SEO & Web Design: What You Need to Know

Web designers and SEOs have always had to work together, but it hasn’t always gone well. Arguments have broken out. Dry erase markers have been thrown.

Picture the boardroom of a Toronto SEO services agency circa 2010. Department heads have gathered together to design a website for their new client.

“We need 2000 words of keyword-rich copy on this page or it won’t rank,” the SEO would say.

“No, that will look bulky and conflict with the minimalist design. We need 300 really good words,” the web designer would say.

“I just need 2000 words. I don’t care if they’re good,” the SEO would insist.

“Pardon me,” the copywriter would weep.

Fortunately, it’s 2021 and that’s no longer how meetings go. That’s because both good design and a good user experience (UX) are now absolutely crucial to good SEO. This has been the case for a few years now, but the Google Page Experience update will force site owners and marketers to take a closer look at their design and their UX.

In 2021, Good Design = Good SEO

A few years ago, intuitive experiences and clean design were nice-to-haves in SEO, not must-haves. A poorly designed site with a crappy user experience could conceivably still rank.

When SEO was in its infancy, businesses would often just stuff as many keywords as possible into a web page. Even some of the biggest brands in the world like BMW, PwC and Toys R Us were guilty of it. It was often unreadable and users hated it, but these pages could still rank back then. That was until Google started to penalize sites for keyword stuffing and other black hat tactics.

In recent years, Google has sought to reward the websites that provide the best possible user experience. However, a good user experience was somewhat ambiguous. SEOs and web designers knew that slow and clunky user experiences were bad. But where was the bar truly set for a good user experience?

But now, Google has told us that the Page Experience Update looks at the following things as experience signals:

  • The Core Web Vitals (More on them below)
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Safety
  • Non-intrusive interstitial ads

These are the 5 pillars of a good UX. This update seeks to reward the websites that solve many of the most popular web user complaints such as slow or unsafe websites, awkward mobile experiences, or cumbersome interstitial ads.

If your website currently has any of the issues listed above, it’s in your best interest to fix them as soon as possible. They were likely hurting your conversion rates (and your SEO) prior to the Page Experience update, and they are most definitely hurting you right now.

Speed and Beauty

Image via Pxhere

Today’s modern web designers need to make a page as beautiful and functional as possible, while still doing their best to optimize site speed by staying mindful of how many elements they add.

The Core Web Vitals will make site speed more important than ever, while giving us 3 key metrics that examine speed in different ways:

  • How long does it take for the page to completely load: Largest Contentful Paint
  • How quickly does a page respond to a click: First Input Delay
  • When do the page’s assets stop shifting during the loading process: Cumulative Layout Shift

You can test your website’s performance and identify the areas of improvement using such tools as ‎Lighthouse, ‎PageSpeed Insights, ‎CrUX, or ‎Chrome DevTools. An estimated 60% of SEO professionals have used these tools to make site speed improvements. If the other 40% don’t act soon, they may be in for a rude awakening in June.

Mobile-First Indexing and Mobile-First Design

Google has also confirmed that mobile-first indexing is now the norm for the entire web. This means focusing on mobile-first design and mobile-first planning is paramount.

This update has been a work in progress for a few years now, but there is still a startling number of bad mobile sites on the web. For example, a few years ago, Canonicalized tested 1 million of the world’s most-visited websites, and found that 24% of them failed Google’s mobile-friendliness test.

The most popular mobile design issues were:

  • Buttons or links situated too close together
  • Mobile viewpoint not set
  • Content wider than the screen
  • Text too small
  • Incompatible/ non-functional plugins

The Core Web Vitals will be used for both desktop and mobile sites. So, if a mobile site is suffering from user experience issues like slow speeds or cumbersome ads, it will likely be penalized.

If it’s Not on Your Mobile Site, it Doesn’t Exist

In recent years, the biggest challenge facing anyone that specializes in web design services in Toronto has been trying to find creative ways to get a few thousand words onto a mobile screen, without overwhelming the design with big blocks of text that make it look like you’re reading a Kindle.

But these days, you absolutely need to make sure that your mobile site has just as much SEO copy and optimization as your desktop site. In fact, Google recently confirmed that if any content is on your desktop site, but not your mobile site, it will not be indexed by Google. The message is clear: If it’s not on your mobile site, it won’t be indexed.

If you have always made the user experience a top priority (on both desktop and mobile), you may actually see some SEO wins in the second half of 2021. However, if you have any user experience barriers, you will want to address them as soon as possible.

Is Your Current Website Design or UX Hurting Your SEO?

Are you worried that bad design is ruining your SEO rankings? Let’s talk about it! We have helped countless companies revamp their websites and unplug their sales funnels. You can click the Call Now button at the top of the screen to get in touch.

Request A Quote