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UX and SEO: Do's and Don'ts

Braydon Medlin

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Background

User experience (UX) and search engine optimization (SEO) are two important practices that should be taken into account at the onset of a new digital project. UX focuses on overall human-computer interaction in terms of ease of use, value and organization, whereas SEO focuses on attracting traffic to a website by making it as easy as possible for people to find it. Like any couple, these two have conflicts but ultimately need each other for optimal web performance. If you have great SEO but a bad user experience, your website ROI will suffer. Conversely, if you have a great user experience but bad SEO, your website's traffic will suffer. Learning how to balance the two practices is a necessary part of a cohesive digital strategy.

UX & SEO Do's

UX and SEO focus on different information-seeking behaviors. SEO makes information findable and drives traffic to a website, while UX is responsible for keeping traffic on the site with engaging and usable site content. What triggers someone to click through to a site for the first time is very different than what triggers someone to repeatedly visit the site. The following are elements that make a website better according to both UX and SEO principles:

  • User-friendly information architecture (IA): Use a clear hierarchy of pages for each site category and a clear navigation structure so search engines and visitors can accurately understand the relationship between pages.
  • Search engine accessibility: Use plain text for the majority of content as Googlebots understand text far better than images and this is the safest way to get indexed within search results pages. Limit the use of Flash and JavaScript.
  • URLs: Choose descriptive, readable URLs that are easy to remember and spell. Make sure URLs are checked consistently, are current, and can link directly to each piece of important content by avoiding link rot and incorrect redirects.
  • Meta data: Search engines use meta data to read a given page and understand what it's about. It's important to use optimized and well-written meta data to accurately communicate to search engines what content you are targeting. Also, the first content online visitors read about a site is the meta description that appears in search engine results pages, so it's vital to effectively communicate the value of your website within this message.
  • Page header tags: These tags distinguish the heading of a page from the rest of page content. For SEO, header tags communicate to search engines the priority and relevance of a page's content. For UX, the header tags verify the site visitor is on the correct page to increase site trust and credibility.

UX & SEO Dont's

The following are site elements that should be avoided from both a UX and an SEO perspective:

  • Generic labels: Avoid using very broad labels such as “products” or “services” in main navigation as they don't effectively communicate page content. Be descriptive and contextual for pertinent labels.
  • Too many keywords: Do not use too many keywords within the text of a page as this undermines the user experience by making pages difficult to read and navigate, and it can lead to penalties from search engines.
  • Confusing vocabulary: Keep content as simple as possible as often as possible. The keywords most entered that are driving traffic to the site can sometimes be difficult to understand for the average reader (e.g., medical jargon or marketing lingo).
  • Automatic content generation: Avoid producing irrelevant spam-like lists or blank pages that resemble search engine results pages that do not provide actual content to gain additional search traffic (i.e., black hat SEO). This behavior will be penalized by search engines and also leads to a bad user experience.
  • Non-standard navigation: Keep navigation simple. Navigation can vary depending on the site content and the device used to access the site, but the goal should stay the same: Design an intuitive, easy-to-use way for online users to get around a website and quickly find content they are interested in.

Summary

These do's and don'ts provide a list of site elements to consider when debating the optimal mix of SEO and UX for a given website. Encourage web designers to focus on interfaces that do not violate basic principles of usability and credibility. Make websites that are user-centered and easy to find to drive more traffic, increase user satisfaction, and ultimately promote brand engagement and loyalty.

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