It only takes about 5 seconds for users to form an opinion about your website and that first impression is 94% design-related.

Poor design choices will cause people to leave your site before they’ve ever had time to actually read your content.

This is why website design and development can make or break your content marketing success. Poor design kills the user experience and tanks your content. Everything from website speed to clunky website elements can impact readability, bounce rate, and content conversion rates.

Here are 10 ways your design may be working against you, and what you can do to fix it.

First Impressions

Since we know the first impression happens in five seconds or less, we have to make those five seconds count. Here are all the ways your design could be making your audience flee, long before they ever get to your content.

Problem 1: Site Speed

If your website is slow to load, you can kiss your visitors goodbye. Not to mention, slow-loading websites cost retailers $2.6 billion in lost sales each year.

Google Pagespeed


There are many aspects of your web design that could be taking your site speed, including:

  • Unoptimized images
  • Not enough caching
  • A slow web host with limited capabilities
  • Too many plugins or add-ons
  • Lack of minimization and compression
  • Too much flash

How to fix it:

Start by using Google’s free speed checkers to identify the specific design problems:

These two tools will diagnose any speed issues your website is experiencing, identify which design aspect is causing it, and recommend resolutions.

Google Speed Resolutions

If you’re not sure how to do something, click the dropdown arrow on the far right and then select ‘Learn more’:

Google Speed Drop Down

This will take you to a new page containing more information, including recommended tools to get the job done.

Google Speed Recommendations

Problem 2: Poor Color Choices

Once your page loads lightning fast, the next thing your visitors are going to notice is the visual appearance of your website. In fact, 75% of consumers will judge your credibility based on your site’s visual design.

Several visual aspects could leave a bad taste in their mouth, but one of the most obvious ones is poor color choices. Selecting ugly, clashing, or busy color patterns can increase your bounce rates and decrease your conversions.

Take this website for example:

Valley Isle Aquatics


The clash of bright colors, mixed with the rainbow border is hard on the eyes.

How to fix it:

First, focus on a simple design that is not too busy. Stick to 1–2 primary site colors, and select ones that do not clash, such as two bright colors.

You can refer to this guide for help pick colors that will speak to the emotions you want your audience to feel:

Emotions of Color


Problem 3: An Outdated Theme

If your website looks like it’s still living in the 1990s, it won’t make a positive impression on your visitors. 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive and old, stale designs are not attractive.

There are three major problems with an outdated theme:

  • It can give the impression that your content will also be out of date, and therefore not worth reading.
  • It may not be capable of adapting to fit newer screens that have different aspect ratios.
  • It won’t be mobile responsive.

Aspect Ratios


How to fix it:

The first step is to select a modern, responsive theme. This will automatically adapt to any screen size or platform, including newer, larger computer screens and all mobile devices.

If you’re using WordPress, you can search for a responsive design.

Responsive WordPress Design

When choosing your theme, check how recently it’s been updated, how many people have activated it, advanced features like ecommerce, and what the reviews say.

For best results, you should also stay up-to-date on current design trends and choose a theme that incorporates recent trends that will flatter your content and be attractive to your target market.

Incorporating vivid colors, complex gradients, and minimalism can convey an up-to-date and attractive web design.

Colorful Web Design


Alternatively, sometimes nothing beats a classic, clean white background with bold text and a strong call to action.

Clean Web Design


Problem 4: A Lack of Clarity

When someone comes to your website for the first time, they are looking for something, and they want to know if you have what they need.

If your site doesn’t clearly convey the following two things, people are going to bounce and continue their search elsewhere.

  1. What problem do you solve?
    • You need to clearly demonstrate what type of product or service you offer.
  2. Who’s your ideal customer?
    • It’s critical to understand every step of your customer journey and communicate who your target market is, so those who suit it remain and those who don’t, don’t waste their time.

Take a look at this site:

Bad Web Design Example


Ignoring the hideous colors, it says it’s car leasing for adults, but everything else makes it look like it’s selling toy cars.

