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How bad website design is ruining your organic rankings

How bad website design is ruining your organic rankings

Don’t kid yourself – when you think about website design does your mind go to slick image carousels and fancy graphics, or organic search performance?

I’ll wager my daily coffee(s) that it’s the former, but be warned: Bad website design can seriously impact your SEO ranking, potentially lending your competitors the edge in capturing vital digital leads.

So, let’s explore what website features impact SEO, why your site needs to be mobile friendly, and the tools you can use to squeeze the most out of your company’s corner of the internet.

What website features impact SEO ranking?

Here are some common website features you must get right if you want Google to look favourably on your site:

1. Keywords

Despite what you may hear, keywords are very much alive in 2019. However, shoving them in willy-nilly, or deliberately overfilling articles and pages with keywords, won’t help your website’s cause. In fact, keyword stuffing is actively penalised by Google’s algorithm – you could actually slip down the rankings rather than rise up.

Your website design should include keywords in the following core places:

  • URL – While only a minor ranking factor, every little helps – if you can organically get keywords into your URL, then go for it.
  • Title tags – This is the big one. Without a title tag, Google has no immediate idea of what a given page is about. This makes it harder for the search engine to index your site, meaning you could miss out on appearing in relevant searches by prospects.
  • Heading tags – More on formatting later, but breaking up copy with keyword-optimised title tags will make digesting the content easier for both readers and the crawlers. Google uses to understand pages.
  • Body copy – Whether it’s a blog or a landing page, including keywords naturally in your copy helps alert Google that it’s relevant to a specific search query.
  • Alt tags – Google uses alt tags, or alt text, to determine what’s in an image and how this relates to accompanying text. This is because crawlers can’t see and understand images themselves.

2. Navigation

It’s crucial your website navigation boosts both SEO performance and user experience. Illogical or broken site architecture will frustrate human searchers and search engine  crawlers alike. Here are some top tips:

  • Use content hierarchies – Start with broad landing pages that link to related, more specific sub pages. You can continue this pattern so bots can follow a clear progression through your site. This also gives you the opportunity to rank for general head terms as well as more specific long-tail keywords.
  • Include horizontal linking – The danger of content hierarchies is that you silo different sections of your site from each other. Prudent use of horizontally linking across different arms of your hierarchy makes life easier for crawlers to connect the dots.
  • Get specific People aren’t searching ‘products’ or ‘services’, so don’t use these in your nav. Instead help search engines and users know exactly what a page will contain before they crawl the copy itself.
  • Be careful with dropdown menus – If you want to use dropdowns, ensure they are written into the HTML. If not, these can be hard for bots to crawl, meaning you lose ranking points for navigability.
  • Beware JavaScript – Google and co. can have real trouble locating internal links created with JavaScript. Therefore, if you use this programming language, your site architecture can seem non-existent to bots. Search engines are improving their capability here, and some would argue JavaScript is vital for user experience, but be wary when it comes to using it for nav.
  • Make the most of blogs – It’s common practice for a blog CTA to link to a product page, but this can also work in reverse. When a blog post can aid the buying process for a specific item, don’t be afraid to link out to it.

3. Page speed

Google and humans are equally impatient it seems, and page loading speed is an important  ranking factor.

There are two sides to how this works:

  • Time to first byte loading – How Google measures page speed is somewhat unclear. However, research from Moz shows the search engine might be specifically looking at what’s known as ‘time to first byte’ – i.e. how long it takes your browser to get the first byte of info from the page server. Those that deliver faster are considered higher quality.
  • Crawler allocation – Much like marketers, search engines are time poor. They have an allocated crawl budget, and a slow site may miss out on being fully indexed if its pages are slow loading.

So, how can you speed things up a bit?

  • Compress files – HTML, CSS and JavaScript files can be compressed using a software app called Gzip. If you want to compress images, use a dedicated program like Photoshop or Lightroom so you don’t reduce quality too.
  • Boost your server response speed – Factors from your hosting solution to your website traffic can slow your server response time. Root out potential speed bumps in the form of insufficient memory and slow database queries to improve this.
  • Take advantage of browser caching – Browsers can cache lots of information so they don’t need to reload whole pages should visitors return. You can use a tool named Yslow to select how long you want information to be saved, with a year being a standard timeframe.
  • Cut redirects – Every time a webpage redirects to another, users have to wait for a request-response cycle between the browser and server. Reducing redirects therefore means shorter wait times.

