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Web Design Practices That Frustrate SEO Pros

Search engine marketing professionals working with web developers know the frustration of communicating the importance of SEO requirements.

Search engine marketing professionals working with web developers know the frustration of communicating the importance of SEO requirements.

That visually stunning website masterpiece could possibly be an equally stunning page load nightmare.

SEO professionals that look at web design as part of their role are valuable. They understand how certain web design practices interfere with the user experience.

When the user experience is less than ideal, the page will not perform as expected in search engine results. Meeting search engine criteria in today’s digital environment is never a once-and-done exercise.

Google is not the only search engine. More people are turning to new search engines that reduce clutter, hide ads, and protect privacy.

Being competitive is never done. An SEO pro is always in the race for rank.

The best SEO professionals are always monitoring web design practices because changes may cost money, or have a negative impact on user experience.

The attention span of searchers has dwindled. When we browse the web we expect answers to our queries to meet our search criteria with pinpoint accuracy.

It’s not easy being an SEO professional who is paid to outsmart, out rank, and outmaneuver a global army of computerized bots, but competitiveness is part of the DNA of every SEO pro.

Web designs often do not support marketing requirements. In fact, they create complications. What frustrates you the most?

  • UX that is not designed for conversions.
  • Restricting human experience design by ignoring accessibility.
  • Not designing for a specific target market.

SEO Twenty Years Ago

SEO experts know that web design practices affect search engine marketing strategies.

Someone who is just learning search engine optimization starts with the basics of learning how search engines rank webpages and deliver search query results.

While the underlying foundation of SEO hasn’t changed much in 20 years, the technical parts did.

Websites can be mammoth-sized digital properties with thousands of pages.

There was a time when a web homepage contained links to every inside page. This made it nearly impossible to find content. The thinking back then was if visitors couldn’t see it, it wasn’t there at all.

That included search engines because, in those early days, there was a long list of them to submit to and optimize for.

The glory days of automatic submissions and alphabetical directory sorting ended but the problem of finding information on websites has not changed.

This is why advanced SEO professionals study information architecture. The reasoning is two-fold:

  • Badly designed navigation creates user frustration.
  • And search engine bots need a well-planned information architecture to follow.

UX Design For Conversions

The digital user experience should be included with SEO planning.

Without an understanding of why usability and conversions design is important, problems appear that clients are unhappy with. Website owners want their websites to be first and provide the best user experience.

Large corporations hire senior-level search engine marketers with both technical SEO experience and an understanding of the importance of user experience and SEO.

Small and medium-sized businesses may not be aware of the competitive nature of search engines and how web design plays a part in online marketing.

Budget restraints limit their chances to compete. Less experienced website owners become frustrated quickly because they are unaware of all the pieces of the puzzle.

One of the top lessons we have learned in the last two decades is that it takes a skilled team to build a successful website. They need to work together.

Holistic SEO & Usability

There used to be two opposing camps.

You were either a web designer with a graphic design background wanting to design visually appealing, creative webpages, or you were a search engine marketer focused on optimizing webpages to rank well in search engines.

The missing piece for both was usability and a focus on user experience.

In 2002, I began to write about and focus on what I called Holistic UX and SEO in an effort to build a bridge so that our efforts didn’t conflict.

In addition, a handful of marketers connected the dots between usability and SEO, writing books that continue to be leading resources.

Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg published several books about web conversions, starting with “Call to Action” in 2005.

They presented data and studies over the next dozen years illustrating the benefits of persuasive architecture and web design that helped users complete tasks.

Tim Ash tackled landing pages and became a leading instructor for marketers, with his books, “Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions” (now in its second edition), and the new “Unleashing The Primal Brain: The Essential Field Guide For Modern Marketers.”

Shari Thurow has authored several books, including “When Search Meets Web Usability,” and is regarded as an esteemed educator and speaker.

Eventually, SEO pros discovered the benefits of applying a holistic approach to website design and marketing because they could test and track the results.

Today, I refer to our combined approach as the human experience requirement we include for digital marketing and web design.

How Does Holistic SEO & UX Help With Marketing Websites?

The holistic approach by design focuses on the cause, rather than symptoms.

Rather than a narrow, limited perspective on website management and promotion, the entire process is considered. This process grows and changes constantly, which is why SEO skill level is important.

It takes years to understand what causes rank to fluctuate, traffic numbers to nosedive, increases in bounce rates, poor performing pages, and webpage abandonment.

When you look at your data, you may find trends with no story behind them.

  • Why is the bounce rate high?
  • Why does one page perform better than another?
  • What is the reason for a spike in referral traffic?
  • Can it be duplicated?
  • Who comes to the website?
  • What rankings factors drove better search results?
  • What computer device did they use?

Other Research Considerations To Investigate

  • Is there anything in your data that shatters your assumptions about who your website visitors are?
  • If you are paying attention, the stories behind the data not only change over time but indicate where, when, and how to adjust the web design itself.
  • When people arrived at the website what happened next? Why?
  • If your team created a PPC campaign and the results are not acceptable, what happened?

Connecting The Dots For Increased Conversions

Nothing stays the same in search engine land.

With each update in search engine technology, and updates to computer devices that allow people to access the web, human-computer behavior changes.

If you want to deep dive into the neurosciences and human-computer behavior, there are fascinating stories based on their research.

For example, we follow the gaze of an image with a face, so this is where the call to action button is placed.

