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Website design and SEO: Does a beautiful website score better and why am I getting less and less traffic?

Webdesign and SEO

Google site appearance advice is nothing new: Achieving a high-quality website isn’t difficult

One of the most familiar features of the SEO industry is Google’s regular SEO Hangouts, which later get posted to the Google Search Central YouTube channel.

Google has its critics – usually people who have seen their organic rankings, visibility, and traffic drop following an algorithm update. However, the brand and the key people on the search team have always been pretty open.

Webdesign impacts SEO

One discussion that got a lot of attention over the past month was a response that Google’s John Mueller gave to a question around dealing with a gradual decline in a site’s traffic.

Headlined by the excellent Search Engine Journal as “Google Suggests A Site’s Appearance Can Impact Rankings,” Mueller’s advice is sound, at least on the surface…

Disclaimer: This isn’t a shot at Mueller or Google!

What Google’s SEO Hangouts aren’t is an opportunity for you to get specific answers about your website. If you want to get your site audited and critiqued free of charge, SEMRush webinars and similar events regularly look for businesses to volunteer to go under the microscope.

With this in mind, it’s difficult for Mueller to give anything but general advice.

“Sometimes those small differences do play a role in regards to how people perceive your website. If, for example, you have something that is on a financial topic and people come to you and say “well your information is okay but it’s presented in a way that looks very amateurish,” — then that could reflect how your website is perceived. And in the long run could reflect something that is visible in search as well.”

Gradual traffic decline = Likely quality issue

In this case, Mueller focused on the likelihood that a quality issue is at play. In contrast, a webspam issue would more typically lead to a manual penalty or a sudden drop around the time of an algorithm update rather than a gradual decline.

Talking about the importance of focusing on detail, Mueller said:

“Sometimes those small differences do play a role in regards to how people perceive your website. If, for example, you have something that is on a financial topic and people come to you and say “well your information is okay but it’s presented in a way that looks very amateurish,” — then that could reflect how your website is perceived. And in the long run could reflect something that is visible in search as well.”

Mueller isn’t wrong here, but he’s not saying anything new, either.

Webdesign and SEO: what is important?

When addressing the question, Mueller also referenced a 2019 Google Search Central blog that referenced Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust) guidelines. This specific post was about core algorithm updates, which aligns with the idea that you can expect to see your site move up or down the organic search rankings as a gradual process rather than seeing it happen quickly.

This Hangout also evoked thoughts of user experience and Google’s Page Experience Update, both of which we covered towards the end of 2020. The Page Experience Update started to roll out in mid-June, ironically just before this Hangout, and when the question was asked.  

However, when it comes to questions of quality websites, we can go back over ten years – which in search terms is the equivalent of going back to the time of the Roman Empire! – to the Google Panda update, which first rolled out in February 2011.

The message? You have everything you need to create a great website!

It’s great that Google has a degree of openness and transparency around what businesses can do to enhance their websites. According to Google, webdesign and SEO should simply go together.

However, if we take an honest look at ourselves as business owners, we should admit we don’t really need to go and ask Google what we should be doing. They’ve already told us! Yet, business owners don’t listen, and then when their websites tank, it’s all Google’s fault. But this stuff has been repeated for years. How would you deal with an employee who hadn’t taken your advice for over a decade? They would probably have been moved out a long time ago, right?!

It's in the details

A short history of algorithm updates

  • SSL: Despite https:// being a known ranking factor since 2014, around 20% of websites are still insecure.
  • Mobiel First: Google started rolling out mobile-first indexing for the entire web in 2020, having announced the plan to do so way back in 2016.
  • Page Experience: Google announced its Page Experience Update in May 2020 before rolling it out last month.
  • Trust: Google’s first-ever set of Google Panda quality guidelines in 2011 spoke about trust – “Would you trust this website with your credit card details?” was even an example question in its guidelines!

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User experience website

The problem with user experience issues is that we wait until things are heading downhill before taking action. Is that what we do with other areas of our business? Of course not!

Look, user experience might feel a little over your head if you’re new to SEO or inexperienced. However, there’s no excuse for writing low-quality content or having articles littered with spelling mistakes! It’s the little things like this where you can make a huge difference – especially if you’re working with a limited budget and can’t engage a designer, developer, or hire professional SEO assistance. It might seem like an odd thing for us to say, but you really don’t need the budget to hire us to do the simple stuff for you!

You have everything you need to create a great website. Use it!

As you start to grow, you can start looking at technical SEO considerations and thinking about initiatives like link building. Don’t run before you can walk, and ensure you get the basics right first!

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