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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.
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.
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