Fifteen years ago, there weren’t many options that web designers had to make their sites wow web users.Design was mostly done with HTML. Now individuals and companies can use Flash, HTML, C++, Java, Python, PHP, ASP.NET, Perl, and many other languages to design intricate and beautiful websites. But one of the hardest tasks that remains to this day is how to implement SEO without ruining good design, and how to have good design without ruining your SEO efforts.
Why SEO Matters
If you haven’t delved into SEO yet, you’ve probably still got a lot to learn about getting your business noticed more on the web. As Josh Patrice writes for Portent, “SEO helps you rank well, generate revenue and be visible on search engine results pages (SERPS).” That is SEO in a nutshell, but it can be a bit more complicated than that.
Google often changes the formula for its mysterious search engine. The company tries to tweak how its engine delivers search results to help people find exactly what they want. The trend Google has been following for a few years now has focused on bringing relevant, unique, and quality content to web searchers, not simply showing who does the best SEO. Those days are long gone. Now website designers are dealing with integrating content and design while keeping SEO relevant.
Why User Experience (UX) Matters in Design
Have you ever been to a website that turned you off immediately? Maybe the front page overwhelmed you with information, maybe the font was ugly and unreadable, or maybe the site used so much Flash your computer crashed. If that’s ever happened to you, you’ve seen a website poorly designed for UX.
Just like any product we use in our day to day lives, design is an integral part of a website. We use well designed products because they make our lives easier or they save us time. A website that does that will be enjoyed and used for a longer period of time and by more people. This is incredibly important when it comes to generating conversions.
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As Ciarda Henderson-Geist asks in a highly relevant blog post, “Does the experience matter if no one experiences it?” Your design might be genius, but it doesn’t matter if no one finds your website. If no one finds your website, you won’t have any conversions either. If that’s the case, game over. SEO has to be a part of your website, just like a well-thought out design has to go into making your website.
SEO and UX Often Clash
Unfortunately, many sites on the web lack a well-thought out strategy when it comes to implementing UX and SEO techniques. Oftentimes SEO and UX are approached separately; design taken care of by a designer, and the SEO aspects by an SEO expert. Ciarda notes that “rework is almost inevitable” when this occurs. You get a “song written in two different keys, playing at the same time.” A fitting metaphor, and not very enticing for a visitor.
But UX and SEO don’t have to clash. They can be implemented together to make a site that Google can easily index and also a site that consumers have an easy time navigating to find exactly what they need. This is what you want out of your website.
The Solutions to a UX and SEO Friendly Site
So what exactly do you need to do to get your website set up in a way that has great UX and SEO? There are quite a few steps you need to take. First off let’s look at some of the common actions you need to take to approach a website design incorporating UX and SEO techniques.
Mark Oleszczak has a great article covering seven basic steps to add SEO and UX into your site design. They are: Sitemaps, Utilize Rel-Author, Avoid Flash, Utilize H-Tags Properly, Avoid Splash Pages, Embrace Simple Navigation, and Page / URL Names.
Sitemaps are a necessity and they are still important in design. It keeps you organized and makes navigation by Google and users much easier. As Mark writes, you “shouldn’t always assume that a visitor enters your site from the homepage.”
The Rel-author tag is something you should be putting into every article on your page, especially your blogs. Google will be able to find the author associated with a page, improving its rank and also linking to a Google+ profile (which you should be using!).
When it comes to Flash, first off, it’s an SEO killer. Google’s bots, spiders, and crawlers can’t read Flash, simple as that. It might look nice but it kills mobile browsers and it’s more work than it’s worth.
Using H-Tags is important simply for organization and design. H-Tags will, as Mark uses the metaphor, make your page resemble a book – one main title with chapters to structure it.
Get rid of the splash page. When someone comes to your website they want to get their answers ASAP. People don’t have time to be distracted by any other information. If you need to bring attention to a promotion or deal, do so with a smaller, less intrusive image on your main page. Don’t slow any visitor down from becoming a potential customer.
If you don’t have a mobile-specific version of your website, make sure your normal website can function from a mobile browser as well. Design techniques that require hovering or animation can be thrown out. Keep things simple, orderly, and easy to use with a click or a touch. Google will also have an easier time reading through your site’s menus.
Lastly, don’t be one of those unorganized websites with indecipherable URLs. All of your site titles should match with your URL and page names. Mark reminds us to “use hyphens in between words when creating page names.” Don’t use spaces or underscores.
More In-Depth Thoughts about UX and SEO
I would be remiss to not include some amazing ideas and tips from Justin Taylor at Graphitas, which he provided during a wonderful SEOmoz Mozinar. If you’re a paid SEOmoz subscriber, be sure to check it out here. You can sign up if you need to at the link as well.
Simply taking a look at Graphitas’ website will give you a sense of how impressive Justin Taylor and his team’s grasp of design and SEO are. It’s straightforward, simple, and to the point. If you look at the previously mentioned tips, you’ll notice they follow everything. Even their Google search shows a great sitemap.
I find myself inclined to explore their site. Everything you could be looking for is presented with large text and is incredibly easy to navigate. There are no bells and whistles. What’s there is what’s needed and it’s designed in a way that is welcoming to the visitor.
Anyway, back to the useful info.
What many people don’t understand is that they don’t have to rely on fancy images to have a presentable website. There are tons of fonts available for free and for pay that can be placed over background images. That way crawlers and spiders will be able to get the maximum amount of info about your website. It doesn’t matter to the visitor – it all looks the same.
Rollovers and alt tags
If you insist on having lots of images on your website, consider using text-based rollovers to get the best of the UX and SEO worlds. Also make sure all of your images have the alt tags filled out – all of this improves SEO but does nothing to take away from UX and design.
Make sure your site has a top bar or similar method of navigating. People look for these intuitively, plus it’s an opportunity to include a lot of SEO tags. You can also implement any fancy fonts you want to use on this part of your site.
Calls to Action and Banners
Calls to Action are still very important. Many designers like to use an image, but like mentioned above, there’s no reason why you can’t use a font and create a CTA that is just as attractive, but also readable by crawlers. If you use banners, once again make sure they use live text. Identify them for Google with alt text.
Some Design Elements I Look For
One of the design elements that every website should have is the inclusion of links to social media. For me, and I’m sure many others, seeing that a company or business has active Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn pages piques my curiosity. I want to see how they utilize social media and how they interact with their customers. It can make me feel more comfortable with the company and often increases my chances of making a purchase.
Any time I see a drop down/scrolling selection bar I am a bit discouraged. Navigating through drop downs is not easy, nor is it smart design. Avoid those for navigation. They are only good for filling in information. Additionally, keep things simple. While a site like Amazon is a good website, visiting the homepage can be pretty overwhelming. People often come to a site looking for something – they don’t arrive at a business’ website and magically end up buying something they had no intention to buy. If they do, it’s because smart design guided them to a product and convinced them they needed it.
One analogy Justin Taylor uses which struck me is the idea that your homepage is a magazine cover. Everything on a popular magazine is designed and placed with a purpose. So too should everything be on your website. Magazine covers have already implemented all of the research when it comes to keeping a viewers’ attention; take some pointers from them.
UX and SEO are easy to implement simultaneously. It just requires you to take a step back and rethink some design elements. Once again, if you’re interested in learning more, I can’t recommend enough the Mozinar presented by Justin Taylor. Good luck with your UX and SEO design challenges!
Does your site utilize UX and SEO strategies? What are some tips you’ve learned in designing your business’ website?