Hey, nice lookin’ website there! Too bad for you.


Most marketing and advertising agencies are *terrible* at understanding how the internet works – they think that flash elements and print-like approaches are what should drive the projects when the exact opposite is the case.

For online effectiveness in terms of search and usually also for users you want easy navigation, few graphic elements, and most importantly a well-optimized site. The more the biz is online focused the more you want optimization over good looks.

Most SEO sophisticated places are poor at design, and many SEO whiz kids can’t be convincing enough to steer people away from the good looking sites designers tend to do. Yet those good looking sites that sacrifice searchability for beauty should be avoided.

In my opinion the people who say “hey, we can make it look super good and glitzy AND be very well optimized” should be listed online in an “Americas least wanted” list of web people.

Of course you can make sites look “OK” and have great optimization, but it’s impossible to have the classy high falutin’ feel you get from rich, large images and flashy elements and do a great optimization. Disney-like sites can afford this mistake (I think it’s still stupid of them), but most businesses count on good optimization if they are in a competitive field where many companies are trying for many related terms.

There are probably exceptions to this rule of great looks vs great optimization but I think they are *extremely* uncommon. The best simple way to describe it simply is that flash and images almost alway look better than text and almost always lead to inferior optimization than text and hyperlinked text elements.

7 thoughts on “Hey, nice lookin’ website there! Too bad for you.

  1. In the general sense, Joe is referring to SEO – Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the burgeoning science (black art is probably more accurate) of constructing your webpage in a way that it’ll be best visible by search engines. One of the tenets of SEO is that a page heavy in graphics – especially a page that uses graphics for written content – is hard (or impossible) for Google and other search engines to understand. If Google doesn’t understand a page, a search that is relevant to you page may not find your page.

    I think there has to be a compromise between catchy design and superb SEO especially if you are in a competitive field. Attractive, functional design is just as vital to getting repeat customers/visitors as is using SEO to increase visibility.

    From a technical standpoint, separating markup and design (semantic design) when building a page can result in a SEO friendly page that looks great. Essentially, the HTML of a page can contain all of the relevant information in a way that is easily read by a search engine. This allows CSS to control the appearance of a page – something it does much better than HTML.

    Of course, that only scratches the surface of SEO.

  2. Joy – See Spencer’s excellent note. In practical terms it also generally means “ranking high” with search engines which is partly getting them to see your site properly and partly getting them to think your site is better than others for that search term.

    Thanks Spencer for that excellent note. I would add that SEO has actually become more straightforward of late as Google cracks down on abuses and it’s now considered “best form” to work largely within the search engine guidelines rather than try to “trick” Google.

    However it’s also harder to rank well because there are so many sites out there now for so many topics, and Google is straining under the weight of bogus sites, spam, and other stuff.

    Lastly, all the search engines fail in many respects to accurately rank the whole world of sites, especially for unusual terms. I think all Search Engines would agree that they currently only do a “good” but not “great” job at ranking sites.

  3. Oh, ok, of course–thank you. Our firm has just recently gotten a website (pathetic, I know, but until now we’ve gotten all our clients from word of mouth, and have decided only recently to market ourselves so that we can hone in on the types of cases we want.) Anyway, I think we probably went a little too pretty and less practical, out of ignorance. When you search for immigration lawyers in San Francisco, google puts a few lawyers at the top that I have never even heard of–guess they are good at marketing (but does that mean they are good lawyers? Don’t know about that!) Besides that, other search sites (like FindLaw and Legal Match) get put to the top.

  4. SEO Primer:

    Joy for a term like “immigration lawyers” you want to make sure of the following:

    1) Your title tag should say “immigration lawyers”
    2) Some of your URLs include /immigration-lawyers/ or immigration-lawyers.htm”. Google treats dashes as word separators and _ understore connections as the same word, so almost *always* use dashes.
    3) Lots of explanation text should appear at home page with the terms immigration lawyers, immigration, and lawyers.
    4) You should buy terms using “pay per click” advertising at Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Bid low at first to get a feel for the system.
    5) Seek incoming links to the site, especially from high traffic and highly relevant sites in that sector. EDU links are especially helpful in ranking.
    6) The incoming links should use “Immigration Lawyers” as your anchor text.
    7) NEVER use any companies who solicit you for SEO or website help with mass e-mailings, they are usually idiots or worse and can ruin your site.

    MOST IMPORTANT: Use a blog with the site. Blog about the things most important for people to know. Link back to relevant site areas. Blog for your users and clients benefit.

  5. Joe,

    My limited web building background is very outdated (perhaps ancient is more appropriate). I have a small business and need to upgrade our website. Likely I should bite the bullet and hire a pro; however I want to try it myself first (and I do have a window of opportunity of time and a brick wall available to hit my head against) 🙂

    Given my desire to learn and move forward myself, can you recommend a good place to start re-learning? I’ve read through your technical sites and they are a bit over my head; (and probably far too involved for a small personal service business)

    Thanks for any help or suggestions!

  6. Angela I don’t know your biz so it’s hard to say but
    I’d always recommend these things:

    * Start up a blog at WordPress or Blogger talking about your business and keep the above note in mind.

    * Bring those blog elements into the website later.

    * Concentrate on writing articles about your business, tips for clients, etc. DO NOT worry too much about reworking the look of the site – make it professional and then concentrate on getting it seen via search engines = seen by people.

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