UX vs. SEO or UX plus SEO?

By yleMay 6, 2012

It’s been a topic of debate ever since UX (user experience) and SEO (search engine optimization) have been around. Do you make something look good or do you enhance it for search? Make it read well or instead opt for a high-ranking keyword? Do you optimize for SEO or for your users?

The two have worked both together and against each other, but it seems like SEO is starting to fall under the UX umbrella as Google continues to update its search algorithm.

Google wants search to be organic, feel natural for a user and provide what he or she is looking for… however, isn’t that the crux of user experience, as well?

UX vs. SEO: How they work against each other

SEO and UX both have users in mind, but SEO is such a hot topic these days that people often get overly concerned with optimizing for search and create unintuitive design and verbiage on websites.

The SEO process often starts out with questions which have the user at heart, like “What will our users search for?” But it quickly turns into trying to squeeze too many search variations into a sentence. This results in clunky writing that nobody wants to read, putting off and losing your users and the clicks that turn into the conversions you want.

People try to beat the SEO system through unnatural ways of writing. It’s why tactics like keyword stuffing are banned and Google continually makes updates to keep search organic and objective, preventing companies from trying to rule search.

People abide by Google updates when they’re new and then figure out ways to get around them to make their rankings higher. Then once enough people figure out ways to get around organic search, Google makes another update and people have to figure out the search puzzle again. As shown in the following diagram from a Warrior forum thread found in this blog post.

Perhaps people constantly obsess over search and SEO because there is always a new method or technology with which to keep up, making it never stale or stagnant.

Not only are there new Google updates to keep tabs on to build SEO, but social streams, too. Did you mention your company/news/product via Facebook? @ it on Twitter and # the trending topic? Did you remember to include hashtags on Instagram? Did you include the right keywords on YouTube?

But is including all those mentions even easy to read? Sometimes all that clutter makes it hard to get your point across, and depending on your audience demographic, it could look like mumbo jumbo to the inexperienced social networker.

UX plus SEO: How they work together

Striking a balance between SEO and UX goes back to the basics. Clearly state the message you want to convey in language that’s easy to understand. Clearly establish the terms that define you, aim to rank for the relevant message and build your brand.

Google’s algorithms give brand management top rank, valuing quality links and web design that helps users get what they want to out of their browsing experience. Google consistently rewards high quality sites with better search rankings. (Read more on their official blog.)

Rewarding better user experience with higher SEO ranking further marries SEO and UX and helps people realize the two need to be integrated, not separate battles.

Do your homework when it comes to keyword and market research, but make educated decisions and analyses from those findings that align with your brand and will make sense to your audiences. Don’t just include everything or stoop to shady SEO tactics, also known as black magic. Here’s a good how-to guide from the Google blog, “Five Common SEO Mistakes (and six good ideas!),” – and a solid example of the use of mixed media in web content, which is also great for SEO.

Wear your little white hat, so Google and your user will respect you more, and the end result will likely achieve a better outcome with more users finding and clicking around your web content.