How to fix it:

Focus on cohesion across your site. Your text, images, and other visuals should all clearly convey what you do and who you do it for. Here’s a good example.

Good Web Design Example

Imagine you’re a 40-something professional, looking for business travel. As soon as you land on the homepage of this travel site, you will be able to tell within seconds that it’s not for you. Both the wording and the images help convey that this site sells affordable travel for people in their 20s.

Start with designing around your buyer personas. Incorporating their demographics, interests, and motivations into your design will help convey the right message within seconds.

Problem 5: Annoying Pop-Ups

If your site includes too many pop-ups before people ever get to the actual content, you’re creating a horrible user experience. 91% of consumers report they are more likely to buy from brands they trust, so it’s crucial not to annoy them from the

The worst offenders create a sequence like this:

  1. First, a lead magnet modal pops up.
  2. Then a request for desktop notification access.
  3. Followed by a cookie notification banner.
  4. Then a “live chat” window pops up.
  5. And an autoplay video floating in the corner.
  6. Then finally you get to see the content.

It’s too much, and you’re driving people straight to annoyance.

Average Ratings by Ad Type


How to fix it:

First of all, wait until after you’ve established your value before pitching an offer. Then, focus on non-intrusive calls-to-action (CTAs) such as the side panels in the example here:

Side Panel Example



Congratulations! People have now experienced a strong positive first impression and haven’t bounced…yet. But, unless they’ve landed directly on the page they were looking for, they still need to browse your site.

People arrive at your website looking for something, so it’s critical that they can easily find it. If it takes too long or too much work to find information, people will bounce to the next website on their list.

Which leads us to the next gauntlet of problems…

Problem 6: Complex Menus

Drop-down menus that are too long quickly become overwhelming. With so many choices, users can become frustrated while trying to figure out which is the one they’re looking for.

Worse, too many nested drop-down menus can be aggravating to navigate, especially on a small screen or touch device.

Nested Drop Down Menu


How to fix it:

Focus on creating a streamlined menu with easy navigation options for both desktop and mobile devices. Make sure your menu and category names are as unambiguous as possible, so people will know with a glance which one they want to click on.

If your website is content heavy, provide supplementary navigation options, such as a search bar, a recommended content panel, or a chatbot. Or, use knowledge base software to create a simple, clean model for your blog design, organized by categories of interest.

Knowledge Base Software


While too many options is certainly a problem, too few options can also tank the user experience.

For instance, if you send your audience to a secondary landing page with no clear way to return to your site, you’re going to annoy anyone who wants to go back.

Let’s look at an example. I’ve landed on the homepage of this site, and I get intrigued by the free class offered, so I click ‘Sign Me Up!’

Sign Me Up Home Page Example


Now I’ve been taken to a landing page, hosted on a different domain. And there’s no longer a menu, search bar, or any other navigation options.

Separate Landing Page Example


If users have to rely on the browser’s ‘back’ function, they may just abandon you altogether.

It’s also important to have links between connected content. Imagine someone lands on an article containing some of the information they were looking for, but they want to know more. Or a person finds a product that’s almost what they want to purchase, but not quite.

Without links to related content or items, they may assume you don’t have what they need and jump off to the next site.

How to fix it:

Begin, by maintaining basic navigation options such as ‘Back to Search Results’ and ‘Back to Homepage’ throughout your site. If you must take people to an isolated landing page, warn them that they’re leaving the main site and have the landing page open in a separate tab.

Next, integrate related content by grouping them in categories as well as intra-linking. Make sure any on-page links are as visible as possible, by having it in a different color, font, and/or style.

Whether you’re selling products or starting a blog, you should also add recommendations to your site, so that users know where to go next if they haven’t yet found what they want.

In this example, you can see clear links to the last and next post, as well as four recommendations based on the post topic and category.

Interlinking Example


Problem 8: Ineffective Search Options

The majority of websites come with a default search option to help people find what they’re looking for.

The problem is, if your content is poorly organized or indexed, the search may not turn up very good results. This can result in pages being left out that would have been extremely useful or valuable to your audience.

