CSS Inspire – Why Your Custom Layout is Hurting Your Site’s SEO


If you look around the web, there’s a serious emphasis on unique and innovative site design. Every company wants to have a website that sets their brand apart and makes visitors say “wow.”

The problem is that with innovative layout and custom web design comes the potential for grave errors and missteps. And the unintended consequences of these blunders are often felt at multiple levels, including SEO, brand reputation, and conversions.

3 Common Reasons Why Custom Sites Fail

“Custom design is the process of making something completely from scratch,” branding expert Ashley Gwilliam explains. “That means creating fresh wireframes, graphics, and code.”

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with creating a website from scratch, Gwilliam admits that the lifecycle of custom design leaves a lot to be desired. It involves paying a designer or agency a hefty sum of money (typically in the $15k to $100k range), undergoing a rigorous discovery process to zero in on the brand’s essence, suffering through multiple rounds of revision, finally launching a site (6-12 months later), inevitably realizing that your website isn’t converting at the rate you’d like, and then contemplating whether to start the process over again.

The cost is one thing – and the long timeframe is certainly frustrating, as well – but the most interesting takeaway that Gwilliam highlights is the fact that most businesses end up with a custom website that doesn’t help them accomplish their conversion goals.

Why is this, you may ask? Well, there are a handful of reasons why custom sites often fail. We’re going to look at a few of them in more detail:

1. Problems With Layout

When you work with a skilled web designer to develop a custom layout, you’ll get a design that is sleek and aesthetically pleasing – that’s pretty much a given. What you have to worry about is layout.

“Web design and SEO are entirely separate, despite perceptions to the contrary,” Aaron Rains of the eponymous Aaron Rains SEO notes. “Understanding what makes an SEO-friendly site is key to link-building, for embedding video, and during overall site audits.”

If you hire a custom web designer, you’ll need an SEO specialist on your team to help you avoid harmful layout mistakes.

2. Crawling Issues

On occasion, different links and web pages are written in JavaScript. This might not seem like an issue on the surface, but it’s highly problematic when it comes to search engines and crawlers.

“Although Google has improved in recent years in terms of reading JavaScript, SEO specialists have concluded that results are inconsistent. Other search engines still have no capabilities when it comes to reading JavaScript,” SEO expert Benj Arriola points out. “This means your internal linking could be completely lost when search engines crawl your content.”

3. Cluttered Design

When you navigate the internet looking for something – whether a new pair of shoes or information for a paper you’re writing – you’re most likely drawn to the websites that feature clean, minimalistic design. You aren’t alone, either. Research from Fabian Stelzer of EyeQuant shows that there’s actually a direct correlation between clean web design and lower bounce rates.

“If you’re a consumer today, you’re surrounded by an exponentially growing amount of content around you–more ads, more Snaps, more Slack messages,” Stelzer says. “Cleaner stuff is more appealing because it doesn’t overwhelm you.”

The problem with custom layout is that it doesn’t always come across as clean. With so many different people and parties looking to include different elements, the end product often comes across as disheveled and overcrowded. This increases bounce rates, lowers conversion rates, and hurts revenue.

Make Sure You Get it Right

Can you launch a successful website with a custom layout? Sure – major brands do it all the time. But if you go this route, you have to be careful to avoid the aforementioned problems. You can’t take it lightly. Hire the right people, double- and triple-check their work, and commit a large amount of resources to continually updating and revising as time goes on.

A much easier solution is to use templates and widely available best practices to release a website that looks unique, but is based on proven SEO and web design principles. This will allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds.

About Larry Alton

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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