We all want our websites to rank higher on search engines, particularly Google and are frequently thinking up ways of getting higher on Google or generating more web traffic.
It is worth taking some to understand Google and how it has become so successful as this helps us work out why they might rank one website above another on search engine results pages (SERPS). I first started using Google in about 2000, on recommendation from someone who, let’s put this politely, wasn’t renowned for their technical knowledge or being at the cutting edge of anything. He only said that Google consistently got him the most relevant results from his searches. It was easy to use and delivered better, more relevant results than any other search engine at the time.
These days Google is still thinking about user experience. In their company philosophy page – Ten things we know to be true – the very first one is this statement:
focus on the user and all else will follow.
There are others worth reading, but that one is key and sometimes forgotten by SEO professionals, web designers and developers who may be focussing on the prettiest pictures, web copy with keywords crowbarred into tenuously linked copy, and functionality that is cheaper to develop but more difficult for the end user.
There are after all two audiences for any website: the human user and the search engine ‘bots’ that crawl your website, gather relevant data and send it back to the search engine for storage on the index so it can appear in search engine results pages.
Web design for SEO should focus on user experience
An SEO-only strategy worked well 10 years ago, Google and other search engines have since come a long way. In particular, Google’s sophistication is such that designing for UX (user experience) is much more valuable than designing just for SEO (search engine optimization).
If a user has a great experience using your website, then Google has ever more sophisticated ways of detecting this. It could be something as simple as how long people spend on a particular page and do they then explore your website further. You are definitely on the right track if a user shares a page on social media or a link on their website or interacts in other ways.
That said, totally abandoning SEO in favor of a UX-focused approach is misguided. While it is true that SEO and UX have become more and more complementary – and that designing for UX does often result in improved SEO — there are some UX elements that affect Google’s ability to crawl a website, and some areas in which they benefit each other. Web designers would be wise to design for, and take both into, account, but focus on the user above all.
While Google has a built a friendly ‘don’t be evil’ type brand, it does not really care about your website or your business over another. What it does care about is presenting the most relevant websites to its users and that is what has helped built the brand. If, when working on a web design and developing the web content, you emphasise the user and what they might find valuable, then you will ensure important SEO elements such as keyword usage, headings, page speed and tags become part of a positive user experience rather than the other way round.