Finding The Balance Between SEO And User Experience In Web Page Design

Finding The Balance Between SEO And User Experience In Web  Page Design

If you think user experience (UX) and SEO are in conflict in Web page design, you may be surprised to learn the two disciplines have very much the same objective. UX and SEO specialists both want users to enjoy using the Web page. The easier it is for users to find what they need, get the key message points and interact with the company by placing a phone call or submitting a form, the more successful the company will be in generating leads and online revenue.

Important design issues where SEO and UX objectives mesh.

  • Page loading speed. Page loading speed is obviously important for UX; what is more frustrating to users than a Web page that takes forever to load? In addition, page loading speed is also important to Google, and for the same reason. Google does not want to give its search engine users links to slow loading pages. All the design and development techniques used by designers to improve speed should be welcome by SEOs.
  • Form simplicity. UXers and SEOs both want simple forms, with as few required forms as possible. When forms are complex and time-consuming, users get frustrated and fail to complete them. SEOs succeed only when leads are generated, so they seldom argue against a simple form.
  • Intuitive navigation. Being able to move smoothly around the website is a UX and SEO necessity. Whether or not a given Web page is an optimization target, SEOs want users to glide through a conversion funnel and ultimately inquire or order.

Important design issues where SEO and UX objectives must be balanced.

  • Word count. Google’s search algorithm tends to reward long copy, but from a UX perspective, less is usually more. To maintain user engagement and accommodate long word counts, designers can “hide” content by moving it lower on the page, or more literally hide it by placing it in pop-up windows or through some other design workaround. As long as Google crawlers can read the content, text positioning for SEO purposes leaves a lot of room for flexibility.
  • Keywords in text. Placing keywords in specific text elements (headers and subheads in particular) are important for SEO. For UX and other reasons, designers may be tempted to make header and subhead text design elements — such as embedding the text in a rotating carousel — rendering them invisible to Google crawlers. For SEO target pages, it is extremely important to make those keywords HTML text; for non-target pages, the need is still there, but less important.
  • Keywords in navigation labels. Using strategically important keywords in navigation labels helps SEO, but sometimes draws resistance from designers. In some cases, keyword use actually helps SEO because keyword research reveals phrases commonly used by the target audience. However, if those keyword phrases are lengthy, the sheer length of the navigation label may create serious UX and other design challenges. In such cases, brevity usually trumps SEO.

Dialog between SEOs and designers produces the best UX in a finished Web page. Whereas SEO strategy is (or should be) more or less set before the design phase of a project begins, the design process is quite fluid and calls for adjustments along the way on many fronts, including SEO. By keeping the lines of communication open, any SEO-UX challenge can be overcome.


Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy for Chicago SEO firm Straight North, which also offers website design and PPC services to businesses. Brad’s articles have been featured on leading industry sites including Moz, Webdesigner Depot and Smashing Magazine.