faq answers

On each FAQ answer page you will find a simple answer to a question. Some explanations are a bit long, but all have been written so that a layman or laywoman can understand. Here we are answering the question: What is good website design from Google's perspective?

Let's Talk About Web Site Design

I built my first website somewhere around the mid-90s. It was a really simple site. It sort of looked like a word processing document. There was very little that you can do. For example you could only use web safe colors and minimal formatting. Wow! Have things changed.

Now you can go to a website and be greeted by someone walking and talking across the page, lots of music, flashing pictures blinking text and elastic frames that open up when you click on a picture. It's really quite amazing. And a lot of really great website designers took advantage of all the things that were developed over the year to make your website "flashier". (No pun intended)

And then things changed again. Why did they change? The answer, as is often the case, is one word "Google". Google's primary interest and the basis of its success is the premier search engine. Its aim is to give the user the best experience that it can. It wants users to find exactly what they are looking for in the shortest amount of time and with the least effort.

Let's put this in some of Google's own words:

"The Google User Experience team aims to create designs that are useful, fast, simple, engaging, . . . trustworthy. . ." Now let's try to understand what Google means by each of these words.

Useful

The first word is "useful". Whenever we create a list, the word we put first is always the most important. So let's look at this word useful. What does it mean? It means first of all that the site will actually contain the information that the user is looking for. If the user is looking for "marble countertops" and instead lands on the site that sells marble statuary, that site is not going to be useful for the user. How can Google measure usefulness? One of the simplest measures is something called "bounce rate". This means the time or lack of time that the user spends on the site. You know, that if you go to a web site, and it is not the site that gives you the information you want, you leave the site almost immediately. You in fact "bounce" off that site. If a site page has a high bounce rate, Google knows that the page is not giving the user a useful experience. So obviously the first thing you want to do is make sure that each page is indexed correctly in Google by using the search terms that actually reflect the content of the page. Using extra search terms "just to draw people in" are not helpful and may actually damage your ranking with Google by increasing the "bounce rate".

Fast

The second word in the list is incredibly important to Google. That word is "fast". If the page does not load in milliseconds Google will not like it. Why not? For the same reason that you don't like a site that loads slowly. In this crazy world of today, everyone wants everything "right now". And Google believes it is its job to deliver just that to everyone using its search engine. What can slow a site down? There are several things that cause websites to load slowly. Some of the most obvious are: images that have not been properly sized and optimized for the web. Too many images on one page. Too many items or items that are too large, such as large flash files or long videos. I think you know the type of page we are talking about. It is a page that is beautiful, if you're willing to wait for it to load into your browser. Some will say that load time really doesn't matter if we have high-speed Internet access. This is not true on two counts. First of all some of these flash presentations take a long time to load even with high-speed Internet. But there is a more basic reason. Google wants the web to work for everyone--even those who do not have high-speed connections. And so it looks at the website from the point of view of its load time for slower Internet connections. This means that a lot of the really "cool looking stuff" does not look so cool from Google's point of view. This means if it is used on the website, it may actually lower your ranking in Google.

While we are on the subject of flash presentations and other fancy bells and whistles we need to add there is something even more important than browser load time. The Google bots that index websites have no way of knowing what the flash presentation is about. This can mean that a site that looks beautiful from the front actually appears as more of a blank page to the Google bot. This is never a good thing.

Simple

Now let's look at the third word "simple". Simple in this case means a site that is simple and easy to use. When users arrive at your site they are looking for something specific. What they're looking for should not be more than a mouse click away. And where that mouse click is, should be glaringly obvious. So simple means both that that the site is easy to use, and it is easy to find what you're looking for.

Engaging

The last word that we are to look at today is "engaging". Google has a way of measuring whether or not users are engaged with the site. This measurement is sort of the opposite of the bounce rate measurement. With the bounce rate users clicked off the site almost as quickly as they entered it. However, if users are truly engaged with the site they will stay on it, so one of the metrics that Google measures is how long users stay on the site. Why will users stay to explore the site? The answer is pretty obvious. If a site contains the information they want, they will read it. They may even go further into the site to find out more information. The longer they stay in the site the more engaged they are. That is why we like to put new information and pictures and new video on our websites every month. This gives the user more things to become engaged with. Conversely, it also means that a site that with just one or two pages will never be really engaging. The result of this lack of engagement means that Google will not rank it very highly.

Trustworthy

The last word we want to look at is "trustworthy". Trustworthy really sums up the first four words. If a site really is exactly what it says it is and is fast to load and simple and easy-to-use, it provides a great experience for Google users. When users have really good site experiences they tend to trust these sites.

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