Yoast Poorly Organized Content


How to fix it:

The key to an effective search is a well-structured site. You should have a clear hierarchy that uses categories and tags to tie together related content.

Your ideal structure should follow this pattern:

  • Homepage
  • Categories (or sections)
  • Subcategories (only for larger sites)
  • Individual pages and posts

Ideal Site Structure



Once people have found the content they’ve been looking for, the next step is to get them to read it. One of the greatest factors in whether or not people take the time to read your content is the quality of the content itself. If it’s poorly written or provides little value, no amount of design will save you.

On the other hand, even the best content can be abandoned if it’s not designed for maximum readability. Make sure you’re not making the following mistakes when it comes to designing your content.

Problem 9: Walls of Text

If given only 15 minutes to read content, two-thirds of readers would rather consume something beautifully designed than something plain. Not to mention that only about 16% of people will actually read your content word for word.

This means that when faced with a wall of plain text, the majority of people will simply abandon your site. Web pages without any imagery get 94% fewer views than pages with at least one visual.

Wall of Text Example


How to fix it:

First, you need to break up your written content with plenty of white space, headings, and visuals. Not only does this increase skimmability for readers, but search engines love it too.

Written content should always speak directly to your audience and convey clear value. Cut down on ‘fluff’ by using Grammarly Goals to help you customize your copy for your audience.

Grammarly Goals


Always mix up your content by embedding engaging videos, unique infographics, and high-quality images. Studies show that 4x more people prefer watching a video review over reading a written review. Plus, people can follow visual instructions 3x easier than written instructions.

Problem 10: Too Many Distractions

We already talked about the annoying pop-ups that too many sites overuse. But those aren’t the only aspects of your design that could be distracting people from your content.

Here are some other distractions you may have mistakenly incorporated into your site:

  1. Oversized images. Does your hero image take up an entire screen? Are graphs and charts so large people cannot see the whole thing at once? Visuals are meant to add value to your site, but if they make it hard to read anything, people will lose interest fast.
  2. Automatic players. Allowing videos, audio, or animations to play automatically can distract your visitors from reading your content.
  3. Auto-sliders. Along the same lines as auto-players, sliders can be distracting and annoying. Have you ever saw something in a slider than piqued your interest? Chances are that before you ever had a chance to click on it, it was long gone, scrolling through a handful of other things you have no interest in. Maybe you patiently waited for it to come around again, but most people won’t.
  4. Too many banner ads and promo boxes. After removing all the pop-ups, you still need to convert people somehow, right? But splattering banner ads and promo boxes everywhere is almost as bad. Not only do they annoy people and take up valuable real estate, but they could also put you at risk for Google penalties.
  5. Infinite scroll. Infinite scroll may work for sites like Facebook, but it doesn’t work well for most websites. It can slow down page loads, and overwhelm readers. Plus, it makes it difficult to go back to something or find where you were at if you accidentally hit the scroll bar. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Infinite Scroll Tweet


How to fix it:

Thankfully, the way to fix this is dead simple: remove anything that is distracting users from your valuable content.

Make sure images fit within the size of one screen. Turn off auto-players and auto-sliders, and auto-anything. Don’t overuse banners and sidebar ads, and don’t subject people to infinite scroll.

Boost Your Content Marketing Through Design

Design and content marketing are heavily intertwined. Remember that 94% of negative website feedback was design related. Which is why it’s crucial that your design supports both SEO and audience browsing if you want your content to succeed.

Make sure you create an exceptional first impression by making your site blazing fast, selecting flattering and trendy colors, and using a current, responsive design. Be crystal clear about what you’re offering, and who you’re offering it to. And get rid of all those overwhelming pop-ups that appear before anyone has a chance to read anything.

Next, maximize your site’s accessibility with a sound structure, concise menu, and powerful search capability. Link together related content and provide recommendations based on what users have read and searched for.

Once readers get to your content, make sure it’s readable. Avoid walls of text, and incorporate lots of high-quality visuals like videos and infographics. Get rid of any annoying distractions such as auto-players, too many sidebar ads, and infinite scroll.