Working with a web designer to build a new site is always exciting, and chances are you (and they) will be keen to introduce some of the latest trends in web design.
While some new features, such as responsive design instead of a separate mobile site or HTML5 instead of Flash, can help improve your user experience and your SEO. Others aren’t as clear cut. Below are some pro’s and con’s of popular web design trends that can cause problems if they’re not handled correctly.
The Good: Infinite scrolling functions are great for users and for page load speed – instead of loading all 200 products in a category at once, or requiring users to click through multiple pages of content, they just load the first few and then dynamically add extra products to the bottom of the list as the user scrolls. Clever!
The Good: With increased availability of high speed internet access, the web has become far more visual. Web designers have been able to get creative with full-screen images and video, beautiful typography and magazine-style layouts in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. These beautiful, minimalistic sites are favoured by luxury brands and others who like to let their products speak for themselves.
The Bad: While internet users might have moved on, search engine crawlers haven’t – they still rely heavily on text to work out the topic of a page. Pages without a decent level of high quality, unique copy are at high risk of being considered duplicate or low quality, ranking poorly or even picking up a Panda penalty.
Sites without significant levels of text copy are much less likely to rank well for relevant key phrases than those with higher levels of quality text content. Worst of all, it’s often long tail traffic that suffers – a page might still rank for its key target term, just not for the thousands of other random but highly phrases that make up most available search traffic.
Sites with very low levels of text content can also be bad for users – you might think visitors want to ‘explore’, but chances are they’re on your site to find specific information or complete a specific task. Making your visitors’ lives difficult by presenting beautiful pages that don’t answer their questions is unlikely to help your branding, or your conversion rate.
Getting it right: As SEO’s, minimalism is one of our least favourite trends, because there’s just no way around it – search engines like content, and without good text content sites will struggle. Searchmetrics’ latest ranking factors study identified content (measured by word count and usage of related terms) as one the most important factors for ranking well in Google.
To us, text on pages is compulsory. That being said, there are ways of maintaining the look and feel of a site whilst still including enough content to rank well. Clever use of typography can help to maintain a feeling of space, and large images can be used in headers whilst including copy further down the page.
Parallax Scrolling/Single Page Designs
The Good: With the advent of HTML5/CSS3, web designers have a whole new toolkit allowing them to make websites move and respond to users’ actions in a way that just wasn’t possible before. This has led to websites that work more like an interactive presentation, guiding the visitor through a series of beautifully-animated scrolling sections. No need to click – just scroll and enjoy!
The Bad: Google calculates relevance on a page level. If your website has one page containing every product or service your company offers, you’ll have difficulty convincing Google that this single page is relevant for every key phrase you might consider relevant. The problem here is dilution – if everything’s relevant, nothing is!
Setting up individual pages for the major areas your website covers helps Google to understand what each one is about, and to choose the right page to serve to its users based on what they’ve searched. Even if your site does rank, search engines tend to ignore internal hash-tag links pointing to a specific part of a page, so they’re not going to be able to point a visitor to the most relevant point in your hugely long single-page design.
Requiring your users to scroll through your entire presentation just to find the ‘contact us’ button is not good for usability, or conversion! There’s also likely to be a secondary issue of lack of content, since single-page sites tend to also be quite light on text copy, which can make a bad situation even worse.
Getting it Right: There’s nothing wrong with parallax scrolling as part of a website – we’ve seen some nice implementations on homepages, about us pages or even as introductions to products. The key, though, is that this approach should be part of a website, not the entire website – you still need individual landing pages for your major products or services, so that search engines can match your content to users’ needs.
We really don’t want to sound like spoilsports here! There’s a lot of great work being done by web designers, and a lot of it is pushing the boundaries in the best possible way.
However, it’s important not to get too carried away when it comes to implementing new technology. Search engines are pretty old fashioned in a lot of ways, and if they don’t understand what you’re trying to do, chances are they’ll just ignore your site and move on to the next one.
By asking these three questions, you should be able to avoid most web design pitfalls, and introduce shiny new features that’ll improve your user experience whilst also keeping you on the right side of Google:
2. Does the page make sense without it? If you strip your website back to just the plain text on the page, removing all images, formatting and rich content, can you still tell what’s going on? If not, you’re likely to run into serious problems.
3. Does it make life easier for your users? If your design makes things faster, easier to navigate or offers useful features, it’s probably good. If it’s cumbersome, forces users to navigate in a specific way or deviates significantly from what they’re expecting, alarm bells should be ringing. At Silverbean, we have a load of experience in ensuring snazzy web design features don’t negatively impact the visibility of a website. In fact, we work with our clients’ and their outsourced development agencies on an almost daily basis to help good design and good SEO go hand in hand.