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For Better or Worse Web Design Trends that Impact SEO

Posted on 11.02.2014

By Derek Schou, Associate Editor

With more than 1 billion searches conducted every day on Google, it’s clear that today’s designers are not just developing websites for consumers, but for the search engines as well.

Enterprises that employ designers count on them to do their part in getting their websites indexed by the search engines. Oftentimes, however, designers want to try out the latest design techniques, which can ultimately hurt discoverability. Here are two such current Web design trends that are impacting SEO, for better or worse, today.

For Better: Responsive Design

When Google talks, most times people listen, but this is not necessarily the case when it comes to responsive Web design (RWD). Although the search engine officially states that responsive design is its recommended approach, only 9 percent of the top 100 Web-only retailers use RWD, according to The Search Agency, which also found that 59 percent use dedicated mobile sites and the remaining 32 percent only offer a desktop site. Similar to what Website Magazine revealed in its Sept. 2014 feature, “Follow the Mobile Leader,” this could be because responsive isn’t always the best choice for every business case. The alternative is to take a hybrid approach, leveraging adaptive and responsive Web design (read more at wsm.co/hybrid101). Still, when it comes to SEO, responsive design should reign supreme.

Google’s reasoning behind its support of RWD is simple. Since developers/designers only have to create one site, Google only has to crawl and index one site (rather than both mobile and desktop websites). For users, enterprises leveraging responsive Web design give them the freedom to move from device to device and have the same experience.

Burton Snowboards, with the help of e-commerce platform Demandware, is one retailer using RWD, and it is providing a seamless experience across devices. This is particularly appealing to Burton’s audience, as its main demographic is young men. In fact, 64 percent of millennials expect a brand experience to be the same across channels, according to 2014 research from SDL. By using RWD, Burton reduces the chances of its customers “bouncing” off its site, and a low bounce rate signals to the search engines that the site provides a good user experience.

For Worse: Parallax Design

When new design styles become popular with consumers it is important that designers don’t immediately flock to these trends until they fully understand what the advantages and drawbacks are. Take parallax design as an example. It enables designers to create an immersive experience by creating page depth as well as a sense of movement through layering background and foreground images and having them move at different speeds as the user scrolls. While this can help designers tell a brand’s story, it can also harm their SEO initiatives.

One of the potential problems with parallax design is that because one page is telling the entire story, subpages can be an afterthought. Subpages play multiple important roles in SEO, like creating another page for the search engines to index. Perhaps the most important role subpages play, however, is hosting the keywords that reside on them.

Keywords alert search engines to the subject matter of the specific Web page, which determines whether or not the page is relevant to search queries. One of the dangers with fewer subpages is that designers might try to “stuff” as many keywords onto the pages to make them as relevant for search engine results as possible, a practice both Google and Bing take steps to punish (read more on how Bing identifies keyword stuffing at wsm.co/spambing).

Wait, There’s More

From fixed navigation to images and animation, there are quite a bit of other Web design trends that reduce the findability of an enterprise on the ‘Net. See what other fads are getting designers in SEO trouble at wsm.co/seowebdes.

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