Common Web Design Mistakes that Break Your SEO


Over the years I have seen numerous websites ruined by relaunches even in cases where I warned clients to tell me about each and every change planned.

In some cases there was a redesign done on the cheap, where I could see some images in Photoshop of how the websites will look. These mock-ups never contained things like titles (you simply couldn’t see the browser window around it) or the text and headlines that would be used in the final version. It was usually full of Lorem Ipsum.

I always admonished clients, designers and programmers not to change anything we optimized for months or even years prior to the redesign.

Nonetheless after the site went live, in some cases without informing me everything was broken from the SEO perspective. The most tragic thing about these mistakes was not only how common they were but also how easily to prevent. Just taking a few necessary precautions could have saved businesses.

Maybe it was my own fault? Maybe I could have done better I thought. That’s why I asked other SEO practicioners about the common web design mistakes that break SEO. Does it happen to others as well? Yeah, it does. A lot. I got numerous replies from other people from the SEO industry. I included some them here in


Not moving URLs

Most web designers do not even know that you have to tell Google that your site has moved. It’s like in real life. When you move to another address you don’t hide the fact.  Not adding so called 301 redirects from the old site or content to new URLs is a huge mistake.

I told one of my clients weeks before the move and weeks after to no avail. Well, who cares about what I say, I’m just an independent consultant and thus the lowest in the hierarchy.

Add 301 redirects to your .htaccess file or inside your PHP code (or the appropriate scripting language you use for your site). Don’t use JavaScript o meta tag redirects though!


Replacing fonts the wrong way

Font replacement with Javascript, PHP and Flash especially headlines is still common despite native CSS3 solutions for clean and individual typography. Using the wrong font replacement can harm website speed, and prevent users from selecting and copying of headlines. Why would you want people to copy headlines?

Well, mail and instant messaging is still one of the most common ways to share links. In order to do so you often need to copy and paste the post headline. I even share on social media manually most of the time because I clicking all the buttons is tedious and sometimes and they are sometimes buggy.

Use Google Web Fonts instead for example. They are lightweight and evidently Google-optimized.


Providing no context

When you arrive on agency sites or web design portfolios you are in many cases meant to know where you are and whose website you visit. You will only see a name or brand name and menu items like portfolio, work, services and the likes. Naming menu items without no context is obviously bad for SEO, or do you want to rank for terms like [portfolio] or even [work]?

Even assuming that someone already visits your site not telling them what you actually do or who you are doesn’t make sense.

Why make people search for a clue? Do web designers think that people will peruse the site and somehow notice that the are selling web design? I’ve seen this disturbing trend also on client sites where you don’t know what kind of site you are actually visiting unless you know it beforehand.

Don’t hide the topic of your site!


Messing up indexation

A surprisingly common issue web designers have is creating indexing issues by shooting yourself in the foot with “noindex” meta tags etc. I’ve seen it a few times but others did as well: it was contributed by Pedro Dias from engeeno and Lyndon NA.

There are many ways to bar search engines from a website by telling them not to trespass.

You can mess up your robots.txt for example and disallow all search engine spiders. In case your site is based on WordPress you can click the privacy settings by accident where it says that you do not want to be seen by Google etc. This adds a “noindex” meta robots tag yo your website head.

Do not ban search engines from indexing your site unless you want it: there might be legitimate reasons to do so. It should be done on purpose though to protect your business model.


Creating duplicates on launch

It also happens a lot the other way around it seems. Web designers and developers are leaving development servers open to search engines spiders to index – contributed by Ben Gough-Cooper or @ben_gc and BreakTheSeal/@breakthesealuk.

What does this mean? Larger website projects use an extra server for testing. This does not have to be a separate machine, but the point is to see the site working locally in a closed environment. Allowing Google etc. to index such a test site is a big mistake. Especially after you launch the real site. Than you have two versions of each URL and thus duplicate content issues. Google may index only the test server and not the actual site for example or decide that both won’t rank.

In this case you really have to ban search engines via robots.txt or mate robots (noindex) but again: don’t forget to remove those after the launch.


ROI-less designing

Many web designers are failed artists it seems. They design sites to look good or express their emotions. Designing for looks not conversions is a common mistake that can break a business – contributed by Gaz Copeland alias @stokedSEO.

What does this mean? Well, using fancy fonts, textures, huge images, experimental menus etc. is visually attractive but does not sell products and services. When designing for ROI (Return On Investment) you care for Calls to Action/CTA, checkout forms, navigation and findability to mention just a few.

Design for ROI not (just) looks. Focus on the less “creative” parts of the site. Form follows function!



Inifinite scrolling without HTML version

These days many things e have take for granted on websites gets replaced by fancier techniques. Infinite scrolling without alternative HTML pages is an example – contributed by Giuspeppe Pastore aka @Zen2Seo

Infinite scrolling may be cool and even good for user experience but in case you load the content on demand using AJAX search engines won’t see it and your site is half empty.

There are other means of hiding menus, headlines an content in images JavaScript, Ajax or Flash – this issue has been contributed by numerous people.

Just don’t use scripting techniques for content or provide an alternative, a clean, readable HTML version.


So you see it’s not really difficult to prevent most of theses issues. Common web design mistakes that break your SEO can in most cases get easily prevented once you know about them.


* This site is well designed, isn’t it? It’s clean and readable, but can you tell what it is about, even what the name of the site is? Hint: it’s NOT the Twitter homepage.


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