The web is a very different place from what it used to be. Trends such as mobile usage, semantic search, and social media have brought about a fundamental change in how users both seek out and consume content. Search engine optimization has had to change as a necessity - and that evolution has caused it to very closely intersect with web design. The reason for this is quite simple, and tied to user expectations. See, the thing about social media is that it’s become central to the lives of pretty much every web user today. Social networks like Facebook are generally designed from a ‘user-first’ perspective on the surface - the user’s desires, purpose, and goals are considered more important than anything else. Not surprisingly, that’s had far-reaching consequences for search engine optimization. Rather than focusing on the technical elements of search engine optimization - blue links, keywords, etc. - SEOs are increasingly turning their attention towards more subtle things. Stuff like site speed, bounce rate, and entities are now defining many of the conversations about SEO. User experience is now arguably the most important metric for success - for a website to be considered worthwhile, it must not only present its content within a well-designed interface, but also offer the visitor the best, most meaningful results for their query; in short, it needs to match their intention. That’s where web design comes in. Today’s users all but demand that sites are created for them; that pages perfectly match their intent and operate seamlessly with whatever device they use. User-first design is the trend to follow - and it’s also an incredibly important part of optimizing for modern search engines. “If there is one thing that will make a mobile app or website fail, it’s not putting the user first,” writes inVentiv’s Alistair Bruyns. “In a nutshell, intention is the key driver of all digital behavior. An intention can be to read, write, share, submit, click, like, save, learn, search, listen, watch, browse, buy, sign-up, sample, download, upload, find, digest, interrogate, participate, mobilize, message and research—to name a few. And without knowing these, marketers are building digital assets to fail.” At the end of the day, it might be more accurate to say that SEO doesn’t play a role in modern web design at all, because to state otherwise implies that there’s some separation between the two. Changing user expectations as a result of social media and the rise of conversational search due to mobile devices mean that search engines are placing an ever-increasing focus on the experience of the end user - and that means that now more than ever, search engine optimization and web design are two sides of the same coin. I’d like to wrap things up with a few tidbits of advice for user-first design - hopefully they help at least a few of you create better websites.
- Remember That Less Is Sometimes More: It can certainly be tempting to design a page with a thousand bells and whistles, bust you always need to remember that the more clutter you put on your site, the harder it’ll be for visitors to reach the core message. Eventually, they might get frustrated and go somewhere else.
- Don’t Ignore Mobile: Mobile usage has now exceeded desktop usage. If your website isn’t designed to play nice with mobile devices, you aren’t just alienating a large portion of your users - you could be alienating all of them.
- Traditional SEO Isn’t Dead Yet: Keywords and on-page optimization is still important, even if content, intent, and user experience are starting to overtake them. While you shouldn’t devote all your energy to technical SEO, you also shouldn’t neglect it.
- Teach Yourself About Semantic Search: Google’s been making a big fuss about semantic search, and with good reason - it’s connected to one of the driving factors behind the web’s evolution. It’d be a good idea to familiarize yourself with it now, before it becomes any more prominent. SEO Skeptic’s Aaron Bradley published a fantastic article on the matter - I’d suggest giving it a read.