4. Formatting and appearance

You also need to consider aesthetics when optimising your site for SEO ranking. The following can influence how your website performs:


Search engines reward copy that can be scanned easily for takeaways, so including the following elements can be beneficial:

  • Bulletlists and numbered points.
  • Short paragraphs with clear headers.
  • Bolded texts.


Images on your website should:

  • Have an image title.
  • Be relevant to the page they’re on and accompanied by alt text.
  • Be compressed without compromising on quality.

Other rich media:

  • In addition, including other rich elements such as videos or social media embeds can boost your ranking. It’s important that these are used only when they add real value to the page.

5. Security

While our eyes often skim over the first part of a domain name, for Google there’s an important difference between HTTP and HTTPS sites.

Given the name of this subsection, there are no prizes for guessing that the S here stands for security. HTTPS websites protect users in three ways:

  • Authentication prevents cyber attacks on users.
  • Data integrity means internet files can’t be corrupted as they’re transferred to the searcher’s browser.
  • Encryption means hackers can’t steal user information or track their activity.

Security has been a Google ranking factor since 2014, and a study by Blue Corona found that 40 per cent of page 1 results are HTTPS sites.

As recent digital privacy controversies have shown, the public is becoming increasingly critical of companies that don’t take adequate precautions to protect data. As ranking factors reflect searcher priorities, expect to see security becoming even more important in the years to come.

Why mobile friendly websites rank better in SEO

Mobile friendliness is so important to ranking today that it deserves it’s own H2.

According to Statista, 52.2 per cent of all worldwide website traffic in 2018 came from mobile phones. This was up 2 per cent from the year before, and nearly 10 per cent from 2016.

Since 2015, Google has made it explicitly clear that mobile friendliness is a ranking factor. Indeed, a survey by Blue Corona found that 70 per cent of sites on page one of Google’s results page are optimised for handheld devices.

If your business hasn’t yet adapted to what marketers at the time dubbed Mobilegeddon, here are some things to think about:

  • Design responsively – To ensure your mobile audience sees the same content as desktop users, make your website device responsive. If you’re not a programming expert, either get professional help with this or seek templates that have designated mobile functionality.
  • Avoid Flash – Flash is bad. Bad for SEO (due to slow loading speeds), bad for your street cred (because who uses Flash these days?) and definitely bad for mobile searchers as neither iOS or Android support its use.
  • Use media queries – This allows your site to ask a device what size it is, and then instruct the browser to display your content according to the relevant CCS you have set.
  • Don’t block CSS, image files or JavaScriptWhile in the past, some mobile devices couldn’t support these elements, most now can. Given you want to make your site as universally reachable as possible, leaving these options open is in your best interests.
  • Consider scrolling – Thumbs and fingers aren’t always precise as computer mice, so making sure your buttons aren’t too big or too small will help users get around your site easily.
  • Optimise for local search – You should do this for your site anyway, but the local factor takes on new significance for on-the-go mobile users who may be en route to purchase. An important step is including your business’ postal address and phone number in the site metadata.
  • Mobile page speed – Rapid loading is even more important for users accessing your site from a handheld device. You can use the same tactics outlined earlier to speed up page loading.

Useful (and free) tools for improving a website’s SEO performance

  • Google’s Webmaster Tools – Google itself has a host of tools you can use to analyse your website’s SEO potential. For example. Fetch as Google allows you to view a URL as Google sees it in order to pinpoint weak spots.
  • SEMrush – SEMrush can conduct a full SEO audit of your site including keyword research and link analysis.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights – A self-explanatory tool, Google PageSpeed Insights not only speed checks your site, but also suggests ways you can improve loading times.
  • Hubspot’s Website Grader – This is another great multipurpose app that allows you to analyse:
    • Mobile readiness.
    • SEO performance.
    • Security for users.
    • Performance, including speed metrics.
  • Check My Links – Perfect for a final check before your site goes live, Check My Links allows you to, well, check your links. It can analyse both internal and external links to ensure none are broken.
  • UpCity’s SEO Report Card – Primarily a competitor analysis tool, SEO Report Card lets you analyse factors including:
    • How well you’re incorporating keywords in your site.
    • How quickly your site loads.
    • How easy it is for crawlers to index your site.

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Al Hall
Al Hall About the author