Paying Extra For Good Design is Well Worth It

I have bought a couple blog designs. SEO was designed by one of my favorite blog designers. Another blog design I bought was cheaper and for a network of blogs, and it came out to be far less appealing. Had I not been an SEO who looks at site structure frequently I might not have noticed many of the hidden costs that came with the bargain design. Here are some examples of things that were totally jacked up with the design product I got a deal on

  1. Does not look as professional: of course I expected this part, and sorta factored that into the consideration of value at the lower price point. What I did not factor in was all of the following

  2. Same page title on every page: well, obviously that sucks. How well will search engines understand the differences between documents when I throw one of the keys away at hello? So I had to go through and find the appropriate archive and individual post Typepad tags fix up the templates to offer unique page titles on idividual post and archive pages.
  3. Header links to alternate version of homepage: the site was designed such that all the internal link popularity flowed to instead of Some search engines are still having canonicalization issues, so that had to get fixed.
  4. Lack of modularity: although the designer knew I was going to use the template across a series of blogs they chose to manually type out the URL paths and site anchor text when that could have easily been done using the tagging solutions, which I eventually had to go through and add to make it easier to duplicate the design across different blogs without needing to take an hour per blog to edit the templates for each of about 20 blogs.
  5. noindex nofollow: out of an attempt to sabotage a client or out of sheer incompetence the designer included noinex and nofollow tags in most of the page templates.

So lets say you save a few grand by going with a cheaper designer. What are the potential hidden costs to those savings?

  1. less professional design: I think this factor has to be broken down by the quality of your site

    • high quality content: if you are going to make a high quality site you might as well make the design look nice too. Links snowball on themselves, and a few more links today may be a hundred more next month and a thousand next year. Or imagine the cost if you missed out on those links. Eeek!

    • low quality content: for sites that are borderline spam sometimes the difference between staying indexed or being booted out of the search results all together is bridged by a decent design. A good design can carry bad content to some extent. Bad content + bad design = much more likely to get the boot for being spam.
  2. poor page titles: this can easily cut your search referral traffic in half. Given that the people who reference your work are people who somehow found it cutting off one of your most important inroads can cost a lot over time, especially when you consider how links logarithmically build over time.
  3. canonicalization issues: this could cause indexing problems and prevent your homepage from ranking as well. Potentially worse too.
  4. noindex nofollow: I guess it depends on how you monetize your site, but cutting the search engines off at hello is not a good way to work your way up to exposure

Someone newer to the web than me probably would not have caught all those errors either. So the problems could have lasted for months or years without being fixed for some people.

I don't think great design has to be expensive either. I am a fan of buying a great logo and then just using an ultra clean site design, and just letting the links and headings sorta match the colors of the logo. That is how this site was for about a year and a half before I found the designer who did a kick ass job designing the current version.

On top of design effecting how willing people will be to link to your site or read your site it also plays a major role in determining how well your site will convert. Some ugly sites sell, but if you are selling something that is high end and individually branded I think a great design can also play a big role in helping build your credibility and boosting your conversion rates.

One thing I find frustrating with this is that if you go to Wikipedia they list the SEO page as being part of the spamming series and yet you got people designing hundreds or thousands of websites with these sort of information architecture errors in them.

Published: June 8, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


Peter D
June 8, 2006 - 6:02am

I like this design, Aaron. It's very cool.

June 8, 2006 - 8:38am

I was wondering who was responsible for the new look. It's worth every penny.

June 8, 2006 - 8:46am

The same is true with seo. General rule of thumb: 'You pay for what you get'.

June 8, 2006 - 8:55am

Wikipedia they list the SEO page as being part of the spamming series

The bashing of SEO just never stops, does it?

This site is very nice, very fresh. The writing kinda helps too ;-)

June 8, 2006 - 9:10am

If your sites not very important/well known then you really need good design. Imagine Matt Cutts is manually reviewing your site to see if it deserves to be on page 1 for your keywords, if this was the case then you would wish you spent an extra $1000 on the design.

June 8, 2006 - 1:09pm

Re: "Some search engines are still having canonicalization issues"

Would you tell us which ones those are? Thanks.

June 8, 2006 - 6:12pm

I also like the design very much. It is fresh, clear and doesn't have too much unnecessary things ;)

June 8, 2006 - 8:22pm

Aaron, with all due respect.

For Blogs that are there to give information, design doesn't mean too much. It has to at least look OK, but what it should be is DIFFERENT. It can be ugly, but if people remember it, great.

What's more important is the info at that BLOG.

Aaron, I remember you blog because it does have a unique design if you compare it with other SE blogs. BUT in industries who are focusing too much into design of their blog... I'd recommend focusing on uniqueness of the blog.

