Why User Experience Design Needs Search Engine Marketing

Most articles in this column focus on the how’s and why’s of usability, persuasive design and search engine marketing. We sound like a broken record. SEO needs UX.

What about the other way around?

There’s just as many misconceptions in the usability and user experience design industry towards search marketing and organic SEO. One of their more common fears is on page SEO mucking up user centered design.

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It takes a bit of time, skills and logic to blend Usability and SEO so they don’t clash. Why would any creative, human oriented user interface engineer want any organic SEO worked into their designs?

Is it important for intricate, intuitive online applications to be marketed in search engines?

Are the final results of persuasive design so perfect and complete they’ll simply sell themselves?

Does User Experience Content Need SEO?

Organic SEO, when done properly, is content oriented. Content isn’t just the text on a webpage, such as in an introduction, bullet points and blog entries.

Content consists of:

  • Images (the visual conveys emotion, topic)
  • Headlines
  • Sub-headings
  • Image captions
  • Navigation labels
  • Alt attributes
  • Video transcripts
  • Meta data for video and webpages
  • Link anchor text
  • Product descriptions and names
  • Application user instructions
  • Button labels

User oriented design is customer oriented design. Therefore, the key objective is communicating to your end users the best way to do something and where to start.

Typically, we call these tasks and calls to action prompts. A usability oriented developer is focused on understandability and findability. They want intuitive designs but unless we can all read their minds to know what to do with an application or shopping cart, we need help in the way of content. The worst kind of content is the mysterious kind.

This is where organic SEO can help.

Topic Oriented Content

There continues to be a tremendous abuse of keyword stuffing on webpages which produces an impossible website experience for special needs users and makes some websites look incredibly cheap and unprofessional. The first rule in blended usability and SEO is to not be greedy.

Not every page needs to be optimized for search. The best choices are the homepage, topic specific landing pages, PPC landing pages and single product pages. A page with just one form can be optimized for search and accessibility.

A Few Ideas To Improve Your UX & SEO

User instructions, often neglected, are a prime spot to put the keyword representing the page topic or task into. Place instructions at the top, not bottom, of your application or form.

Navigation labels are too generic. To create interest, add a verb or related keyword. Verbs like “get”, “learn”, “buy”, “explore” and others are more likely to inspire a click.

Adding a keyword such as a brand name, author name, product name, etc. explains to people where they will go. For search engines, a variety of related keywords and phrases help describe the overall theme of the site.

WordPress makes it easy to add descriptive captions to your images. Use the “Media” section and when you upload pictures, add both an alt attribute and caption. Avoid making them identical however, because special needs software will “read back” both of them to listeners.

From a user experience perspective, there is more interest in a page that tells a story. You already know that visuals are powerful and you use them to create an experience and even convert. Adding a bit of descriptive content allows more people to find and use the web site, helps search engines understand the page topic and helps with overall understandability.

For understandability user experience designers are aware of different user paths created for different demographics of users. Not all words are understood by everybody. Search engine keyword research, such as Google Insights, can help determine the most used words to describe a topic or product for example.

Single product pages are an optimizer’s delight because they tend to be literally focused on one topic. A usability designer working with an SEO can work out where they wish to put keywords for a product page template.

Do you want a product keyword on the page and do you want it repeated in the product description and product caption? Would it be fun to change the “submit” or “buy now” button to say “Order your [insert product name] today” instead?


One area that SEO’s don’t pay much attention to but user experience designers and software application developers do is overall site performance. When a page has too many elements on it, such as video, images, scripts and a form crowding the page, page load becomes a concern.

Organizing pages better, lighter, and with a minimal design touch allows for more opportunities for simple organic SEO such as when a form is by itself or a video. Search engines take into account load time.


Usability and SEO Require Teamwork

Another vital concern for performance is when a website is marketed extremely well both on and off-line and there is a sudden increase in traffic.

Software application driven websites that are not prepared for this traffic will crash. This means that communication between marketers and developers is critical. I’m aware of one very well-known brand that ignored this and crashed last week during Black Friday sales.

For two days, they were down and the loss is likely in the hundreds of thousands. Search engines continue to come of course and meet a dead-end. So do customers.

