ColorPalette.pngI'm old, so I have seen many different battlegrounds come and go in search marketing. Keywords, Links, Content. Multi-media is the one raging now. But which one is next? It could be personalization. It could be mobile. It could also be design.

I hope you were paying attention to this space earlier this week when Jackie Baker expanded on the need for excellent Web design to drive conversions. She's right. If you missed Jackie's article, go read it now. (I'll wait right here for you.)

You might now be convinced of the importance of Web design for your conversions, but I want to talk to you about something else that Web design might help you with—your search traffic.

"Traffic?" you might ask. "How can site design help with getting people to my site if they have to come to my site to see my design?" (OK, you probably didn't ask that, but just play along.)

Good question. We're starting to see search engines with features that preview a screen shot of your Web page on the actual search results screens. So, people will see your site design before they click through to your site. If they do, you can bet that it will become a factor in whether they click, just as a title and a snippet are today.

I recently looked at a couple of new "visual" search engines, Viewzi and SearchMe. Both of these search engines show previews of the Web pages in their search results, so you can see the page before you go there. Now, to be honest, I don't know that search marketers need to spend a lot of time researching new search engines, but you ought to understand something about them, because often the big guys put in features pioneered by smaller competitors.

So, if you are living today off a nice title and an attractive snippet, your Web design might be the next thing you need to focus on to retain your curb appeal. You might get lots of clicks now, but if that thumbnail screen shot looks butt-ugly, then your clicks might one day go down.

Of course, it doesn't seem very important now, because Google isn't showing screen previews on its results pages. But there's a good chance they will start to do so at some point. They might not be scared by SearchMe and Viewzi, but already offers preview. Google might already be thinking of adding the same kind of feature—think about how that would change the search marketing game.

Ask's search result looks a lot like the others, except for that binoculars icon.

Now see what happens when you roll your mouse over the binoculars:

Remember, anything that a searcher can see about your page before the click affects the click. As search engines start to add these innovations, design will become more and more important. If you look like a credible site, you'll get more clicks. Think about how important design becomes if the thumbnail is shown without any mouse-over required. Then it becomes just as important as the title and the snippet.

You might not think that you need to do anything about this now. After all, why not wait until it happens before bothering to work on it? History shows this to be a mistake.

In the early days of search, some people figured out the idea of keyword optimization faster than others and built up tidy search traffic that lasted a long time. When Google arrived and links became important, those sites that started out with lots of links—before they knew they were important for search—had the advantage over those scrambling to do them later. When people started to understand how deep content gave you advantages in long tail searches, those that were already serving their customers with deep content benefited most. And, most recently, when Universal Search and other multi-media search result pages have come to the fore, companies that had already made investments in images and videos had the edge over those that decided that now it's finally important.

Design might go the same way. Don't wait until your search traffic is at risk to wake up and smell the new Web design. (OK, I probably could have done better on that one.) The time to improve your design is before it is a crisis, not after. You've always had lots of reasons to have a good design, but your search traffic might soon turn out to be one more.

May 29, 2008

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Mike, what an insightful article. I would not be surprised to see Google introduce something similar, although they've been hesitant to clutter their SERPs in the past, which this would almost certainly do. But anything that improves the relevancy of what a site looks like, I'm all for it! :)

With things changing quickly in our industry I believe in preventive intervention.Searching with googleimages is already becoming a popular way to search .Start preparing now. Thanks for the update .keep sharing.

I never see very good looking web sites rank high in google, like flash sites and so on, there all basic sites that rank real high or am I wrong?

Britec -

Flash sites have problems in search engines because they are not indexed. Better design won't help you get indexed and won't help you get ranked higher. but it might someday get more searchers to click on you. You're right that just making it pretty won't work either.

Good design is real, and very subjective. The Flash comment is an indicator to more than a few people who look at colour and movement for evidence of a good design without looking 'under the hood'. A car manufacturer that turned out the equivalent of a search-crippled Flash website would be sued. For small business owners, it is case of getting educated to understand what you are buying, or getting some good advice.

I use a lot and yes, it does matter a lot. I now find this feature so obvious that I actually miss it when using other search engines.

Thanks for the pointer, Franz. I hadn't seen that one before. It strikes me as odd that the faces in the results take you to just one page each, instead of to a set of results about that person. I think it would be more useful to show the regular list of results with the faces right on the results page with the page they are from. I think that would be more useful than what they did.

Is a sites bell and whistles really as important as content these days. Yes I think a site has to look good but flash and and all the pretty accessories take away from the point of teh message being marketed dont you think?

This very subject was brought to my attention by a Professional wedding photographer Being in an extremely competitive visual oriented field this may be even more important than any copy could ever put across.

Just in putting images above the fold he has had a hit rate increase of about 25%.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Is Web Design the Next Search Marketing Battleground?