How to Improve Both UX and SEO (and Why We Should Stop Saying They’re Not Compatible)
The ways to improve user experience and optimize a website for search engines have significantly evolved in the past few years. This change is mainly a reflection of the user online behavior (from desktop to mobile) and search engines algorithms adaptation to these behaviors to deliver qualified answers to their audience (especially from Google).
Still, an old belief remains: you can’t improve UX (User experience) and SEO at the same time. You can have a good looking website with high-quality navigation or a perfectly search engines compliant website able to rank in search results, but not both. It is really a shame, because the goal of UX is to improve traffic value and the reason to live of SEO is to bring new traffic.
But is this statement still right in early 2021?
You’re already spoiled if you read the title of this post
No. Absolutely not!
Why are people saying that UX and SEO can’t “live” together?
Here at Primelis, we’re convinced that UX and SEO are both part of the same family. We already worked on hundreds of projects including design and UX purposes in addition to SEO topics. We helped many brands to redesign their website without sacrificing their SEO performances. And we train all of our SEO experts to UX considerations so they are able to include them in their optimization recommendations.
We promote the union of UX and SEO.
In fact, there is a dedicated term that you might have already seen here and there: SXO. It stands for Search eXperience Optimization and refers to ways of both improving UX and SEO.
So why do we still frequently hear that those concepts are unmarriageable?
SEO has a bad reputation when it comes to UX and design.
That’s true: SEO can still frighten UX/UI designers and creative teams.
Why? Because back in the early days of SEO (before 2012 which is an important date for SEO, but it’s another topic), an efficient website in search engine was a website with a ton of content and internal links. SEO experts usually requested from designers to insert hundreds of words at the top of the pages and block with dozen of links.
So yes, a few years ago, when as a website designer you received SEO recommendations, it was not the best news of the day. At this time, UX and SEO were in fact hardly compatible.
It’s happily not the case anymore.
But prejudices die hard!
Most SEO companies still do not include UX in their scope of work
If you definitely can improve UX and SEO at the same time, not all SEO experts and companies put user experience as a focus in their recommendations. Why?
First, you can still have good SEO results with common UX. As smart as they are, search engines algorithms – even Google ones – remain bots that like text, long content, links. So yes, ugly websites with bad UX can rank in search engine results… yet it depends on the market field.
Secondly, as an SEO consultant, you’re not always working with brands highly concerned by their image and their user experience. Some have short-term concerns, others will produce scaled websites, and most don’t have the team or the budget to focus on user behavior.
Finally, SEO is not always the topic at the core of website evolution, which is never a good plan but sadly frequent. If the client team doesn’t create a bound between UX and SEO, there is no possibility to explain recommendations, exchange and find the best solution.
This is why Primelis’ experts are fully aware of UX and global topics involved in website optimization. We always ask our consultants to be part of all topics near or far related to SEO. We also include UX (and other topics) in our training process: this way, our experts can talk about user experience and even bring the topic to the table if necessary.
So there is always a UX concern in our SEO day to day work.
So, how can you finally marry UX and SEO?
That’s the million-dollar question. Luckily, the answer is not really complex.
But still, not all SEO players know it (or want to say it)!
Beyond mobile first: think mobile only
It’s not breaking news: mobile is more and more used for online searches on Google and for purchases. In fact, as reported by Search Engine Land, mobile is no longer just top of funnel: during the 2020 holiday season, mobile accounted for 39% of online spending (only 13% in 2014).
For UX teams, mobile is key (even for B2B market), so as for search engines. Because most online traffic is mobile, players such as Google or Bing have to provide qualified search experience on this device by showing websites easily usable.
The Mobile First Index and the new Core Web Vitals (roll-out planned for March and May 2021) of Google are the main SXO topics for the coming year. By defining the mobile version of a website as priority for algorithm scoring and ranking, and by adding UX criteria in loading performances, Google sets the tone.
All these coming evolutions imply to think mobile only. SEO recommendations such as content optimization or internal linking must be considered in a mobile environment with desktop as a declination. There are way more possibilities now to build an efficient UX and SEO website by including technological and design elements. Maximizing UX above the fold and loading navigational items first, using dynamic serving to serve well optimized content depending on the device or creating an AMP/PWA version are just a few topics to keep in mind.
Know what type of content to display in priority
Another important way to focus UX and SEO efforts together is to identify which elements are really useful. Luckily, search engines quite well understand users’ needs and what you should offer to bots is usually similar to what people are expecting. Identifying the type of content to value on the website’s pages will then align UX and SEO concerns.
Imagine for a second. Let’s say you want to rank with your website when people are searching for “leather jacket” on Google. For this query, users are expecting to land on products listing pages (pages of websites showing all leather jackets available). And because users want to see listing pages, Google will promote those type of pages. So you know what page to optimize on your website and what people/bots want to find on this page: a list of products, not a long text explaining how to choose a leather jacket or a video showing you how to clean one. Immediately, UX and SEO concerns are aligned: making sure that products are visible above the fold for people and bots landing on our page from search engines results. Sure you can (and you should) do some fine tuning by adding enrich content on the page, making sure that the SEO markup is okay, having links to sub-categories and so on. But all of those SEO elements are not the main content that Google will expect, so you have more options of placement inside the page. You can put them where they will not disturb UX and still enjoy their effectiveness on your rankings.
That’s how you do smart SXO optimization; by knowing the audience needs and offering them the right content.
Still convinced UX and SEO are not good friends (if you ever thought that)?
In any case, feel free to reach us at Primelis. We know how to implement an exceptional SEO strategy without getting your design team to be nervous.
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