Aesthetics vs SEO in Web Design: Should You Ever Compromise?
The reductive approach to SEO is that it’s about doing everything to ensure that a website ranks as high as possible in the search engine results pages (SERPs) at the expense of everything else. Why bother creating slick, eye-catching visuals if Google doesn’t care what colors you use or how eye-catching the images are in your headers?
The truth is that aesthetics play a role in SEO effectiveness, but not in a direct way. Google doesn’t care how your website looks, but design contributes to user experience and is an extremely important ranking factor. It’s not about meeting a subjective standard of beauty. It’s about presenting a webpage in a way that it fulfills its purpose and gives the user the best possible experience.
This concept of good design generating good SEO is a mantra at Superb Digital. Whether designing a site from scratch or a single web page, we will consider how content will be presented in the most effective way for a page to fulfill its purpose, which is to convey pages and information they contain. intuitively, clearly and in a logical structure for the reader to navigate and consume. In this sense, aesthetics, through a good layout and page design, compels users to interact with your content and as such indirectly helps improve rankings and page conversion rate.
How prioritizing aesthetics can be prohibitively expensive
So you might be thinking that since aesthetics are important when it comes to helping SEO, albeit indirectly, maybe you should focus more on creating an attractive website on the aesthetic level. The problem with taking an aesthetic approach to website building is that it can actually do the opposite and negatively impact SEO.
This can happen in two main ways:
In a bid to impress visitors with audio-visual stimuli, you might be tempted to load up your website with flashy animations, auto-playing videos, and high-resolution photos. Such items can certainly grab people’s attention, but the inconvenience can be immense due to the resource consumption of such items.
Internet speeds have gotten much faster over the years, but that doesn’t mean you should go all out on a load of page elements that cumulatively hamper page load speeds. This also goes for plugins that create code bloat and slow down the website (we know who you are).
Websites that take too long to load put visitors off. But they are also a ranking factor.
Page load speed is part of Core Web Vitals, which also takes into account how quickly content is displayed on the screen and how stable a page’s performance is. The more visuals you have, the slower a page loads, which also dramatically changes the layout as the page loads, reducing stability.
The problem also translates to mobile devices. More than half of mobile page visits are abandoned if a site takes longer than 3 seconds to load. You really don’t want to weigh down your mobile site with countless high-res animations and photos, especially since mobile search has now overtaken desktop and laptop-based search.
To pursue a specific design aesthetic at the expense of everything else is to lose sight of what really matters when building a website. Indeed, it is to lose sight of what a commercial site is used for, that is to say to generate your commercial requests or your sales.
First, what you think is aesthetically pleasing may not be what your audience thinks is aesthetically pleasing. It’s all too common for business owners to assume that they know their customers inside out, but have never taken the time to conduct in-depth customer research to back up those assumptions.
Putting your subjective taste front and center in your website design leaves users in the background. Ultimately, your website should work to serve them, not you or your business. Whether it’s subscribing to a newsletter, purchasing a product, or contacting your business directly, users should be guided by design to complete these actions. You don’t want a website that overloads people with images and pretty things, which actually serve to distract them from your ultimate goals, which convinces them why they should do business with you or buy your products.
Prioritizing aesthetics can mean having to incorporate content into your design. You will have to work harder within the confines of the design to come up with content that might not accurately express the purpose of the site. Your content should always inform design, not the other way around.
How Aesthetics Can Help
So far we’ve only talked about the potential pitfalls of aesthetics in web design, so it bears repeating that it’s best to think of aesthetics as a way to provide good UX, rather than simply make your website visually appealing.
There are four principles that show how to properly apply aesthetics to aid SEO:
A simple and clean web design should direct users exactly where they need to go on your website. The less time it takes for them to process your site’s layout and navigation interface, the more likely they are to browse and the longer they will stick around, leading to more conversions.
Basically, you want your color palette to be kept to a minimum, your fonts to be legible and contrast well with backgrounds, and your graphics to be there only to fulfill a specific function.
Websites have their own visual language. For example, clickable links are usually a different color and that color changes once they’ve been clicked. Another would be to have drop-down menus at the top of the page for major categories, which are always visible wherever a visitor is on the site.
By keeping these elements consistent and ensuring that they always work the same way, users can easily navigate your site.
When mobile devices account for 54.8% of global web traffic, the importance of responsiveness when designing websites cannot be overstated. You need to consider how your website looks on the small screens of smartphones and tablets.
By incorporating a responsive design, your site’s layout, images, and content will automatically adapt to the dimensions of the device the site is viewed on. Although Google hasn’t explicitly listed mobile friendliness as a ranking factor, it’s something they recommend to every site.
A well-designed website can be used by anyone, including people with disabilities. There’s no good reason to unnecessarily limit the reach of your website by making it inaccessible due to non-inclusive design choices.
In accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, your website must be:
- Perceptible — Content can be presented to all types of users
- Operable — Users can navigate a site in different ways
- Understandable — Users can easily understand the content
- Robust — The site can be used with current and future assistive technologies
The connective tissue between the four principles is that they all work to deliver content in a way that users will have no trouble finding and understanding. This is what makes a good UX, which keeps everyone on your site.
SEO in the design process
When you properly think about aesthetics as usability, it becomes clear that not only can it and SEO co-exist, but in fact they are intimately linked to each other. Good design is good SEO and vice versa. These two pillars of web design ultimately aim to do the same thing, which is to present valuable content to users in an intuitive and enjoyable way. To achieve this, you have to know from the start what the purpose of each page is, understand who is going to visit it and what they need.