UX and SEO Sitting in a Tree?

9 Apr

This article was originally posted on the Loomis Group blog

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the interaction of user experience (UX) designers and search engine optimization (SEO) specialists in both pure play web design and in marketing campaigns. I have always been suspiciously (and naively) in the camp that perceives SEO as a shortcut in the design process—one that subjugates quality content, and games search engines to draw visitors to websites they aren’t really looking for.

Tree

However, I’ve recently been pushed to take a step back and examine this distrust a bit further. To be fair, here’s a bit of my background that definitely shapes my conclusions. I’ve been an IA/UX person working at agencies for 5+ years, and the majority of my experiences have been with contractors who practiced the “seagull approach,” where they swooped in, dumped all over everything, and flew away.

Today, at Loomis Group, I manage both our in-house SEO practice and our UX practice. Working with our dedicated SEO team, I’ve come to realize that, like any discipline, there are quality people out there doing great work… and there’s also not such great work. At the end of the day, projects which need an audience need specialists who can dedicate their attention to understanding the intricacies of search engine algorithms because, frankly, we are no longer working in a time and place where the adage of “if you build it, they will come” is still true. With over 7.3 million webpages added to the internet each day, search engine rankings have become extremely complex and take an expert to decipher.

So how do UX and SEO get along? Quite well, actually. Here’s the top 5 things (lol) I’ve learned working with our SEO specialists:

1. Collaborate Often and Early

This seems like a no-brainer but it’s really crucial in the early stages of a project to get SEO’s advice on how the website needs to be structured to achieve an ideal site structure that is decipherable by search engines and, more importantly, contains content that users are searching for. Merely creating good content used to be enough to attract users but now you need to make sure your content precisely matches your SEO strategy and vice versa. Getting this nailed down at the beggining of a project gains huge efficiencies because you don’t have to rework down the line.

2. Do it By the Numbers

With SEO and analytics teams on board it’s time to quit making design decisions about your product based solely on superannuated best practices as defined by outmoded experts.

Best practices are merely a starting point, because in today’s rapidly evolving environment it’s critical to base decisions on relevant numbers and data. And there are plenty of ways UX and analytics experts can get that data from polls, interviews, tracking software, etc. Lately I’ve been really impressed with Clicktale’s realtime view of website traffic. Seeing how users behave first-hand is priceless and basing interface design refinements on actual data allow us to make adjustments based on usage patterns instead of intuition

3. Keep Score

SEO and analytics tracking is commonplace now, but smart and in-depth reporting is not. Having both of these in-house has given our projects a new sense of life.

In agencies, it’s commonplace to be so slammed with a queue of new projects that going back to check in on old ones is rare, but our SEO and analytics specialists are tasked with following up on projects and letting the larger team know how they’re doing. This also includes making recommendations to the team about what is performing well, what isn’t, and what we need to do about it. While 95% of the changes are small, and we need only to optimize CTAs (calls to action) or copy, occasionally we discover larger business issues that could result in both lost traffic and unhappy clients if ignored

4. Revise

As mentioned above, you have to be willing to go back and revise a site. Otherwise there’s really no point in spending the time tracking any of this stuff. Revisions are difficult if someone doesn’t know precisely what is working and what’s not. When SEO and analytics teams are involved, they are able to find the data that points to precise website performance issues. Our in-house SEO and analytics department has discovered technical issues ranging from broken user-experience flows to incorectly implemented code.

Revisions also help a website stay fresh, which benefits both SEO and the audience. For instance, when search engine visibility and traffic for a particular page diminishes, it often indicates that the content is no longer relevant to the audience.

5. Meet Somewhere in the Middle

In the end, UX and SEO only really work when they meet somewhere in the middle. Purely focusing on a website’s user experience may create a great interaction, but it likely won’t meet any business requirements because no one will ever see it. Conversely, constructing a website that focuses only on its SEO will ensure it’s designed just for search engines and not for the actual people who will use it.

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