How Does Your Website Design Affect Its SEO? (7 Deadly Sins)

Last Updated on

January 28, 2023

Does your design help or hurt your Google rankings? Web design plays an important role in SEO. In this post, we'll share how website design affects SEO, plus 7 deadly sins.

Website design may seem insignificant compared to the actual content of your website, but ignoring it could mean death to your online business.

For many people, website design is about making a site look attractive. But, this is only a part of the purpose of good design.

In fact, web design has an impact on several aspects of your website, including its SEO ranking. Despite spending a lot of time optimizing your website with well-written titles, descriptions and backlinks, you may still be struggling for traffic if you are making website design mistakes.

The Significance of Web Design in SEO

The purpose of website design is not to simply make your site look pretty with fancy decorations. It’s all about making your site easy and enjoyable to use for your visitors.

Google and other search engines want to deliver the most helpful content to their users. The more helpful your site is, the higher it will rank in the search results.

One way that search engines determine the "helpfulness" level of your content is by checking how long a visitor stays on your website after clicking through from the search results. If visitors generally stay for a while and read your content, that's a good sign.

On the other hand, if there are flaws in your web design that cause visitors to quickly leave, then search engines will pick up on that. And consequently, your rankings will plummet.

As the saying goes, “the first impression is the last impression”. 

So what are the web design mistakes that can adversely affect your SEO?

We've identified 7 deadly sins of website design, and we'll share those with you now...

7 Deadly Sins of Website Design that Sabotage SEO

Are you making any of these web design mistakes? If so, you could be signaling to search engines that your content isn't high-quality enough to be found at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages). Let's do a design audit of your website right now...

1. Messy Navigation

You can’t expect your visitors to stay longer on your site if they find it difficult to navigate between pages and menus.

This happens when the navigation structure of a website is cluttered or unexpected.

To avoid this, you should ensure that your website navigation is easy to locate, has a clean layout, and just a few simple menu links.

As Barry Schwartz suggests in his book The Paradox of Choice, having many choices actually paralyzes us and leaves us feeling dissatisfied. That's because the more choices we have available to us, the higher our expectations are, and ultimately we are more likely to be disappointed with our decision.

Also, our short term memory holds only about 7 items. So make sure to include no more than 7 top-level links in your navigation.

You can also add a search feature and a "start here" button to make sure that navigating your site is smooth as butter for your visitors.

2. Non-Responsive Design

For some time now, mobile users have exceeded the number of desktop users. Still, there are many websites that are not mobile responsive.

If your website is not mobile responsive, that means it does not adjust to the size of small screens, and your visitors will have a hard time browsing your site on their phones or tablets. This puts you at risk of losing rankings, traffic, and potential sales, all due to an easily fixable mistake.

To check and see if your website design is mobile responsive, you can use a free tool like the Mobile Responsive Web Design Tester extension for Chrome.

The simplest way to fix this is by choosing a website theme that is mobile responsive out of the box. Most website themes these days come with mobile responsiveness, but if you are using an older theme it may be time for an upgrade!

If you are using the WordPress platform, we recommend Divi or Make– both of these are mobile ready, plus they come with easy drag-and-drop customization.

3. Nasty Pop-Ups

There are lots of great uses for pop-ups... when they are utilized correctly. Unfortunately, pop-ups are notorious for being annoying to users because most website owners do not employ them properly.

The most common mistake is to have your pop-up appear before the visitor even has a chance to view your site's content. This is highly irritating because someone has just reached your site by clicking on a link in the SERPs, but instead of getting the answer they wanted all they see is a popup covering all the main content.

Here are some ways to use pop-ups appropriately so that they do not interrupt your visitors or interfere with their experience on your site:

  • Timed pop-ups (pop-ups that appear after a certain number of seconds on the page) should only be used for e-commerce sites, as a general rule. For example, if you have an online retail store, your visitors will welcome a quickly timed popup that includes a coupon for them to use.
  • Use exit-intent pop-ups instead– these only appear when the visitor is about to leave your site, as opposed to when they first land on your site. These have absolutely no impact on your SEO, and you have nothing to lose at this point!
  • Use scrolling pop-ups– these appear after the visitor scrolls down the page a certain amount, allowing them to read through your content first.
  • Use floating bars– these stick to the top or bottom of the page and do not get in the way of viewing your content.
  • Whatever pop-ups you use, keep the message relevant! If the message in your pop-up isn't relevant to your target audience, they are going to find them annoying. The best way to make your pop-ups relevant is by displaying specific pop-ups on certain pages of your site. (For example, on a blog post about organizing your kitchen, include a pop-up that offers a free kitchen organizing checklist.)

