Let’s talk web design for a few minutes, shall we? I’m here to tell you that a website can be attractive and functional for actual human visitors – while also catering to search engine algorithms so that it can rank high on search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords.
UX and SEO can bothd work together when designing a website – because they both have the same goal: sell stuff. They aren’t at odds with one another, they are practically (effectively) the same thing.
You need your visitors to be able to find you on the Internet, that’s a given. But, just as important is having potential customers who remain engaged once they’re on your site. The challenge is getting out of the old mindset that separate departments are only responsible for one side of it. If you’re developing or maintaining or promoting a website, a strong grasp of SEO is no longer optional.
Because Google rewards certain engagement metrics, such as click-through rates in the search results, how often visitors to your site go back to the search results and visit another site, and other factors, you need to understand what your customers want as much as, if not more than, what they’re searching for. SEOs need to understand UX thoroughly.
It’s easy to fall into myopia, though. Forget how it used to be. The game has changed and you need to adapt or die.
SEO and UX: The Hang Ups
Conflict within these two camps usually begins with structure and ends with content, but it doesn’t have to. You design a site to fit specific needs, and you decide during that time to put yourself in your visitor’s shoes (not your own). What do they want to see? What are they looking for? Am I answering the right questions?
For search engines, the biggest factor is that search bots are dumb (yes, we know Google is working on artificial intelligence – but in general bots are bots) and they need a bit more guidance while crawling your content. They don’t read the same way as humans, so semantic markup in the code is ideal to define different elements on the page, on top of your standard best practices of H1/H2 organization, good title tags, properly named images, good loading speeds, etc.
Google constantly works to try and make their algorithms more reflective of what humans search for and consume, but unfortunately, people are often building their search queries “improperly” as well. Google has taken this so far as to rewrite queries in order to produce more relevant results. That’s another story for another day, though.
Instead, we’re going to focus on what SEO’s should be working on to grab the attention that their clients deserve. It’s an endless task for SEO’s to discern the algorithms and find a balance that catches the attention of search engines and customers alike. In true SEO fashion, they often end up writing for the robots. And when you write for robots, your copy’s voice sounds … robotic. Google is constantly working to try and change this, but they haven’t reached that point – yet.
This is one of the more clichéd conflicts for digital marketing professionals. Most SEO professionals know now that cramming keywords and keyword phrases into content without giving thought to whether it is readable or motivating marketing is now ineffective in the eyes of Google. But we still see this mistake being made.
Plain and simple, you shouldn’t stuff keywords anywhere, including the following places:
- The footer
- In a white background with white text (It’s still text, and Google still recognizes it)
- In the metadata
- In the alt text
- In the CSS
As mentioned above, keyword stuffing is ineffective if you’re trying to move up the rankings. In fact, Google has updated their algorithms as of recently to recognize keyword stuffing, possible spam/robotic content, and enact penalties for its appearance on the web.
What’s your best bet, SEO types? Use keywords sparingly and carefully, don’t “stuff” them in content. You have options as to where you can stick keywords, such as the H1, 2 or 3 tags, and over a few places in the text. But never place them in ways that could compromise quality, especially by using them way too often. ALWAYS write for a real, human customer. If you do that, you’ll do fine in search, also.
One Page Website and SEO
One page websites – or “parallax” sites – are the flavor of the month (well, more like a couple of years, now). One page sites provide great UX by coagulating all of the relevant content visitors look for on, you guessed it, one page. They’re a popular option when considering a design for a landing page, and often they have many attractive aesthetic features, such as parallax scrolling and smooth CSS transitions.
Their architecture even lends them to SEO optimization because you’re able to fit more feature-rich content on the page visitors are landing on. However, it is universally difficult to optimize one page for many different keywords because of the length and quality of content needed to rank with the modern search algorithm. If you’re including 500-1,500 words for each product or service you offer, on a single page, you’re probably looking at a page so long that it loses the UX advantage.
But, if you’re insistent (or your boss is) on a parallax site, here’s how you can optimize one. Single page websites offer multiple H1 tagged headings in their long scrolling formats, making for more keyword opportunities on the same page, but they still don’t pack quite the SEO punch of a website with multiple pages. Interlinking isn’t possible on a single page, and you may be looking at longer refresh times if your website is one long page and you don’t code in safeguards to mitigate it.
Also, keep in mind Google doesn’t like sending searchers to a page where they have to dig for the information they were looking for. Keep your hidden/collapsed divs to a minimum, and make sure you have a good business case for including tabbed content on the page. Read more here https://www.seroundtable.com/google-hidden-tab-content-seo-19489.html.
UX and SEO are Dance Partners
Good SEO works better with good UX than the average digital marketer gives it credit for. There are common qualities both possess such as concise, legible, and informative copy with quality keywords that serve the purposes of both visitors and search engines.
Google desires to give searchers relevant content that enhances their experience with the search engine and the right website. SEOs want to attract Google traffic. Sound SEO practices should, and do, reflect effective UX, then.
Three Common Myths of SEO and UX Conflicts
Conflict exists in the eyes of many digital marketers because many foundational methods of SEO continue to be followed – even though they are dated, ineffective, and potentially dated (see: keyword stuffing, comment spam, buying links). Designers and developers also have some long-standing beliefs that research has proven incorrect. Let’s take a look at the common myths:
- Images Increase the Visitor’s Attention: Images are great if they complement the copy and design elements of a website. If they are used too frequently, especially in the wrong layout, then they not only distract visitors but also affect page load times. Now, both your SEO and UX have taken a hit. Rotating “sliders” have also proven to crush conversion rates, though they nicely solve debates about what should occupy prime page real estate – everything! That might actually be the problem…
- Choice Always Trumps Simplicity: Options are nice, but too many result in indecision and frustration on the customer’s end. Keep things simple for your audience. Have a clear path outlined and a sitemap available to your visitors as they navigate your site. Tab titles and menus should be easily recognizable and contain the important destinations (in their language) for a customer. If your website is meant to be a reference source for a wide breadth of content, then a multitude of options for navigating different categories could be useful. Otherwise, your focus should be making sure your visitor can reach their destination in the fewest clicks possible.
- Content Appearing Beneath The Fold Doesn’t Count: Content above the fold remains top priority because of its visibility and efficacy. The data supporting it is consistent and affirms that visitors expect the most important information to be at the top of the page, with everything below ordered in diminishing importance. It’s like the standard structure for an essay you would write in high school, five paragraphs with a thesis, supporting content, and then an end. In the same way, you want your website to begin with the most important info that summarizes your business and/or purpose, and the rest of your navigation and site structure should flow downhill.
All in all, point 3 summarizes the whole idea of what I’ve tried to convey here. The biggest myth in this industry is that SEO and UX are not equals and that one is more important than the other, depending on which discipline you prefer. Both serve customers well if done correctly because they have the same purpose of serving the customer.