We respond to colors differently or if colorblind, may not see colors the way a designer hopes.

Human-computer behavioral studies taught us that a landing webpage has five seconds to convince users to stay. And yet, if you look at most website designs, the layout does everything possible to force us to leave on arrival.

There are countless subtle improvements that can be made to webpages to improve conversions. Experienced SEO professionals know this and are frustrated.

The more advanced the marketer is, the more they demand user interfaces that enhance the user experience so that desired tasks are completed.

Marketers are paid to help make websites become successful. They can’t tackle this with a badly designed, poorly performing website.

SEO, Web Accessibility And UX

There is a small but growing community of SEO pros who have incorporated accessibility guidelines into every marketing discussion.

Marketing efforts are more likely to succeed when knowing who is searching and making purchases. Purchases are blocked when the webpage or web app does not render in mobile devices for people using assistive technology.

Advanced level SEO professionals incorporate basic WCAG2.1 accessibility guidelines because the code used for screen readers assists search engine bots too.

With each change to search engine algorithms and the display of search engine results, both visually and voice-activated, the need to constantly refine and test SEO practices is ongoing.

Rank, traffic, and brand competition are fierce on the web.

Marketers plan ahead by studying the alerts Bill Slawski puts out on Google’s search engine patents.

Astute marketers aware of website ADA accessibility lawsuits want accessibility site audits performed because they know the risks of a website or brand tied up in a legal battle.

Top online marketing agencies can tell when a website is not prepared for promotion strategies. They either have an in-house usability specialist or subcontract website usability and conversions site audits. Leading digital marketing companies include accessibility audits.

The recommendations in these audits are intended to inject new opportunities for increased conversions and increase revenue.

What Web Design Practices Interfere With Online Marketing Strategies?

Certain web design choices interfere with indexing, usability, readability, accessibility, and findability.

This makes the job of SEO professionals much more difficult, especially when you see the same patterns and design conflicts repeated by your clients.

The most popular web design frustration pain points nearly always point to not having a grasp on how specific target visitors or customers use the web.

Pain points may include the following.


  • Hamburger navigation menus – not intuitive.
  • Dropdown navigational elements that don’t link to the main category and force you to choose a sub-category.
  • Accordion navigation.
  • Mega menus.
  • Using search to build categories instead of filters.
  • Not testing navigation for manual TAB keyboard users.


  • Oversized images at the top of the page.
  • Infinite scroll.
  • Using font-awesome instead of SVG fonts.
  • Not including the alt text descriptions for images.
  • Session IDs in URLs (dynamic single-use URLs).
  • When site redesign decisions are made without consulting analytics. Poor decisions made based on opinions or feelings instead of relying on data.
  • Sliders that slow down the page because all images from the slider have to load first.
  • Image in the slider will not carry the filename, title, or alt-text.
  • Not writing a strong page title heading with an H1.
  • Not testing every page in multiple mobile devices (or emulators for resizing) to study how pages stack and render.

Today’s native applications that are downloaded from Google and Apple may be considered for reputation management research and added to your stories.

Optimizing native apps is different from web apps but comments left by people who download mobile apps are important to track.

Invest In A Skilled Web Team For The Competitive Advantage

The holistic approach involves everyone associated with the website. Information queries are requested by user interest.

When considering any web design project, skimping on the holistic approach will not sustain your web project. There are too many variables, such as changing search engine algorithms, updates to ADA compliance, better web page analysis, and expert data interpretation.

Any conflict or disagreement on the development of the website can result in unwanted symptoms later. This is why we start by gathering requirements.

SEO professionals are always monitoring marketing data. Web designers are always testing webpage designs. This is a team effort.

A team should be unified in this way because the final results benefit the website. Skills are great but knowing when to apply them makes the difference.

Wisdom from long-time SEO pros always points to the holistic approach because experience with searchers provides historical proof.

“The more (technical) SEO your developer knows, the better. Even if you argue over specifics of implementation based upon cost, reward, scalability (e.g. are people going to bother continuing this process once we’re done) – it’s an argument worth having and the final result is better than it would have been otherwise. If they know nothing, they are arguing from a point of laziness or convenience.”

– Stockbridge Truslow

While the techniques for search engine optimization are often precise and measurable, it is not so easy to predict how people will respond to webpages.

We have learned to design for cognition, for example. Smaller chunks of text and smart attention to links placement and anchor text benefits both SEO, user experience, and accessibility.

Google introduced Web Core Vitals, intended to improve web design for improved search engine results.

Social media marketing will only grow as understanding target markets increases. Design for short attention spans or specific topics is also an SEO consideration.

What we have learned, however, is that people need to trust that the website has exactly what they most desire and there are no barriers preventing them from getting to it. This is why the emphasis on web accessibility is important.

We are learning new user habits because more people are working and going to school from home. Videos for learning need transcripts and captions. Those transcripts are SEO goldmines for search engines.

Web design that frustrates web users is a major hurdle that can be prevented by testing and studying trends.

Team up SEO, web development, and accessibility guidelines to be competitive.

More Resources:

Featured image: elenabsl/Shutterstock

Category SEO Web Dev SEO
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Kim Krause Berg Owner at Creative Vision Web Consulting, LLC

Kim Krause Berg, CPACC Accessibility and QA Analyst, Accessibility, BM Technologies, Inc. (BMTX) f/k/a BankMobile, owns Creative Vision Web Consulting, ...

Web Design Practices That Frustrate SEO Pros

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