To create these better popups, we recommend Hello Bar.

4. Disappointing Aesthetic

What a visitor notices at first when he lands on your site is the aesthetic aspect of your website. If visitors find your site ugly, you're sure to have a high bounce rate.

As the designer of your website, you'll need to choose the right colors, fonts, graphics, and other design elements to form a cohesive, eye-catching design that compels users to browse your content... and keep browsing... and browse some more...

This of course will result in lower bounce rates, and higher SEO rankings.

So how do you design an attractive website, especially if you are not a designer?

 Well, this is a huge topic that is way bigger than the scope of this post. But here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Create a mood board to brainstorm your visual identity. Your visual identity is any part of your brand that people will see: your logo, graphics, fonts, photography, etc. But any ideas you have on a Pinterest board for easy reference later.
  • Start designing the visual elements of your site, using your mood board as a reference guide. You can use Canva, which is free, or Adobe Photoshop if you need a more advanced tool.
  • Once you have created your various visual elements, start building out your website using a high-quality theme or website builder. We recommend Divi if you are using WordPress, or Kajabi if you are in the business of selling your knowledge online through courses and digital products.

5. Auto-Playing Videos or Audio on the Homepage

Websites that auto-play videos or music as soon as the home page is finished loading can be infuriating.

Some website owners use these features to make their site more dynamic and exciting... but you have to consider that your visitors aren't expecting this, and may be trying to view your site at work, at the library, or with children sleeping nearby.

However, similar to pop-ups, auto-playing videos can be very effective when you implement them properly. The key is to auto play without the audio, so the visitor has to unmute the video in order to hear it.

To get the best of both worlds, use captions in your video. This way, the visitor can understand what is going on in the video before hitting the unmute button, or even if they decide not to play the audio at all.

6. Illegible Text

There are several factors to consider when ensuring that the content on your site is easy to read.

First, make sure that your paragraphs are very short and concise. By breaking up the text, visitors will be able to scan it easier, and it won't appear so overwhelming to look at.

Another factor to consider is your font. Some fonts are designed to be used for body copy, while others are designed to be used in headings. Heading fonts can be more decorative and are called "display" fonts. Make sure the font you choose for your body copy is not a display font, and is easy to read.

Fonts also come with serifs or without serifs (sans-serif).

Try combining serif and sans-serif fonts by using one in the headings and one for the body copy.

Others factors to consider are the size of your font and the space between the letters. In general, the smaller your font, the more space you will need in between letters.

Don't forget colors! Contrast between the text and the background is key. Using dark text with a light background (e.g. black text on white) is easier on the eye, so use this combination for text-heavy pages like blog posts. It's OK to use light text on dark backgrounds in moderation, for areas that do not have a lot of text.

7. Lack of Whitespace

Arguably, the greatest key to good web design is the use of whitespace.

Whitespace is the empty space in between the various elements on your page. Having ample whitespace creates a clean, professional aesthetic that allows your visitor's eye to relax, so your site is easily scannable and the message comes across clearly.

Apple is a great example of the effective use of whitespace. See how much empty space there is on this page?

Of course, Apple's brand has a very minimal aesthetic. Yours may not be so minimal, but you will still need to be aware of whitespace and use plenty of it.

Here is an example of a website that is not so minimal looking because of the busy photographs. However, if you look at it closely, you will notice that there is ample whitespace in between each element, so it does not appear cluttered.


A perfect combination of user-friendly website design and SEO will help your site to not only stand apart from competitors, but also to achieve a better outcome in the search engine results.

As a business, you always want to enhance your brand recognition, and a well-designed website is a perfect means to achieve this objective... don't let your prospects leave your site prematurely due to confusing menus, irritating pop-ups, or ugly design!

Thankfully, it is quite easy to fix the 7 ingredients above in your website design. Start with one, and see the huge difference it makes.

David Meyer is a senior web developer at CSSChopper: leading web design and development company. He has a deep interest in web design and he also likes writing informative content in part his time for concerned audiences. He keeps a close eye on various trends in website design and informs others through writing.