are driven by visuals!

Images encourage organic traffic through search engine image results. To make the most of this alternative traffic source, your visuals need to be optimised accordingly – a step which a surprising number of people still ignore.

Here are my 4 top tips on image optimisation:

  • Scale down your images whilst maintaining a decent quality. The magic numbers lie below 100KB, but if you need higher resolution hero images aim towards the 150KB mark
  • Make sure your image is formatted properly for the web (GIF, JPG, and PNG are popular file types that I would endorse)
  • Avoid generic image names like IMG0001.JPG. Ideally, Google prefers descriptive names like my-main-keyword-here.JPG
  • Pictures and meta text go hand in hand. Use the alternative image meta tag to describe your visual elements effectively

In fact, I always advocate that how you describe your image in the Alt section (known as Alt-tags or Alt-text) is paramount. What Google reads is what you’ve written in the alt-attribute. No pressure.

Alt-text should be descriptive, yet concise and not saturated with keywords. Remember, SEO isn’t its only purpose.

Did you know that visually impaired customers will be using screen reader software to describe your images to them? And that screen reader software only has one thing to read: your alt-text.

image optimisation for seo medical practicesFigure 6: Fill in as much information about the image as possible in these fields, especially the Alt Text tab

I’d like to share a few extra image tips:

  • Don’t provide important business information like addresses and contact details inside header or footer images
  • And avoid using images in article headers! Replacing content with striking visuals may look appealing, but it isn’t best practice for SEO. Header text is ultimately meant to highlight the important keywords and messaging from your articles – in most cases, opting for graphics as an alternative harms your overall content.

use text as the post titleFigure 7: Your website page title should always be in text format

5. Go back to the SEO basics: meta titles and descriptions

Did you know that meta titles and descriptions make up 15% of Google’s Ranking Algorithm? They are an integral on-page element that summarise and present the integral keyword phrases from your content.
Your SEO title (50-60 characters), meta description (150-160 characters) and keyword phrase density are vital. Each time one my clients deploys a compelling meta description and SEO title, their search result CTR soars.

6. Make sure you’re designing for a mobile-first world

My final point is that we live in markedly mobile times. In fact, I’ve recently seen various reports show that the majority of website visits are from mobile devices.

What that means for SEO is that if your site is not designed with cell phone or tablet viewing in mind, and subsequently unable to load properly, your potential customers will more than likely leave the website – and never return.

It’s simple, isn’t it? The more bounces your website has, the harder it will be for it to rank in organic search listings.

In fact, Google’s early 2015 algorithmic update demoted websites that don’t boast mobile-friendliness, while mobile-friendly websites saw an average 12% increase in Google mobile visibility. I think it’s time we, like the rest of the world, go mobile-first.

Here are 3 of my favourite Google webmaster tools to help you pass the mobile-friendly litmus test:
Mobile-Friendly Test – Key in your website and press Analyze. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you’ll get recommendations on how to fix it in return.
Robots Testing Tool – A single robots.txt error instigates a large drop in search visibility.
PageSpeed Insights – Mobile internet connections are slower. With our sub-goldfish attention spans, a split-second delay may be worth a thousand dollars of business loss.

Responsive is responsible:
In my experience, responsive design not only offers customers a consistent user experience across devices, but will also increase their engagement and reduce bounce rates. It’s a no-brainer, really!

IN CONCLUSION: some parting advice

It’s a long journey, and I know that yours is unique. But harnessing these 6 steps is another 6 steps closer to unlocking ultimate business value. My parting recommendation? Collaboration is key:

User experience is of the utmost importance. In fact, I can assure that it’s even a major focal point for Google’s metrics. Basically, if your users aren’t happy, Google won’t give you a good ranking.

But I think that with the wealth of talent, research and creativity available to us, there is no longer an adequate excuse for intentionally ignoring SEO – even if it initially seems to limit artistic capabilities. There is no need to eliminate great design for optimisation’s sake.

I suggest that we look towards collaboration. Get your designers to work together with reputable SEO specialists and developers to find formulas that meet both the preferences of your users and the requirements of search engines.

I truly believe that this coherence is the surest step towards ultimate SEO (and subsequently sales) success.


Our Clients

16 Ways to Increase the Conversion Rate Right Now

Learn More