Balancing SEO, User Experience and Design

The issue of SEO v Design has never been so fierce as it is today, with Google on one hand wanting interesting copy (it after all ‘feeds’ on words) and wanting a good User Experience (UX) whilst on the other starting to say that using ‘Click to Expand’ methods (which assist in UX) are ‘bad’, or at least potentially bad.

It seems to many that Google wants to have it’s cake and to eat it too..

So, when it comes to designing a site, one that you want to be ranked in Google (not everybody wants this) you have to walk a careful line between making the site a pleasure to use and also be SEO friendly.

Public Domain from pixabay

Thankfully, at Rouge, we have always designed with the human visitor in mind (and not the Search Engine’s robotis friends) so all this is music to our ears.

We do of course make sure that the ‘signposts’ are there, just to make sure that Google ‘understands’ what the site is all about and write (or encourage our customers to write if they are doing this themselves) interesting and informative content and to keep the site alive.

This article covers the whole topic of SEO and Web Design in more detail and is more than worth a read…

On Google’s list of philosophies, the very first one is “focus on the user and all else will follow.” But in the past, many SEO professionals have ignored this advice, crafting web pages designed primarily for Web crawlers, and crammed with keywords.

While such an SEO-only strategy worked well 10 years ago, Google and other search engines have since come a long way. In particular, Google’s sophistication is such that designing for UX (user experience) is much more valuable than designing just for SEO (search engine optimization).

That said, totally abandoning SEO in favor of a UX-focused approach is misguided. While it is true that SEO and UX have become more and more complementary — and that designing for UX does often result in improved SEO — there are some UX elements that affect Google’s ability to crawl a website, and some areas in which they benefit each other.

Web designers would be wise to design for, and take both into, account, but focus on the user above all.

Going mobile

In April 2015, Google rolled out a mobile-friendly update that boosts the rankings of websites to make them legible and, most importantly, functional, on mobile devices. It is now absolutely necessary to ensure that a website is designed not just for desktop but for mobile screens, as well.

In fact, the search engine stated on its Inside Adwords blog that, “More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries, including the U.S.”

There are three Google-acknowledged ways to design for mobile devices: responsive design, dynamic serving and separate URLs. Of these three, responsive design is the best choice for both SEO and UX. With responsive design, the website is essentially the same, only serving up different displays according to the device. Separate URLs is the least favorable choice, as the mobile must then rank for itself.

SEO and UX go hand in hand when it comes to mobile sites. Not only is responsive web design user-friendly: Users aren’t redirected to a different website with which they must become acquainted. And the newly-launched mobile-friendly update makes it SEO-friendly, too.
If you must use infinite scroll, use it wisely

Infinite scroll, in which more content continues to load as the user scrolls to the bottom of the page, has been thought to be a friendly and sleek design for UX. Many popular website utilize this feature: Pinterest and BuzzFeed are examples.

However, Web crawlers cannot mimic user behavior in this way, and the content that would be visible to users remains invisible to Google. If infinite scroll is a design element you would rather not forfeit, Google recommends creating a paginated series (pages of content) alongside infinite scroll, ensuring fast load times and letting users easily find the content they wanted in the first place.

Furthermore, there is a design misconception that content is best served “above the fold,” i.e., content that can be seen without the user having to scroll. In fact, research shows that users do scroll. And, besides, with screen displays so variable these days, it’s hard to tell what will be viewable without scrolling.

Avoid click-to-expand

Along the lines of infinite scrolling is click-to-expand, or tabbed content. This design uses links or tabs which, when clicked, “open” more content. Although Google has not definitively acknowledged whether this hidden content is ignored, there has been much discussion over it: namely, that Google is not indexing it.

The safest thing to do is to use the practice sparingly. Click-to-expand content certainly does appeal to minimalistic web design, but appealing to UX in this case could be detrimental to SEO.