I once ran had a private coaching group where one of my former students asked: “Michel, I’m starting a blog using WordPress. Do you have any general tips on things like layout and design?”
When it comes to WordPress designs, I don’t have any preference. But I do believe in minimalistic designs. What I use is Beaver Builder page builder (Elementor is fine, too, but I personally don’t like Divi). My favorite theme is Astra and I also use Ultimate Beaver Add-ons. (These are my affiliate links.)
As for best practices, here are some tips:
Offering a good user experience (UX), aside from good content, is a major part of SEO. In fact, by May 2021, Page Experience will become a fundamental ranking signal for Google. It’s even experimenting with adding labels and warnings to search listings of sites that offer a poor page experience.
According to Google, Page Experience has five key areas:
Google measures a site’s Core Web Vitals, which include loading performance (e.g., how fast it loads), interactivity performance (e.g., how fast it responds to user interaction), and visual stability (e.g., how little it moves or shifts).
The world has shifted to mobile. Not only is the web mostly mobile-driven but also Google has shifted to mobile-only indexing. Desktops are secondary. So you need to make your site responsive, usable, accessible, and easy to use on mobile devices. It is no longer a question.
Websites that have been hacked or contain malicious code (e.g., malware), or if they provide unclear, questionable, or deceptive content (e.g., lack of a cookie notice, phishing attempts, even missing third-party disclosures), will be marked as unsafe and, therefore, lose rankings.
All legitimate websites must have a secure connection identified by HTTPS and a closed padlock icon in the browser’s address bar. It’s simply installing an SSL certificate at the site’s host level. And if you’re a plastic surgeon or aesthetic medical professional, this not just an SEO issue. It’s the law.
Finally, the content should not be blocked or hindered in any way, which is usually the case with interstitials and popups. They’re still fine as long as they don’t block your content or make it less accessible.
Ultimately, Google wants to reduce user frustration and provide the best possible search experience for its users. While page experience is or will become an important ranking factor, here are other elements I would closely look at to ensure a more positive user experience.
(These are things I look at, too, when I conduct SEO audits.)
Being consistent means using the same color scheme, fonts, layouts, and identification signals (like logos, branding, and addresses) throughout the website. Consistency is also proven to increase credibility and conversions.
From a UX standpoint, nothing is more disconcerting to a user when they land on a part of the site that looks completely different than the rest. It reduces trust and Google may penalize you if you simply appear deceptive, such as thinking you were hacked or you’re a phishing site, for example.
Speaking of using consistent color schemes, sticking with two to three colors at most is best (e.g., two key colors and an accent color). But the most important part is to ensure readability. The lack of contrast, especially on tiny smartphone screens, can make the content very hard to read.
Filling out forms is always a chore, be it online or off. But they’re an integral part of using the web — from passwords and contact pages to online purchases. So there’s no way around them. Making sure forms are short, simple, clean, and inviting contribute to a better user experience.
Also, an important but often ignored UX component is form feedback, such as providing validation messages and form processing signals. It frustrates me when, after filling out a form, nothing happens — only to scroll back up and find a hidden success message at the top.
Having a site search function (form or bar) is important. It adds to the user experience by helping them find what they’re looking for faster, but also provides you with a lot of insights into your users’ behaviors and if there are any content snags. For example, what were they searching for but couldn’t find?
(Also, if you use Google Analytics, you can easily track site searches and the keywords they used, which is also usable information for SEO.)
The most important part of your website is the navigation. This is the foundation of your site structure and how people interact with your content. Navigation menus should be clear and visible, and in some cases, sticky.
Whether’s it’s a bar, menu, or menu toggle (i.e., the “hamburger menu” for mobile devices), navigation can also play the role of breadcrumbs by providing feedback that indicates when visited or active, which helps the user orient themselves on your site.
Unlike me and my three-monitor setup, or some of my friends who use ultrawide 50″ gaming monitors, most people use laptops or smartphones. Forcing people to squint impacts the user’s experience. So using large, clear fonts, and the ability to zoom in and out, are a web design standard now.
I once did a UX audit on a site for an SEO client of mine, and the view of their mobile version was locked — one could not pinch out or in to magnify the content or any of the images. And sure enough, the site failed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards test.
Last but not least, offering calls-to-action (or is that call-to-actions?) copy, buttons, links, etc is important. Not only will it help increase dwell times and improve your SEO by reducing bounce rates, but also it will reduce the most common cause of user frustration: not being clear on what to do next.
One final comment.
Web design is an art. It’s susceptible to many interpretations and will appeal to different people in different ways. It’s like IKEA furniture: gorgeous and functional for some, ugly and a pain-in-the-posterior for many others.
The goal is relatively simple: don’t try to be overly stylish trying to dazzle and impress. Just make it easy for users to use.
If you’re a plastic surgeon looking for SEO, I will always tell you that beauty is important as it is reflective of your brand and the services you offer. After all, your patients would think twice about getting cosmetic surgery from a doctor whose website looks terrible.
But the goal (for both you and Google) is to make it easy, safe, and secure for your patients to find your content, consume your content, and use your website.