Is web design a ranking factor? 80/20 explains.

Search engines serve as the gateway to online information, and it’s a constant fight for the top spot in the search results (SERPs). While keywords, backlinks, and content quality remain vital in the world of search engine optimisation (SEO), there’s another crucial factor that often goes overlooked: website design.

We’ve been asked many a time if web design is a ranking factor, and the simple answer is yes. But how exactly?

A well-designed website is aesthetically pleasing, but it can also have the power to boost rankings through the delivery of a great user experience, excellent mobile responsiveness, high-performing core web vitals, quick loading speeds, and search engine optimisation as a whole.

The reality is, even if you had the best SEO and relevant, fresh content, your website may struggle to rank if your website looks like *poop emoji*.

1. User Experience: The Cornerstone of SEO Success

Search engines have evolved to prioritise user-centric content and experiences. When a user visits a website, search engines monitor their behaviour, including time spent on the site, pages visited, and interactions. A well-designed website that offers intuitive navigation, organised content, and easy-to-use interfaces keeps visitors engaged. This results in lower bounce rates and longer visit durations, sending a positive signal to search engines that your website provides value. Google’s John Mueller emphasises the importance of user experience, stating, “The primary goal of a website is to provide value to users. If your site meets the needs of users, they’re more likely to recommend or share your site.”

2. Mobile Responsiveness: Catering to the Mobile-First Era

The prevalence of mobile devices has transformed the digital landscape, prompting search engines to adopt a mobile-first indexing approach. Websites that are optimized for mobile devices, with responsive designs that adapt seamlessly to different screen sizes, are more likely to rank higher in search results. This emphasis on mobile responsiveness stems from the fact that search engines prioritize delivering results that cater to the growing number of mobile users. A poor mobile experience can lead to higher bounce rates and diminished search engine rankings.

responsive web design is vital

3. Core Web Vitals: Measuring User-Centric Performance

Core Web Vitals are a set of specific factors that Google considers crucial in assessing the overall user experience provided by a website. These vitals include metrics like Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). LCP measures loading performance, FID evaluates interactivity, and CLS assesses visual stability. John Mueller adds to this, noting that, “We’re focusing on the user when we talk about Core Web Vitals. It’s really trying to understand how a user perceives the speed of a page loading, how they perceive the stability of content as it loads as well.” As such, websites that prioritise fast loading times, seamless interactivity, and visual consistency demonstrate a commitment to user-centric design. As a result, search engines are more likely to reward them with improved rankings.

4. Loading Speeds: The Need for Speed in SEO

In a fast-paced digital landscape, loading speed can make or break a website’s success. Slow-loading websites frustrate users and lead to higher bounce rates. This negative user behaviour sends signals to search engines that the website’s content might not be relevant or valuable. As a result, search engines prioritise websites with faster loading speeds, considering them more likely to provide a positive user experience. Optimising images, reducing server response times, and leveraging browser caching are just a few design tactics that can significantly improve loading speeds and subsequently boost SEO performance.

5. SEO Optimization: The Synergy of Design and Content

While content remains king, a well-designed website complements and enhances the impact of high-quality content. Effective website design creates a hierarchy that guides users through the content in a logical and engaging manner. This hierarchy, coupled with proper keyword placement and formatting, enhances the content’s readability and accessibility, both of which are factors that search engines consider when determining rankings.

John Mueller says that “Design matters… If a website looks ugly, it’s less likely that others will recommend it or share it, and therefore it may be more difficult to rank.” There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth!

Website design is more than just aesthetics—it’s a critical element that influences how users interact with your site and, consequently, how search engines perceive its value. From user experience and mobile responsiveness to core web vitals and loading speeds, each design element contributes to the overall SEO performance of your website, and therefore, it absolutely is a ranking factor.

By prioritising user-centric design practices, you can create websites that not only engage and delight users but also secure higher rankings on search engines. Need some help to refresh your website design? Get in touch with our SEO and website development experts today!

80/20 Digital's Content & SEO Specialist, Abbey Faulkner is dedicated to staying on top of industry trends and putting her creativity to good use for her clients. She combines her expertise in media and writing to boost rankings, improve brand awareness, increase engagement and generate leads across clients' websites, email marketing and social media.