Tips & Tricks

The potentially conflicting roles of SEO and User Experience and how to make them work in harmony…

Posted by Colin Higton

Historically SEO and UX have been, at best, uncomfortable bedfellows, and at worst, mortal enemies. In most markets it was essentially impossible to achieve both at the same time. Sacrifices were just part of the process, and needless to say that designers thought it was the SEO that should be making the sacrifice while SEOs thought the reverse.

It’s important to realise that it was never supposed to be this way. Google’s objective is to rank the best content (which includes design and UX) from the best brands. Whatever is best for the user should, theoritically, also be best for the search engine. The fact that there was a conflict represented Google’s own shortcomings. The search goliath was simply not good enough at interpreting these signals, and so if you wanted to optimise for one you had to accept you were going to fall short on the other.

Thankfully, times have changed.

Sort of. Google is still not perfect, but it is close enough that you can confidently say that whatever is best for the user is typically best for the search engines and vice versa.

Is that to say the conflict between designers and SEOs is now over. Absolutely not. But it is no longer due to Shortcomings on Google’s part, but to shortcomings of us as marketers – designers rarely appreciate the full range of content required to satisfy user intent and SEOs fail to understand the role of brand. On the rare occasion that an SEO and designer work together that truly do each understand both perspectives, the results are glorious.

Here are a few things both parties need to consider:

  • Brand is King – people trust brands and Google exists to give the people what they want. Designers are usually pretty hot on brand but SEOs tend to be hopeless. When it comes to creating modern websites, brand is everything, both for SEOs and the user. From user and product imagery to typeface, from sales copy to social media activity, everything must be aligned to your core brand messaging and values.
  • Content should be rich and broad – this is where designers sometimes fall short, opting for a “less is more” approach. The problem is that when people navigate online they have a broad range of objectives and intents in mind, and if your content doesn’t cater to these then you are going to deliver a disappointing experience, no matter how beautifully designed. For example, when someone searches for “accountant in London”, there are all sorts of things they may be hoping to find – service information, contact details, a map, a London telephone number, customer testimonials, faq’s, etc… A pretty landing page with a big image and 50 words of copy just isn’t going to cut it.
  • Tabulated content is a powerful mechanism – the challenge with presenting so much content is that it can lead to an overwhelming experience, with too much information for the user to digest. This is where the formatting of the page is key, and, in particular, the tabulation of content. By placing secondary content behind tabs you can ensure that it is there for the user should they need it, but that it doesn’t interfere with the primary experience. There is also the good news that Google no longer devalues this kind of tabulated content in the way that it once did (as it recognises how important it is for UX).
  • Build for mobile first – this shouldn’t really need saying anymore, but every website, regardless of market, needs to be built primarily for mobile. This is where more and more of your users are coming from and it is where they are most likely to encounter problems. This means that your hosting needs to be rapid, images compressed and code clean and tidy to maximise page load speed, while the buttons need to be large and navigation easy to navigate.

If designers and SEOs can follow the above perhaps finally we can all exist in harmony while giving both Google and the users exactly what they want!

Dan Holt is a Director and founder of Boss Digital and long-time associate of Hullabaloo. Hullabaloo and Boss have worked together to create many websites for clients across the UK.

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