Poor Ranking? Simple Fixes to Web Design Can Help

SEO and Web Design are Linked

We’ve all been there. You found the right keywords. Made sure they were too competitive. Wrote a great post or page, even got perfect grades on Yoast or SEMRush.

But, when it’s published, you barely break the top 100. The answer may be simple – poor web design, a topic often glossed over in guides to SEO.

Many believe that SEO and Web Design are separate. However, the opposite is true. The same content posted to a well-designed site will significantly outrank an unoptimized design.

To understand why that is, you need to understand how search engines work and how to build a web design that takes advantage of it.

Web Design is Linked to SEO Performance

How Search Engines Work

Search Theory

The principles behind search goes back to the year 1900s. The math behind search started, oddly enough, as part of industrial design and operations. This may not be as surprising as you may think.

Example Building a Car

For example, if you are building a car. You need parts, labor, and distribution. Each element, parts, labor, and distribution has some risk. If you wanted to build a certain number of cars per month, for instance, you need to understand how these risks are interconnected so you can plan accordingly.

While the models are complex, the point is how similar it looks to user site usage and backlinks. Where certain paths are dependent on prior paths, and some paths are more likely than others.

Example of Markov Chain model for Search

How This Applies to Search

While the above is an oversimplification, it gets the point across. Information is organized in clusters. Each cluster has a probability or weight for relevance around a keyword. The links with the highest relevance and the ones that are most likely to occur.

One Thing Leads to Another

In early search, this literally was true, each link counted as a vote of confidence. The higher the rank initial link, the greater rank was placed on the page to which it linked. While this is not how it works today, it’s still a useful concept when thinking about how information is organized and used.

What Search Bots Care About

What Search Bots Care About

Bots are simply programs that crawl the web. They perform the basic tasks or ranking a page based on its relevance to a category. They function in three ways.

Classify the content using natural language processing and keyword usage.

Uses its algorithm to create a score based on ranking factors.

Indexes the page under a given keyword in order of its ranking.

Based on search theory and how bots work, it should be clear why choosing the right keyword, anchor text, and link building strategy is so important for search engine optimization (SEO).

Search engine results pages (SERPs) are provided to search queries in order of the page’s rank on the keyword most relevant to the query.

What this Means to Web Design – The Basics

At its crux, web design is about organizing information in a way so that users can find the information they seek quickly. Therefore, the navigation should be structured with a clear flow in mind.

Think like your user when setting up navigation

Most Important Information First – Home Page

When creating a home page and navigation, we are communicating our algorithm. By putting certain pages before or after a page communicates its importance, intentionally or not. For example, the Home page would be considered more important than something several clicks in.

Site Map Communicates Importance

Most Important Information First

By submitting a sitemap, we hand a search engine our internal view of the relevance of our content. Therefore, we should ensure that our site structure mirrors our keyword strategy, user flow, and bot expectations.

The highly competitive and/or short-tailed keywords should be visible early in our design, while our longer-tail, lower-volume keywords should be further back.

Why SEO and Web Design Should be Done Simultaneously

Now that we’ve shown you how bots work and why our site architecture matters. It should be clear how SEO and web design are joined at the hip.

Because they are so tightly connected, our keyword, site hierarchy, link building, and internal linking strategies must be as seamless as possible. It is best to design them into your site than to try to optimize them later.

Start with Your Brand Strategy

This might seem obvious. But, when you consider,

“Half of small businesses spend less than two hours per week on marketing efforts”


it’s highly unlikely that a plurality of small businesses have spent enough time to ensure their brand strategy is a quality one.

Marketing Strategy Drives SEO

Without a solid brand strategy, everything that follows is somewhat weaker. Both your site design and your keyword strategy are extensions of your brand strategy.

How to Build a Brand Strategy

There are numerous ways to develop a brand strategy, and here are a few good examples: the balance small business and Hubspot. If you are interested, this is our approach to brand strategy.

Develop your Keyword Strategy

There are just too many ways to develop a keyword strategy to do it justice within this post. However, the rule of thumb is to find the highest volume keywords, relevant to your target audience, that have the lowest level of competition.

Keyword Strategy Example

Majority Small Businesses Shouldn’t Target Keywords above 1,000 searches/mo

The single biggest mistake you can make is to target keywords that are out of reach. Few small businesses have the domain authority (DA) needed to compete on short-tailed keywords or phrases.

Instead look for 100-1,000 searches/mo

For most small businesses, DA is either under 30 or between 30 and 50. If your DA is below 30, even phrases with 100-1,000 will be challenging. This is why it is so important to do your keyword research upfront.

Domain Authority Impact KW volume

Focus on building your DA

Instead of trying to go after challenging keywords, it would be better to focus on quality link building. Remember how search theory works. The more quality links you have, the more authority is passed to your site, and the better your online presence.

Focus on Domain Authority

Build Your Site & Content With Keyword Strategy in Mind

Importance of Page Mapping

Most people don’t invest the time in mapping their keywords to a given page. There are two key reasons why you should take the time to do this.

  1. A clear indication of the relevance you are putting on that given keyword (home page vs. blog for example).
  2. Helps to minimize keyword cannibalization (having two of your own pages competing against each other).

High Keyword Cannibalization is a Clear Signal of Poor Web Design

A beautiful site with a sloppy organization will rank lower than a less visually pleasing site with a smart design. As the Hubspot data show, people come to your site seeking information. It is important that it is easy for them to find it.

Therefore, your design elements should focus on helping the user find pages on your site versus just creating visual impact.

Ensure that Your Preferred User Flow is Clear and Easy to Follow

Finally, the website design should have a natural flow that guides the user to the information they need as quickly as possible. The user path should be easy to follow. It’s been reported that 60% of users leave a site if they can’t find what they need easily.

Mobile friendly

A high-quality user experience is important. If your visual design and build don’t account for mobile, then you are likely to lose a significant amount of traffic to your website.

Mobile Friendliness Impacts Ranking

Measure & Monitor Your User Flow

People can be difficult to predict. Even with the best planning, sometimes the flow isn’t quite right. User flow on Google Analytics can really help. You can see how users are browsing the site.


If you find users are acting differently versus how you intended. It’s important to take note and make changes. Web design is never “a set it and forget it” activity. Monthly monitoring and testing are recommended.

Site useability at the navigational level is usually much harder to do once the site is up versus beta testing it before it goes live. If the user flow is clearly indicating a change is needed, it is worth considering whether to make that investment.


Summary Target

Now that you know how to search and web design work, when you write a great post or page, it should rank better. A design based on the principles outlined here should:

  • Rank better
  • Increase dwell time
  • Decrease bounce rates
  • Increase pages per session
  • Increase return visits

Our recommended path is, to begin with, brand strategy. Use that brand strategy to develop your keyword strategy. From there, build the site and content with those keywords in mind. Lastly, ensure that your preferred user flow is clear.