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how important is a great design to get links?

 9:01 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

This is something Ive wondered about in the past and am now wondering about once again: How important is having a "great" design for getting links?

Personally, I'm thinking that in most (informational) niches whether you have a flashy/professional looking design or just a basic, neat design wouldn't have much of an effect on link building success rates. However, if you sell cars or jewlrey you better have a great design.

What have your experiences been? Is it easier to get links if you go with a professional looking template (including the footer link to the designer) than if you build your own site (which looks good and neat, but not "great")? Or doesn't it matter a lot except for certain niches?



 9:39 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)


From what I've seen it makes no difference how a site looks.

But that doesn't mean it should be bad.

A neat clean look is enough.

Getting high end designer sites are only useful when the audience you are targeting is expecting to see something visual or artistic, otherwise a neat look is all that's needed.



 9:48 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think I do have a neat look (and made sure the site is big on usability, which I think is often more important to the user than a visually-appealing design), I was just wondering if maybe its silly for me to create my own design instead of just going with a premade-one which would probably look quite a bit better lol.

But I've already created the site and thinks it looks good, so I wont change for now, if it doesnt have an effect on my link building success.

When you said it makes no difference how a site looks, you were referring to link building, right? (not to how users like it)


 9:50 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Yes, site appearances have nothing to do with link building.


 9:54 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

I disagree, I think you need at least good design, and the better it is the more people will be inclined to link to you. Some may even link specifically because of your design. But there's obviously going to be a point of diminishing returns, where a really expensive design won't pay for itself in terms of just a handful of extra links. But some of these might be really strong ones, if you get a mention in a popular design blog or even featured offline in a web designer magazine that's showcasing this sort of thing.

I generally don't give links out if a website looks like it was made in 1998, or it's full of really bad flashing gifs or other signs that it was probably made by a schoolkid as a weekend project. There's got to be a good reason for me to make an exception, at least. So get a good design, certainly. But remember that what counts as good changes all the time, with fashion and the capabilities of modern designers.


 10:19 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Interesting to hear a differing opinion, Rosalind. When you say you dont give out links if a website looks like it was made in 1998, etc., I bet this is something that's true for niches with very tech-savy/internet-savy people. I've heard in some tech-niches it was extremely hard to get links to your site if it didnt validate. However, I'm thinking these things probably wouldn't matter a lot in other fields.

For example, my current site is about learning a foreign language. There are some sites with a professional design (usually the commercial (or even spammy) ones that are in it for the money). Whereas there are also lots and lots of .edu-sites from schools, universities, people interested in languages who dont know much about web design. And I'd say these sites mostly look like 98 (those will be the sites Ill be trying to get links from, not the commercial ones).

Anyway, Im hoping, that because of this it wont matter that I use a basic design.

Actually, I was thinking that it would be better to have a basic (but neat looking) design which looks like I made it myself instead of using a pre-made template..because I could sort of stress how much time I put into this site and learning basic web design (which is true), which might make the people who have such sites (many of them are teachers, etc.) more likely to link than if I was using a professional looking design that didnt look like I made it myself (paying a web designer isnt really an option for me right now, when I say professional design Im thinking "free template").


 11:22 am on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

1998? That's exactly the look I want!

People on the web are researching and looking for information. If you're going for a look, make it one that says 'this site does nothing else but provide unbiased information'. That's at cross purposes with a fancy design (though not a clean one). A design that says 'I built this site 10 years ago and never spent a dime on design because I'm just a university professor with a copy of frontpage 98' - that's what you want.


 12:12 pm on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Im not sure if thats exactly what you meant, but in my field there are pretty much two types of sites:

1)university sites/sites from schools/etc. ...those usually look pretty old school
2)commercial sites...those usually have a "better" design

Ill really only get links from 1) anyway (why bother with getting links from commercial sites that will not want to link out if there are lots of .edu sites with lots of link authority behind them who will want to share useful content)...thus I was wondering going more with a look that looks like 1) might actually be better in this niche.

However, maybe this doesnt really matter, because maybe Im the only one who notices there are two categories of sites, because university professors/people who just have sites because their passionate about it dont really look at the market and do research, etc.


 1:39 pm on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

It really depends on the category. When I say I'll not link out to sites with 1998-type design, I'm really talking about commercial sites. It's amazing how many people try to run a business with a site that looks like they obviously didn't invest a penny in design.

With informational sites there's more leeway, but you still have to make it look like you care about it and you're likely to keep updating it. It's a fine line between having a very basic look, and resembling a turnkey site.

I was thinking that it would be better to have a basic (but neat looking) design which looks like I made it myself instead of using a pre-made template

This is probably true, if you let it reflect your personality a bit and keep it simple.


