I have bought a couple blog designs. SEO Book.com 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
- 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
- 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.
- Header links to alternate version of homepage: the site was designed such that all the internal link popularity flowed to site.com/index.html instead of site.com. Some search engines are still having canonicalization issues, so that had to get fixed.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- canonicalization issues: this could cause indexing problems and prevent your homepage from ranking as well. Potentially worse too.
- 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.
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