Ash Buckles answers: "If I have a nicer site than my competitor, why do they rank above me?"
Your competitors page(s) are delivering more of the attributes the search engines are expecting to find; relevant content & page titles, unique content that references your keywords and associated words, domain credibility, incoming links to the ranking page, and so on.
Search engines are designed to rank pages that deliver a great user experience through relevance and authority. Although design is a huge part of user experience, it doesn't outweigh the need for quality content and proper page structure.
This is because the search engine robots read text (which can be displayed through different fonts, with many different design elements) and they recognize attributes like colors, image sizes, page placement and so on. The visual appeal of the design, however, isn't a direct factor in ranking pages. For example: the search engines don't care if you like blue vs green Or horizontal vs vertical images.
Site design is very subjective and what looks good to you may be a turn off to me. Now, if that adversely affects your core audience from visiting your page, it can affect rankings. But generally, design is a visual element for human interaction and does not affect search engine algorithms.
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