I'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 Ask.com 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.
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.
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 ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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