How User Experience Design and SEO Coexist in 2012

The integration of design and SEO has come a long way in the last few years. Having worked in a wide variety of publishing environments I can attest to the fact that designers have generally come to understand some important SEO aspects in recent years. I hardly ever hear about Flash websites anymore and most designers know how to reduce image size (to optimize page load times) and name image files properly so they might show up higher in Google image search. And yet, there are many designers (and writers, let’s add) who resent the need for search engine optimization considerations.

How can designers and the UX team coexist with SEO people?

Here are some things to consider:

Searchers are a paying audience. Like the proverbial starving artists, designers need to bear in mind that they need to make a living. If your paintings are not being bought it may be that you need to learn some things about how to appeal to people.  In the same way, designers need to appreciate the fact that bowing to SEO considerations will help them reach a new audience and – let’s face it- pay the bills.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, a picture plus words is worth even more.  When you review most lists of “best designed websites” you will find a lot of image heavy websites. These are considered to be great websites by… designers. And all too often, these lists are the only way you ever find these beautiful sites. Google doesn’t like a site that is only beautifully designed because Google is all about looking for information.

You have to have information on your site: text that is optimized for search bots that love to gobble up words. While pictures often tell a story, a little bit of text explanation isn’t going to hurt. Mixing text with your images is going to get some search traffic that you would never otherwise get. Go back to point one: you reach a new audience.

Stop hating SEO, now. I hear a lot of design-lovers resenting the fact that poorly designed website show up well in search results while beautifully designed sites fare very poorly. This is indeed lamentable. But get over it.  Instead, figure out how to work together with your SEO and get your SEO guy or girl on your side, the side where good design is a consideration in SEO.

Of course you can do this by contributing to snazzy infographics or showing how a smattering of images will spice up a well-SEO’ed content page. But even more so, work with your SEO content team to figure out how to create a fantastic user experience that is interactive, colorful and fun, yet also well-ranked for search terms.

How is this possible?

  • Help create linkbait. Design a great tool that other sites would love to link to, and you’re suddenly doing SEO.
  • Spice up text and graphical content on the site to improve time on site. Time on page has been a big consideration of Google for a long time to come. Make your site an optimally pleasurable experience (using search engine optimized images, that is) and help people stay longer on your site longer.
  • Keep working together with your SEO and discover your own loopholes in Google’s algorithm together.

This last point is a lot to hope for but I’ll go even further. You can even learn to love your SEO. Victory makes differences unimportant and people who succeed together tend to get along awesomely, in my experience. People who succeed together don’t just coexist, they inevitably think very highly of each other. Try it.

About the author: Article written by Jim Huinink, an SEO consultant with the Toronto usability firm, Interpixdesign.com, a Toronto firm specializing usability testing.