Some people find it funny, but a highly attractive website design may have not have the effects best seo ranking. This simply is, due to the fact, that search engine optimisation process is majorly based on website text optimisation and not on image optimization. Hence the use of too many images, flash or other web objects, may prove against your website in getting higher ranks on search engines.
Google, for example, likes website that are easy to navigate and are rich in contents. It is also an added advantage if your website has text that is regularly updated. More so, you should ideally have contents that link in and out from your website to other websites. And all this is still achievable, by keeping your website design simple and professional.
Most of the big companies use simple, user friendly designs for their websites. They are not very image centric and use optimum number of images to graphically present their ideas. This is an ideal SEO rich website.
I have come across several websites that look amazing, but on a simple check on their ranks, they lack basic SEO features. In such cases, the business generally uses SEO companies that help them get to the top positions with their existing designs using paid and non paid search engine marketing. On the contrary, I have also come across websites that look really awful, and do not use any SEO company or PPC company, but still get a lot of Unique visitors to their website with their organic search engine optimisation.
Whether you wish to have a website that suits the eye, or whether you wish to have a website that suits your business plans, is something that you need to consider depending on what your target audience expects form your business and how big or small is your business market. For a relatively local shop, design would come first, as obviously he wouldn’t expect people from other cities to come and buy from his shop, the same products that are available at 2 shops every half mile.
In the end, I would suggest its best to consult with an SEO expert or an internet marketing company, as to what is best for your business. Making the right decision in the beginning can help your business go a long way.
Cheers and Keep Busy