How to Design a Website That Caters to Both SEO and User Experience
Harmonizing SEO And UX When Developing A Website
Still Building Robotic Websites? Maybe You Should Pay More Attention To The User.
Synopsis: A few key concerns regarding web design that merges SEO and user experience.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has evolved constantly in just a short time since the industry has been around; partly to accommodate for the needs of a growing market, but mostly as reactions to developers who put more attention into yields on search results than they do into creating websites for people (people with hopes, dreams, a critical eye and a need for information which is helpful, easy to navigate, and to the point).
There will always be people who find and exploit these loopholes; the web is vast and savvy developers may turn a trick (so to speak) and cheat their way to the top. Google invariably wants to deliver quality results and so they release a rectifying update causing panic because ‘the rules of SEO are changing again’; someone finds another loophole and the cycle continues.
But this is actually favourable, so don’t hate the few who hack the system. The resulting feedback cycle makes Google’s crawlers take on an organic ductility, which is constantly tested by sneaky developers, and subsequently morphed to be better at recognising sites with human faces and relevant content. Google crawlers are getting smarter by the day, and robotic, keyword heavy texts (even titles, descriptions and metadata) are frowned upon by those faceless spiders which roam the digital ether; although they shouldn’t be your primary concern.
SEO in 2016
Let’s assume that this strategy has worked for you in the past, and as promised, your (or your customer’s) website went right to the top because you just crammed it with keywords and closed the lid.
Did the website have an impact on the success of the concerned business? Publishing a website in this way is a bit like displaying a brightly coloured billboard which only displays a company’s ABN, instead of any useful information.
So what if millions of people see it because you nailed SEO, if your website is generic and has blatantly taken shortcuts, it reflects very poorly on the concerned business. If you want to make a great website that will last and grow for years to come, it needs to be natural for two reasons:
1: Google is smart, but not intelligent. It favours natural sites that are designed to benefit the end-user, even if some sneakier sites slip through the cracks.
2: You’re not selling your brand to Google, Google doesn’t go shopping (yet), so don’t mistake the medium for the target market.
The user experience -which should be the cornerstone of the campaign- is often overlooked, and there’s a lot of exposure being missed or misused because of this; which is a pity, because when you can find harmony between your SEO campaigns and your User Experience (UX), they tend to help each other along.
Avoid writing robotic content for spiders and start impressing the human market by paying attention to the following areas. With every question you have, try to answer it with the end (human) user in mind and you may find that the SEO takes care of itself. Embark on the campaign with the UX as the most important detail, and it will likely be natural and well received by both the Google crawlers and your customers.
Strategies to harmonise UX and SEO
1. Develop a well-organised website
Since it isn’t all just about content, this is a good place to start. Websites which are only geared to assist search bots will be horrible for users. Google’s bots are far more efficient at navigating pages than people are and so they can handle (begrudgingly) sifting through a sitemap of 50000 URLs (although this isn’t recommended) with no backlinks or breadcrumbs; but users who end up on a site they cannot navigate properly are likely to move on within a few seconds. This means you will lose potential customers and the bounce-rate for your website will suffer, lowering its credibility exponentially in Google’s eyes.
Try to help the users along, keep them interested and in the loop. A good rule is to make sure that no more than three clicks are needed to navigate to any part of your site. Use breadcrumb links to help them keep track of how the info is arranged and accessed to make them feel comfortable navigating it more freely.
Remember the small details, like making sure your site has an error 404 page which will be presented to the user should they try to access a URL which can’t be found. This will not only make the UX more pleasant, but will also lessen your bounce rate since the 404 page is still on your site, taking care of some of your SEO needs as well.
Don’t use generic page names like ‘page1’; describe and tag everything. A user and the Google crawlers should be able to get a good idea of the content based on the descriptive quality of the title, metadata and exerts. People are not robots; no one wants to sift through your personal numbering system to find information. Display it to them in a way that is understandable and assessable without even having to look at the content. If you can sell your site before they even read your landing page, you’ve won.
2. Visual Design elements
Creating the optimum user experience for your website depends largely on its visual impact, and there is a lot to consider. From the SEO side of things, consistency, tidy coding, interactivity and responsiveness are all big points, but with some drawbacks if the user isn’t considered.
Image headers look fantastic on a website. Users love them and they look professional and engaging. However, Google’s spiders can’t read rasterised text (text that has been saved as an image) so a header or any other images with information rendered into them are purely for the benefit of the user. But we want harmony between SEO and UX, so ideally you want to avoid this. Creating image headers that are overlaid with text will impress your target audience, but will still keep your search engine needs covered. Also, don’t forget to describe the meta-data with pinpoint accuracy, which is essential for affective SEO and can also be beneficial to the user experience.
- Don’t go over the top
Each visual element on a page will have an effect on the load time. Avoid at all costs, usingelements that are of too high in quality. Each one will up the time needed for a page to load, which will have an effect on the user experience and the SEO efficacy. And in this regard, people are harsher and colder than robots.
