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The Dao of design

UX design is big business these days. Major brands have important high paying positions dedicated to professionals who can ensure that users will have a good time while browsing their websites. Problematically, these professionals are often undermining another industry essential: the SEO.

SEOs are used to having their say, and this new supplanting of their position isn't sitting well. What's more, it's counterproductive overall.  Good UX should add to SEO and vice versa. In an ideal world, the two are never at odds. Unfortunately, this isn't an ideal world and there remains plenty of conflict between these two interests.

So the question becomes one of balance. How can both needs be met without sacrificing the integrity of either the user experience or the organic search rankings? Let's unravel these so-called conflicts and see if we can't engineer some solutions.

Textually frustrated

The main conflict that often divides professionals of either the UX or SEO ilk is of an aesthetic nature. To sum it up: too much text just isn't very pretty.

Unfortunately, in competitive markets, ranking keywords often requires a lot of text. The issue is, from a UX standpoint, that text-heavy homepages aren't super attractive. Neither are they good for facilitating the overall flow of a user path. Immediately being presented with an abundance of reading as soon as you land on a page is often off-putting to many users. It requires a significant investment of time and attention that many users just aren't prepared to make upon arrival.

This ranking requirement isn't as necessary when a site has a significant number of referring domains and links already in its pocket, but that's not often the case. UX has its own ranking factors to offset the need for a lot of text. Engagement and time spent on the site are powerful ranking factors that have been included in Google's Panda algorithm -- however, neither supplants the need for targeted keywords completely.

The real problem is that to actually rank for competitive keywords, you need a lot of text. Repeating keywords too many times in a small space is called keyword stuffing, and it sounds bad to both humans and search spiders alike. It can alienate users, which results in a bounce back to the search results and can negatively impact SEO efforts. Spacing out keywords in longer content blocks, on the other hand, will increase the likelihood of a higher ranking and prevent your text from sounding redundant and offensive to visitors. So what can be done to serve both ends?

Location, location, location

One method of balancing the needs of both UX and local SEO is to carefully decide where your text-heavy sections are going to go. Longer text blocks don't need to be at the top of the page. Above the fold text should be sparing and succinct, used to introduce big ideas rather than explain details.

Keep your minimalist aesthetics and fancy design elements in place but farther down the page, explain specific product offerings, describe services, provide text blurbs about recent events, and otherwise take the opportunity to expound upon the branding while including those pesky competitive keywords.

Moreover, don't feel pressured to include long form content in any particular element. You can target two or three keywords in multiple areas on the homepage:

  • Headings

  • Taglines

  • Blocks of body text

  • Calls-to-action

Any anchors linking to other parts of the site can include keywords as long as they make sense, contextually. And adding keywords to headings or taglines is a time-honored SEO tradition. You aren't limited to stuffing the same phrase into different positions either.

Repeat your targeted phrases sparingly and intelligently, but not in such a way that would sound funny when read aloud. The real trick is not to get so focused on your keywords that you compromise the quality of the content as a whole. Use common sense and creative action to serve both the on-page SEO and the overall UX.

Another consideration to make is whether or not it's necessary to have these text-heavy elements on the home page specifically. If the purpose of the website necessitates that a lot be explained up front, that's one thing. However, if multiple child pages with longer text explains points that the homepage merely alludes to, then that could be a valid solution as well.

The worst thing you can do is overdesign to fit an abundance of text where it doesn't belong.

Unnecessary UX

Animations and other interesting new UI elements have made the web a wacky and visually engrossing place to travel about in 2015. Unfortunately, overdesigning a website in order to provide a more engaging UX can end up doing just the opposite.

Websites with too many design elements can be just as unattractive as bland sites with nothing but text -- and worse, they're more difficult to navigate. The addition of too many design elements makes an interface:

  • Less intuitive

  • More confusing

  • Inefficient

  • Inconsistent

  • Difficult to maintain

Thus a well-intentioned overabundance of design elements (no doubt included to provide for the user's every eventual need) ends up negatively effecting the UX, and as a direct consequence, the SEO as well.

Less is more

UX is a significant ranking factor in a website's SEO because it's interpreted by the search engines as signifying higher quality of content based on user engagement. People clicked through to find content concerning a specific subject and stayed on a page because they were engaged by what they found. Thus the positive impact on SEO.

However, when there's too much work invested in UX design, the website can often look plain ridiculous. This is nothing more than shoddy UX design. Effective and well thought out UX design puts the user front and center, giving their needs primary weight.

That doesn't mean bombarding them with a volley of slick elements. It means giving them what they came for in a balanced and attractive manner. It's easy to do this without assaulting the senses as well. Moreover, doing so will prove that any organic traffic your site gets is well-warranted, and only add to its authority.


With this in mind, remember these three maxims when designing to meet both SEO and UX benchmarks:

Clarity over confusion
Positive UX requires clarity, provides users with explanatory text where needed, and allows them freedom of movement to explore content which goes into more detail, either below the fold or elsewhere on the site.

Necessity determines placement
When prototyping your designs, ask yourself which elements are necessary to the goals of both the user and the website itself (among which SEO has to be counted). If an element doesn't meet both sets of needs, then it isn't necessary and must be removed. 

Collaboration is key
The relationship between UX and SEO doesn't have to be contentious. Reach out to SEOs on your team, gather their input, and see if you can't work together to brainstorm a more effective design in both respects.

What other ways can you think of to bridge the gap between UX and SEO? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Kyle Sanders is CEO at Complete Web Resources

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Kyle Sanders is Head of Search at Complete Web Resources, a digital marketing refinery that provides search engine and conversion rate optimization services for small businesses and eCommerce firms across numerous verticals.

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