My blog is ugly. Nothing special about it. I will probably just put a big toilet bowl on top of it. Why??? Just to make it stick in the minds of the visitor.

June 9, 2006 - 12:33am

I think that one of the most important tenets of functional design for the Web is that the design enhances the ability of the user to experience and identify with the content. Too many sites are 'overdesigned' where design is done for design's sake and ignore the content, identity and purpose of the site.

I'll say the best designers on the Web I've seen are keenly aware of the distinction and strive to enhance functionality and identity.

The success of this design is that you can relax and enjoy reading the blog posts. The posts are kind of 'tasty' and you enjoy reading them. So much of this has to do with the designers choice of font size, colors and decision regarding placement and whitespace. The designer knows the adage that less is often more.

But, of course, if the primary goal and "raison d'etre" for a given website is to encourage people to see and click on advertisements the design would need to focus on meeting those goals. Same goes with design oriented at highlighting product placements in an e-commerce store.

I guess the moral of the story in a nutshell is that if you've got the Mona Lisa you don't stick a rainbow colored frame around it. If you've got a flyer tacked to a telephone pole advertising a garage sale down the road then a rainbow colored frame might help.

June 10, 2006 - 8:03pm

This design is decent. I personally think it has a pretty nice logo and a clean design. Although the site is very useful for the users, meaning the design has great useability, still I think it can defnitely be improved. ALthough yes I do like the logo.

One problem I had is that the hompepage is the blog page. Doesn't seem PERFECT, but still is very useful and doesnt take away from the experience of the user. So in my opinion although the site can be improved in looks, still I beleive that an improvement in the look won't really help conversion rates as there nothing about the site's design that really takes away from the user experience. Yahoo for example is an ugly looking old school site but still it has useability, although google's look I like better. Google is cleaner so it is more useful to the user.

June 10, 2006 - 8:04pm

A think a very nice looking site is

June 10, 2006 - 8:12pm

You now aaron, its interesting how mention that this design is "kick ass" when in your ebook you mentioned that it was not so good.

June 10, 2006 - 8:14pm is the best looking site I've ever seen.

June 11, 2006 - 4:37am

My old design was a piece of garbage sorta crafted by me. THAT was the design my ebook was referring to back when you read it.

June 11, 2006 - 5:03am

Oh. Well when I read your ebook this current design was in place. Perhaps you can update that in your ebook.


June 11, 2006 - 5:14am

It has been updated for a while now.

This is an example of where glancing at it before commenting would have been helpful.

June 11, 2006 - 5:18am

Ya aaron, I have a major improvement for your website's design. When you highlight the seobook logo it highlights with this white split in the middle, its like theres 2 different images or something. You might want to have that corrected.

P.S. It does this in IE not firefox

June 11, 2006 - 5:23am

Honestly, the way I see it your site is one of those clean sites with a nice logo.

In your ebook you mentioned you payed $99 for it. Thats not a bad price.

Anyhow why would you care about $99 when you make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year off this site+off your seo consulting?

June 11, 2006 - 6:07am

I am getting a bit frustrated with your (mis)understanding of my points.

The point of $99 was just how reasonable the logo price was. The point of saying that the old design was simple to put together was that if you had to start essentially from scratch while almost bankrupt (like I was) that you could get by on the cheap until you later find the right designer and have the resources to pay them for what they are worth.

The current design cost far more than $99. It was somewhere in the couple thousand dollar range.

June 11, 2006 - 11:11pm

Oh. LOL don;t get mad, but hey I gave you a good tip on how to improve your design with the logo when it is highlighted, how it splits into 2 seperate pictures (to fix that). But yes I agree the current design is very useful and nice.
I'm curious so the logo currently on the site cost you $99 or was that the old one?


June 12, 2006 - 6:07pm

its cool , but again as earlier some one said content is king

June 13, 2006 - 11:48am

… but the how website content is perceived depends to a significant extent on the design. To take one example, the newspaper industry has known for decades how important typographical issues are in the usability of newspapers.

This becomes all the more important when you have a more complicated presentation of content such as an online store, or a product review site.

October 1, 2006 - 12:12pm

Aaron Wall,

Your article on good design is really a worth. My clients always ask me to just get them top search engine ranking and placement, but I always says them, what will you do by just getting a top search engine ranking, you need to focus on conversion ratio improvement along with search engine optimization.

And a Good design is the most important factor to improve conversion ratio since when a visitor come to website, website must attract visitors in the first moment and must shows company's professional look which can set some kind of emotional goodwill of the company in visitors mind.

This can and only can be done with good design along with optimized pages for search engine so that atleast website not only get high traffic from search engines but also converts those targeted visitors into buyers.

Thanks for your useful article and it was worthy to read.

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