Google recommends that your pages should take no more than a few seconds to load, but people… people generally can’t even wait that long. Competition is fierce, so if you are losing to a website which looks very basic, it’s probably because your users are more impatient than you give them credit for. There is something inexplicably vexing about waiting for a website to load (perhaps we are still suffering the trauma of the dial-up era).We’ve all been there, so put yourself there again when considering the size of your visual content, because slow loading times will kill your site. Not only will Google penalize you for it, so will your customers. This will result in a higher bounce rate, and Google will nail you again. Remember as well, that not all of your users will come from locations where the infrastructure can keep up. The average South African for instance has a maximum of a 5mb line in their homes which is often capped once they have used 30gb of data. Think about your audience who cannot use the internet as efficiently as you, and minimalise the use of overly data-heavy images, videos and audio which will slow them down.
- Consistent themes
I’ve never been a fan of the word “branding”, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Websites, above all other functions, are there for advertising; and so the regular rules and conventions of advertising should follow. This means that users expect a certain degree of uniformity. Colour schemes, fonts, logos, signatures, and layout all add to the branding of your website and should be used consistently as per the ancient rules of advertising. People like surety; changes and irregularities stress us out and make us doubt what we are looking at. A huge step to tempering the critical nature of your readers is remaining consistent throughout your site.
- Layout and Typography
Cluttered websites, unreadable fonts and invisible text (for those sneaky developers who want to hide keywords) may not have a direct impact on your SEO campaigns, but users won’t like it.
People like being presented with information that is neatly categorised and pleasant to work through. It is true that different content serves different reading styles and purposes, but the key principle in effectively presenting any information is simplicity.
Make sure that information can be easily found and navigated through. People don’t have the time to hang on your website’s every word so use text boxes, divides, links and bolded items to direct your users to the most important areas on your site and avoid spamming it with useless information. Respect your user’s time by presenting your website in such a manner that makes it pleasant to use.
I, for one, would rather get concise, easy to find information out of a 500 word article that is pleasant to read, than to have to dedicate an afternoon in deciphering what may as well be a manuscript with no helpful information. Users feel cheated when their time has been wasted. So use your layout to point to the most important information available, and make sure that the info is in their best interest, and not the algorithms.
3. Creating good content
Of course, laying out content nicely is not everything. The content itself is king and will make or break your website. This is where developers and writers suffer the most, because there are no real rules, provided by Google or anyone else that can help you create content that is consistently good. Every bit of content should have a uniqueness which is born from its specific requirements and so there is always room for play. But there are a few things to keep in mind before posting anything.
- Know your audience
Everybody is different, depending on who you are developing for, you may need to adjust a little. Some people are offended easily and put off by the strangest things, while others are bored easily. Perhaps though, the biggest point is to develop a website without considering Google as your target. Their crawlers do not read like human beings do, and so if you are developing purely to advance your SEO you are likely not catering for your audience properly. Every decision you make has to account for the needs of your audience first. If something in your SEO strategy is holding this back, rather make the changes there and keep giving your end-users priority.
- We know its advertising, but we don’t want to feel sold
Few things can impact a user’s experience as negatively as when they feel like they are being bombarded with advertising. We are all aware that it is what it is, but a smart content strategy should disguise the marketing.
Don’t look at this as being deceptive; it’s got more to do with having respect for your target’s intelligence. We are assaulted by enough advertising on a daily basis to resent it, so unless something in the campaign is specifically meant to read like an advert, you should put as much attention into informative and interesting content which performs its appellative function passively.
Click-bait, special offers and shallow content is not only obvious to most of your users, it is also extremely off-putting and can damage the websites ranking, but it can also leave a very bad taste in the mouth of the user.
- Use keywords negatively
I saved this one for last because when it comes to content, this can have a major impact on both the SEO and the UX. Not that long ago, one of the best strategies was to flood your website with keyword after keyword, regardless on the affect it had on the flow and readability of the posts. This was a fairly short-sighted strategy however because attracting users to the website is only half of the work, keeping them there on the other hand is impossible with this technique.
Nowadays, Google punishes keyword crammers quite harshly, because crawlers are looking for natural and organic content. They do this by checking keyword density, and they are quite harsh. As it is currently, content writers and developers need to be aware of how frequently keywords are used, not just within a post, but across the site as a whole.
I find that a good strategy for staying in line with this is to see keywords as those that you should use more sparingly than any others. Be careful however that you don’t just replace the keyword with synonyms because this will look as much like spam to the user as an outright repetition would to Google. Try not to see keywords as a thing you need to put in your article, but rather as those which should be avoided unless they are performing just that function.
There is, of course, so much more to be said on this topic, far more than can be fitted into this blip of an article. Even Google admits that they haven’t listed every infraction that can be conducted by developers, but have also said that developers will be penalised for loopholes that haven’t been found out yet. If you want to achieve a perfect balance between SEO and UX then your starting point should be to adhere to development ethics and create content naturally.
Most of the time, this will take care of everything (if it is done with enough care). Remember, if you are a developer, it is not enough to promise your customers that their website will rank highly on search engines, which they in their ignorance will be thrilled with. You need to be developing campaigns that will also appeal to their targets, up their business and work out to be a solid and holistic advertising campaign. Times they are a changing, people are becoming more aware of ploys and crawlers are becoming smarter by the hour. Spend some time trying to win the hearts and minds of both, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving a perfect balance between them. But quite frankly, if they are at ends with one another, it is almost always wiser to sacrifice on the SEO side of things and concentrate on the overall user experience.
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