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Up until now, the appearance of your Web pages had nothing to do with your success in organic search, but that time might be coming to and end. Lots of stuff matters, of course, ranging from page titles to inbound links to dozens of other factors in each search engine's ranking algorithm. Also important is the title and the snippet that helps searchers decide which search result to click on. Once clicked, your visual design matters a great deal as to whether your new visitors decides to buy or not, but will it have any impact on your SEO?

Preview functions have been toyed with for years, but it is big news lately because Google has been spied testing a preview function. A few years ago, Ask.com allowed searchers to mouse over the search result and see a pop-up that showed what the page looked like:


For the first time, the visual design of your page mattered to SEO. An ugly-looking page, or at least one that didn't look like the right one, would get fewer clicks than another—at least for Ask.com searchers.

Last year, Bing introduced a preview function, but it did not show the page image. Rather it showed the key content from the page, so design still didn't matter.

But all that might be changing, if Google decides to follow through on a concept they are experimenting with, as reported by TechCrunch. As with so many other pieces of SEO, you have a choice. You can decide to ignore your page design until the search engines implement this kind of function, or you can decide that anything that helps Web users is worth investing in, and go for it now.

I believe that version of this change will eventually become permanent, so I suspect there is no time to lose. If your pages don't look very good, it's only a matter of time before that starts to hurt your clickthrough rate the way it already hurts your conversion rate.

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October 25, 2010

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.


This is an important aspect to consider for a number of reasons.

An attractive website design will ensure a higher CTR initially but is also crucial in whether or not people stay on the website for any amount of time - or press the dreaded back button.

Thanks for the info, I guess I'm one of the first to read your post and lucky enough to find out about this. Honestly, I don't concentrate too much on the visual design and now that you've mentioned it, I may have to look at some of my websites.

Thanks Mike!

We'd all be naive to think that we do not judge a book by its cover. The fact is, the medium is the message. You can drive traffic with SEO/SEM and if people aren't satisfied with what they land on, they'll bounce. SEO/SEM might capture the traffic but it's design and content that gets the conversion.

As I've said many times before, I wish I had a ten spot for every time a prospect said, "I just need some SEO". But of course not realizing their baby actually is ugly, or at least needs a makeover.

Excellent information in as much as it further chips away at the artificial, and sometimes detrimental, line between attracting visitors (SEO) and converting visitors (CO).

I wouldn't agree completely with you on "Up until now, the appearance of your Web pages had nothing to do with your success in organic search"

I think that look of our website influences the number of natural backlinks (other people linking you) you earn and this in turn affects SERP ranking as we all know.

I hadn't thought about that angle, Arun. That's a very good point and I am so glad you added it here.

I think SEO and good web design need to go hand in hand. Like Mark stated, a good design will generally lead to a better conversion rate, but if Google go ahead with the preview feature its also going to be a major factor in users clicking from the SERPs to sites.

Interesting I'd noticed Google had been playing with site previews - I can't see much point in it myself, it takes longer to wait for the popup than it does to click and actually visit the site!

That might be true during the test, Dom, but don't expect it to stay that way if Google goes ahead and implements it for real. If they can implement Google Instant to do full searches with each keystroke you better believe that they can pop-up a thumbnail image in speedy fashion.

SEO and how pages look should really go hand in hand, you can have a page optimised to the max but if the design turns people away, it drags the whole procces down massively, same works for the other way around. You go the page to find a relevant information and doesnt matter how brilliant the design of it is, if it doesnt have what you need.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Will the visual design of your pages help your SEO?