The evolution of web design represents a bull market for creative capital -- but the process isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
These days, stakeholders usually want two things from web design: whip appeal, and an engaged, and expansive, revenue-producing audience. Today’s designers need to fuse SEO and UX, no matter how much those fields tend to lock horns. It’s not enough to just create a good-looking website if no one sees it. Content, off-page SEO, and, of course, the user experience, all matter in a big, big way.
When the Internet was finding its way years ago, SEO technology was pretty much the only game- in- town for leveraging broader audiences. Web design was grounded in heavy block text, keyword optimization, inbound and outbound links, authoring, tagging, and RSS. Then, when black hat techniques like link and keyword spamming infected natural SEO methods, Google’s algorithms became more clever. And so, while SEO marketers were forced to start chasing ever-changing search engine priorities, the hype around UX Design started to creep in: a persuasion that glorified the digital experience using cool transitions, sleeker features, and conversational interfaces.
Now, website creators don’t really have the luxury of thinking either UX Design or SEO. With Google (thankfully) teaching us more and more about what they want to see from websites, we’re starting to realize that SEO and UX are, in fact, inextricably linked. Harmonizing the two is the ultimate key to better design and better rank.
The User Experience Matters In SEO
Search engines carry some of the most advanced data mining exercises in the world, constantly feeding AI algorithms to understand human behavior better. As that data improves, a search engine’s ability to understand what we like and don’t like has also improved. Google has long insisted, for example, that UX functionalities such as page loading speed and responsive design directly affects SEO. That makes perfect sense: a poor performing website ultimately results in a poor user experience, so they ultimately deserve less rank.
Methods like keyword optimization are still significant, but it’s much more about the overall online experience, whether a site’s feel, ease of use, and quality of content meets the fundamental needs of a user.
So the question today is this: how do we satisfy both the user experience and SEO patriarchs without one compromising the other?
Your user needs to be aware of how they can fulfill their search intent when they arrive at your website. You can help them by planting paths and action items that are easy to follow, such as calls-to-action functions. Functionality that optimizes a user’s intent will improve your site’s efficiency, and you’re likely to land a higher Search Engine Result Page (SERP).
Flexible, easy-to-grasp navigation really matters in the user experience just as the structure of your URLs matter to those hidden crawlers probing your site. Keywords with URLs don’t get flagged as black hat tactics - at least not yet - so it’s recommended to incorporate them for crawlers to recognize easily. Generally speaking, the more descriptive and precise your URLs are, the better.
Search engines do take into account a website’s slow speed in calculating its ranking. Even if a user has found your website through a search and then returned to the SERPs seconds later, the search engine will pick it up. Additionally, a slow page speed means that search engines can’t crawl as many pages, which will also affect those indexes.
Usability is important to improve and maintain good SEO, and luckily, it doesn’t take a lot of time to perform if you’re just focusing on one objective at a time. Does your website work? How is it serving the user experience? Bad navigation or structures should be addressed quickly to avoid damaging your SEO rank. What you don’t want are outdated links penalizing your SEO score, simply because you haven’t performed regular usability testing.
By focusing like a laser beam on the user design, you stand a much better chance of incorporating SEO techniques that withstand precarious search engine algorithms. That being said, those search engines really aren’t out there to trip you up. The reason they change priorities so often is to give their searchers the best user experience possible. Blend those UX approaches with traditional SEO techniques and your site is likely to do well from both Google and the user’s points of view.