Performance testing also takes into account how many users ask for a webpage per second. The criteria for these users may or may not be represented in a site or application’s requirements. They should be.

Marketing that specifically targets a certain user type presents its own stress test environment. For example, limited time sales or a two-hour 50% off special to crafters will attract a spike in traffic from a targeted user group to one section of a website.

Joint Effort

Search engine marketers are focused on rank, traffic and revenue for their clients. Many will never tell their client that their website must be usable, understandable, and conversions oriented. Website owners want rank, traffic and conversions and believe in the miracles that some SEO’s present to them.

They’re completely unaware that some SEO’s don’t do anything for a website design. Usability, user experience and accessibility designers and Internet software application developers are focused on the user experience, often ignoring and neglecting where most people start a task, which is a search engine.

A truly viable website that hopes to be successful for years has to embrace both user experience design and online marketing practices. Since most people are working on one side of the track, it’s important to consider hiring from both camps.

In addition, testing will prove one way or another if your website is ready. Find a consultant or company that specializes in usability and search marketing testing and audits to be absolutely confident. This is by far the most important investment you can possibly make.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Search & Usability


About The Author: is the SEO/Usability Consultant for Cre8pc. Her work combines website and software application usability testing with a working knowledge of search engine optimization.

Connect with the author via: Email


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  • http://www.OracleDigital.com.au Clint

    “Search engine marketers are focused on rank, traffic and revenue for their clients. Many will never tell their client that their website must be usable, understandable, and conversions oriented.”

    How true. I was having this exact same conversation today with a colleague in the industry. All that is short term, expensive (mainly) and unsustainable. At the least opportunistic.

    Most SEO’s focus on doing ‘stuff’ and not assisting their customers in creating great content that is shareable, viral, valuable, and even linkbait(able).

    Many (most) SEO’s are not doing conversion optimisation for their customer either – why? because it takes someone with an insight into the given niche/industry to be able to effectively do it. It’s not something that can be outsourced offshore. Well, not if you want it to work ;)

  • http://www.dabrianmarketing.com Brandon

    Great article! All too often these two components remain almost polarized. More often than not, SEO even seems to be an afterthought to the web design. Getting the right people in the same room from the start is the key to an optimal web offering for any business.

  • http://www.michaelyneu.com Michael Neu

    Well Said! I would also argue that UX design also needs to incorporate the other side of SEM also, regarding A/B Testing, conversion optimization, etc. Data and feedback should help direct UX design choices, and I feel far too often all of these elements live in ‘silos’ rather than all working together.

  • David Schreiber

    You’ve touched on an important aspect of Web development that is easily overshadowed by our need to simply turn dials and improve search results and conversions (yeah, that’s really important). Strategy. It may be boring, but having an over-arching idea about who you’re site is targeting, what problem you’re solving, how you’re going to break through, what you’re going to offer… This stuff matters — and when you get it right, SEO, usability and design decisions get smarter and more effective. Peace and love from Chapel Hill.

  • http://www.pwnland.com/blog Chris Keune

    Agree, but let us not forget that Analytics holds the keys to tie everything together. It starts with looking at the user behavior on the site, then expanding what drove them there (ie keywords). That gives a clear indication of how SEO is currently working on the site. Then we focus on the best customer via SEO and cluster these words so that we can benchmark our SEO efforts. Then focusing on those ones that drive the highest ROI, then UX can take these insights provided by analytics and produce wireframes, page tags , and navigation menus. Once the site is live, analyze how the new site changed its SEO SERPs.

  • http://www.cre8pc.com Kim Krause Berg

    Thanks for your comments! I wasn’t sure how this article would over. Typically I write about how and why SEO needs UX, not the other way around. The divide between them has always fascinated me, especially when I seen proof, over and over again, of the collapse of sites when skills from both practices are not included in a project. Even when analytics clearly show a high bounce rate, I’ve watched companies rearrange keywords to fix it, while ignoring their site design completely. I’ve had clients invest 10s of thousands in SEO and then come to me not trusting what a usability consultant can do and certainly not willing to pay very much since they’ve been burned. But, that’s a story for another day :)


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