« Unity makes strength ». This well-known proverb reminds us that people fight and conquer when they associate with each other and join their forces. I wrote this article to fight against a continuing belief that SEO specialists and web designers would not able to get along with each other to elaborate a common web strategy. Of course, such a combative metaphor might be somehow exaggerated, but it aims to underline a pacifist approach to the problem!
To understand why SEO Specialists and Web Designers are supposedly at loggerheads with each other, let’s have a look at the intrinsic differences of their jobs:
I do consider that the mix of both areas and the collaboration of experts is a key success factor for clients of a web agency.
Indeed, when design and optimization are completely separate from each other, risks of a fierce fight are high. At best, rivals would go for power sharing, giving the « on-page » layout to the designer and the « off-page » optimization to the SEO specialist. In practice, this situation can only be temporary. Indeed, asking SEO specialists to focus on link building strategies only – without interfering in designers’ creative process – amounts to asking an acrobat to limit his show to juggling! A SEO specialist would be so frustrated by not using his secret techniques… In the same way, optimization must not impose its rules to design.
Through Google Website Optimizer tool, several different contents and page presentations can be tested, that way one can observe users’ reactions. In a multivariable test, Google Website Optimizer alternates the different options per page (e.g. new title, logo position, picture size) and delivers performance indicators for every page layout. Eventually, the Web Designers will choose pages that generate most conversions. By doing so, Google highlights the fact that optimizing the pages of a site participates in improving the user experience. That said and looking at the initial diagram, two contradictory concepts have moved closer: optimization and user experience…
In fact, I am not saying that design is one of the SEO elements, I express a message of hope for reconciliation: equality between both parties is required to state a peace process! To move forward, we should be talking about interdependence: no choice should be made between optimization and design since both complement each other:
- If a site is not visible on search engines, users won’t have the opportunity and pleasure to enjoy the aesthetics of design or the originality of animations. An aesthetic but non-optimized site is virtually dead.
- At the same time, a site that benefits from an efficient optimization but suffers from a repulsive design isn’t any better. Online competition is so tough that it is just as easy for visitors to get in… as it is to get out. Just one click. Consequences are immediate: a high bounce rate and few or no conversions.
In practice, if you redesign your site, take it as an opportunity to lower your weaknesses and preserve your strengths:
- Discretion: Optimization does not mean no image/only text; it simply recommends to add some descriptive text by using alt tags for example, in a simple and discrete manner.
- Sobriety: A site with a white and light background makes the text easy to read and reduces the loading time of the pages. And, from an aesthetic point of view, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry used to say: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
- Unity: Strengthen the site authority to unique pages by removing duplicate content. We should always tell search engines which pages should be indexed by properly 301 redirecting old URLs to new ones.
- Usability: Information architecture consists in structuring web design to help users find the information they are looking for in an intuitive manner. Search engines prefer short path to destination page as opposed to narrow and deep site architectures.
Last but not least, “perceived user value signals have bright futures” according SEOmoz’ survey: almost 60% of SEOs believe that Google will use content readability, usability and design as key factors in Google’s ranking features in the future.
That said, the win-win recipe mixes three main ingredients:
- refresh your site
- improve your presence on search engines
- bet on user experience