 2:18 pm on Oct 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks, I think I'm on the right way then ;). My design definitely does look like I care about it (I worked on it all of the last semester while learning HTML and CSS..so I definitely did put in some time and I think it does pretty nice - but of course not nearly as good as many pre-made templates which were created by professional web designers).

And my homepage consists of nothing but two (neat;)) boxes named "Favorite Links" and "Recently Added" (I think that's important for usability/lurking people into the site/getting them to come back, etc.), so the being likely to update it part is true, too (and of course I will) :-).

Is "Recently Added" something you would call a category in English? Or is it "Added recently" or would I have to say "Recently Added Links"? Just "Recently Added" is probably fine, right?



 8:19 am on Oct 18, 2008 (gmt 0)


No offenses Rosalind, but people link to other sites for PR, or trust. No matter how the site looks, if the site can give any kind benefit or edge to them they would not think again about how the site template is.

As for linking to sites only because you like them or their template, there are very few of them out there, good to know that you are one of those. But 99% of people here are looking for something to get to the top.

When I say "Site appearances have nothing to do with link building." - I didn't say you can get a bad design / template. I said it should be neat.

Take a look at many of the top websites - Google, Dmoz etc..- they don't have great designs / templates, but are neat and organized. And people don't think about the design when they use them or link to them, they use these sites because of the authority they have established. After all its not how the site looks that makes it successful. Its what the site provides/ produces or does that makes people give it preference over other sites.

And that's what we all try to do so that we can be authority in our own fields.

I wouldn't mind linking to a site made by a high school kid who works on weekends if the site is relevant to my topic and has no major problems with the site organization / design.

But certainly if I'm looking for buying jewelry then I would prefer a site which has a design better than other sites, because jewelry is something where looks come in first. I'm not there to get a link, I'm there to buy a product and I want the best designs available.

So I still think when link building is concerned site design is not everything. Having a neat organized design will do.


 11:34 am on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

people link to other sites for PR, or trust

Beware of generalizations. I link to sites that I feel might be helpful to visitors, not because I think I might gain something from it in the eyes of search engines. I, of course, make sure that I trust the site before I link to it, and its design certainly does play a role, but more in the sense of usability and not so much of aesthetics.


 12:11 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

I beg to differ when folks say a simple design is not great. It takes great planning to make something as powerful and complex as google appear so simple. Look at the iPhone, one button and a screen. Looks about as basic as you can get. Yet it is the standard for phone designs.

Also, there is a difference in opinion from "webmasters" and from regular folks running sites who really just know how to use the tools given to them to do content updates. I believe there are more non- webmasters out there than there are folks like us on these boards. So you really have to take all this advice into perspective and realize the answers above regarding linking may not represent the majority of content editor/creators out there.


 12:28 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Do you think we're dealing with a biased sample, because of what you said @maximillianos? Why would webmasters have other requirements for a site's design when it comes to link building than people who do the same thing, but are non-webmasters? I think if we make sure we distinguish between different verticals than I can't see how that's a problem.

For example many webmasters on here are tech-savy and might be more likely to have websites in tech-savy niches (I remember a guy giving me the advice that link requests do not work, at all. He deletes them without even looking at them. However, every webmaster obviously doesn't react that way)...and in tech-savy niches a great looking design (which validates, etc.) might have more of an effect on success with getting links...but I think if we distinguish between one industry and another it shoudln't matter than we're mostly webmasters and not non-webmasters trying to get links.

I agree with keeping things simple, though :-)


 12:39 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Makaveli - I do believe savvy webmasters are bias. We consider things like pagerank and how the link will affect our rank, where man content editors just consider things like relevance and usefulness of the link to whatever they are writing about.


 12:52 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

I find that often what works best for the users of the site equates to the best design choice overall (including the link issues you are asking about).
In the fields I deal with this is almost always a professional look and design.

Further I think the actual 'link development' strategy plays a big role.
Many informational and educational sites I deal with gather links based on content rather than design. These are not usually the reciprocal kind and often happens without the website owner even knowing.

However my business / e-commerce clients are always forwarding me link request they have received.
They are always 'eager' when it's a professional looking site and 'doubtful' when the site design is homemade (even if clean and simple). If left to their own devices they would probably trade links on this criteria alone.

I suppose my approach would be to provide the best of both - great design tailored to YOUR clients/field + top content (along with a well planned IA and good usability)...


 1:11 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Great design means fit for purpose. The purpose of a site is to deliver its content. So great design will get the links because it delivers the content that people want to link to.

Of course when "great design" is a euphamism for bloated graphics and Flash then it isn't a benefit.


 1:24 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Great design means fit for purpose

That is the best sentence I have seen in that discussion.

But that is also the core of the problem. "Link baiting" with design is IMHO a bad idea but could work in some fields. The ultimate goal should be "conversion" then the links will pour in anyhow.

