The War that Never Ends: Web Design Agencies vs. SEO Agencies and Trends in 2016

Web design firms are great at building beautiful websites, but just how good are they at SEO? And how high do SEO agencies rank considering design concepts? A study found that, many leading SEO agencies had high rankings with poor web design, while web design agencies had award-winning websites but were failing at their SEO.

Creating a great website in terms of web design while keeping the SEO principles is not as easy as it sounds, but it is becoming increasingly necessary in today’s environment. This is especially true if you’re looking to employ cutting-edge design concepts like parallax scrolling to improve responsiveness – a concept we know to be difficult considering SEO. Below is an in-depth look into the study and some of its findings:

Research data – Leading Web design firms

For their study, Moz weighed Site of The Day (SOTD) nominations on Awwwards and they were used to determine the best websites. Below are highlights of some of these sites:

The UK –

Adam Hartwig’s site had an Awwwards score of 7.39 and was a featured SOTD site. Considering its SEO, however, the following was noted:

  • The homepage lacks a descriptive title, even though it has great meta-description. The URLs also don’t have content/H1 and other onsite optimizations
  • URLs do not have unique titles but they do have good meta-descriptions
  • The site does rank in first place for searches with its name. It is however not ranked for generic keywords, even with noteworthy anchor text backlinks. See here. However, it didn’t rank for generic keywords like web design Cambridge, website design Cambridge, website designers Cambridge etc.

New York – also had a high score on Awwwards (7.4) and was an SOTD featured site. In SEO terms, note the following:

  • It did rank first for its brand name as well as a few generic keywords, but there wasn’t 100 percent onsite optimization – the page had nice title tags and meta-descriptions, but there weren’t keywords in content and H1’s.
  • The site appears to target the keyword “NYC mobile app design and development agency” and its variations, but these keywords actually have few searches. For these low-volume searches, it however ranks on the first page; though it could certainly have a more aggressive SEO strategy.
  • Had they developed a page for each of their services, they would have had more opportunities to target more keywords, but they didn’t do that. The blog contains good content, but none is keyword-centered
  • Their contact page includes office addresses but lacks local business schema known to improve local SEO

Conclusion: Common SEO flaws in award-winning web design official websites

  • Lack of or incomplete onsite optimization
  • Not present in first page of generic keyword ranking
  • Lack of or poor SEO-friendly site architecture
  • Lack of keyword focus
  • High brand name ranking but not service ranking
  • High loading times – sites too heavy

Clearly, we can conclude that these firms are good at web design. However, SE optimization isn’t at the top of their requirement list.

Research data – SEO Agencies

Design is highly subjective – there isn’t one way to do it – therefore, it’s hard to decide whether a site’s design can be called good or bad. For the study, however, the best SEO agencies were taken to be the leading sites within their hometown. For instance, in San Francisco, the best SEO San Francisco agencies were decided to be those that ranked first for the generic keyword. To determine their web design standing, similar-looking websites were assessed in SOTD web galleries.

Germany – “Suchmaschinen-Optimierung”

The websites that ranked well under the keyword “search engine optimization”, considered very competitive, did not have the same techniques and style required of sites that achieve SOTD status. These sites did not rank in Awwwards and other web design assessment sites like TheFWA.

Great Britain (London) – “SEO”

Websites that rank well for the generic keyword SEO in London, England also did not have the same techniques and style required to achieve SOTD status.

Conclusion: Common web design flaws in leading SEO agencies

Analysis of many different SEO agencies throughout the word revealed the same design flaws. Trends in leading sites. Below are some of the observations from an aesthetic design appeal standpoint:

  • A lot of content which looks cluttered
  • No customized fonts
  • Not enough spacing between elements
  • Similar-looking sites – no originality
  • No distinctive style
  • No animation
  • Lack of interactiveness – informative, but not engaging or entertaining
  • Old-fashioned design and old technologies
  • Too similar to templates
  • Good site architecture
  • Web design non-responsive
  • No CSS3 or HTML5
  • No parallax scrolling
  • Few original images – most images from image banks
  • Too similar to other sites

Similarly, from a web design point of view, SEO sites can stand to make a lot of improvements in their website designs.

Guidelines for creating sites with both great web design and SEO

It is possible to create sites that have the latest trends in web design while maintaining the SEO-friendliness of the site. The following are some strategies to accomplish this:

  • Begin by conducting keyword research on which to base your SEO web architecture
  • Get a design team that has built creative websites in the past.
  • Ensure that your website is responsively designed.
  • All views of the website must be search-friendly i.e. build the site considering the needs of search engines as well as users in full-screen view, smartphone view, tablet view.
  • If you use SEO parallax scrolling, use 3D layers to help you understand how users and search engines interpret the site. Consider all the different devices. A good idea is to use parallax scrolling only on the homepage and then SEO-optimize all other site URLs as usual. Such sites are easier hence cheaper to design and make the site light.
  • Ensure all URLs are design-friendly


Great web design is no replacement for SEO; the reverse is also true. In future, clients will require comprehensive onsite SEO as part of the web design package to increase competitiveness. Therefore, regardless if where you fall agency-wise, you’d do well to understand the symbiotic relationship the two fields can have rather than consider them two opposing sides.

If you are looking for a one-stop-shop, ‘corePHP’ is your place. We have been working closely with our clients as one ‘core team’ to integrate SEO content, marketing, sales and support into one beautiful, seamless, results-driven customer experience since 2001. That is LONG before the boom of SEO. So, we know what it takes to build a site with quality SEO.

While a well-built site can be visually appealing, but it is critical that your SEO content engages the reader to keep them involved on your website. Get your site built right the first time.

If you would like more information on our website and SEO services, you can contact us through our website or on the telephone. We would be happy to help you get listed in the search engines and give your business the Search Engine Optimization support that it needs. All SEO packages are custom quoted to offer you just the right amount of Search Engine Optimization you need to accomplish your online goals!



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