The better your sites convert the more people will link to it, because THEY have been converted (and hopefully been happy).

For informational sites I link to, my requirement is "the answer" to a question. It must be understandable, findable and the purpose of the URL itself no matter how that looks.

I link to a lot of Linux pages from my blog because there are solid how-tos and good answers to complicated questions. Those sites really look horrible from a design point of view but get my link love because they HELPED me solving problems - they converted me.

2 pennies,


 1:30 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

IMHO it depends on what you want with the site. From a branding standpoint, it makes sense to have a nice site. If you're just collecting traffic for adwords or other means, then a well optimized site should do just fine.


 2:14 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

Wikipedia isn't pretty, but it does pretty well.

I think piatkow's "Great design means fit for purpose" comment makes a lot of sense. I once knew a couple of writers who built an information site that looked like a high-end e-commerce site. It failed, and one reason might have been the fact that it was too slick for its intended purpose. (The owners would have been better off trying to look like The New York Times instead of Victoria's Secret.)

BTW, I recently fixed my 14-year-old network laser printer with the help of a parts kit and instructional video from an e-commerce site that has useful problem-solving information and provides great service. I'll be linking to the site shortly--even if it doesn't look like much, and even if it has nothing to do with my category. Why? Because good information and service deserve recognition, whether or not the site's owners spent money on an art director.


 2:44 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

I've been told my site looks too '90s (no flash) however it's clean and easy to navigate and has a plethora of pages full of information of benefit to site owners/designers--a lot of people come looking for info to fix a ranking problem with their site and end up asking me to fix it. I rank in top 10 for just about any keyword phrase I target and get a lot of traffic and turn down several jobs per week so I'm not so worried about what some think of my site. I'm also so busy I don't have time to update it either. I don't spend much time gathering links either because I have a lot of people linking to my info pages.


 10:02 pm on Oct 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

The concept of "Great design" should be an audience appropriate design.

If your site caters to a bunch of arts and crafts people then some slick smooth web 2.0 ajax & flash layout might just put them off for something a bit simpler and more folksy.

Likewise, a simple folksy approach would probably alienate hard core moviegoers that thrive on those slick flash sites.

One size does not fit all, design with your audience in mind.


 1:05 am on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I do know that a bad site design can keep people from linking. I personally won't link to any site with java applet navigation, popups, or IE only features.


 1:39 am on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Definitely good site design makes a difference. I have experienced first hand how a professional look will help a site obtain links, even dot edu links, even when the content isn't as professional. The reverse can be true, as iridiax points out.


 1:53 am on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I personally link to "great content" and hang the design. If the content quality is there then my visitors need to see it. Pretty, as is sometimes said, is only skin deep. Put heart in your product and, as is sometimes said, "they will come..."


 2:43 am on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

tangor, your personal policy on linking out is noble and a model for all webmasters to consider. No doubt you aren't the only one who thinks that way. I personally link out to quality content sites myself and believe good content is important in the link building process.

However it's important to consider that statement in the light that you don't have experience seeking links (as you have stated in another thread that you do not build links but passively wait for them), so perhaps you may not be in the best position to know the importance of great a design as part of a link building project. But your input is appreciated as there are many others handing out links who think the same way. ;)


 9:47 am on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

On my "submit your web site for consideration" type form, I list the criteria for inclusion which does not mention aesthetics. Mostly I'm looking for sites that offer free, topic specific useful info. Those sites that primarily sell product(s) are offered an alternate means of submitting business proposals.

My PR6 site is a hand coded, HTML/PHP 200 page com/edu and has 5 outgoing links pages divided by sub-topic. I receive about a half-dozen link submissions per week and accept maybe one per month. There's CAPTCHA and several filters keeping the SPAM out, but the quality of submissions is mostly poor. A large percentage from cookie cutter PHP links pages, some of which are attractively decorated but lacking any substance.

I also get lot's of email from SEO types wanting to exchange links. Most are cut'n paste hyperbole with my site's address filled in. Some are unintentionally very funny.

WYSIWYG editors have improved vastly in the last couple years. It's possible to know extremely little and put together a pretty neat looking site. However, content is still king and that's what I'm looking for when considering outgoing links.


 11:03 am on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think site stickyness depends more on design initially, then its the content that takes over. Content and design, I think both go hand-in-hand. A good design with great content will lead to an easier SEO process.


 12:39 pm on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I believe site design and layout is extremely important for receiving links. The designs do not have to be Flashy and full of high-end programming -- but the layout has to be easy to follow.

I seldom link to poorly designed sites, simply because I refuse to purposely send my users into a graphical abyss.


 2:44 pm on Oct 20, 2008 (gmt 0)


SEO is more important than Content.
Content is more important than design.

This 46 message thread spans 2 pages: 46 ( [1] 2 > >
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