Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has a bad reputation for damaging the user’s experience on a website. But that has not proved the case on my own blog.
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For a long time, I had a bit of a reputation for being a search engine optimization (SEO) hater, following writing a controversial article over at Smashing Magazine. I felt that optimizing for search engines rather than people was entirely the wrong attitude and that in many cases SEO ended up damaging the user’s experience.
I still believe that websites should be optimized for people and not bots, but increasingly those two ‘audiences’ are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in recent years, changes to Google’s algorithm is actively encouraging companies to improve the user experience if they want to rank well.
Now, I would argue, following search engine optimization best practice will improve the experience on your site, not undermine it. At least that has been my experience.
Here are four ways that focusing on SEO has made this a better site for readers.
Users Can Now Discover More Quality Content
A while back I upgraded Yoast’s SEO WordPress Plugin to the professional version. As part of the upgrade, the plugin started recommending articles related to the one I was writing. Articles that I might want to link to.
It did this because internal linking is an essential part of search engine optimization. However, it also creates a better experience for users too. Suddenly my articles became much more useful as I started to include links to additional information or related content. The plugin was surfacing posts that were previously lost in the depths of my archive.
In fact, I became so enamored by this rich interlinking of content that I also installed SEO Link Optimiser, another WordPress plugin. This plugin automatically linked keyword phrases as they occurred in my posts to related articles, further enriching my content.
Finally, Yoast plugin introduced me to the idea of Cornerstone Posts. These longer form posts become your definitive source on a particular topic, linking extensively to other articles on the same subject.
Although cornerstone posts are great for SEO, they are also great for users too as they consolidate and summarise my thinking on particular topics.
Articles Are Easier to Read
But focusing on SEO has not just improved the discoverability of my content, it has also made the content I write easier to read. That is because I have focused more on using the terminology that resonates with my readers.
Search engine optimization forces you to stop and think about the terminology you use. Should I write about “design systems,” “atomic design” or “pattern libraries”? What terms will people be searching on? What makes the most sense to them?
To find out, I can use tools like SerpStat to compare different terminology and see which users search on the most often.
Ultimately this improves the readability especially when you are trying to communicate with people who are not experts in the field, have a cognitive disability or might not speak English as their first language.
Content I Write Is More Relevant
Tools like Google Trends don’t just help with the selection of terminology; they can also influence my choice of subject matter when I write.
If I am toying with writing on multiple different topics, I can compare their different rates to see which is most popular. The result of this approach is that the content I end up producing is more relevant than before.
Not that I allow search frequency to dictate my writing entirely, but it has at least made me pause and question whether people are interested in reading the posts I am writing.
Users Can Access Content Faster
Finally, seeking to improve the search engine placement of my site has made me think long and hard about its performance. Increasingly Google favors site’s that load quickly, and so it has forced me to work on improving my blog in that area.
Of course, as I have written before, performance is one of the best ways you can improve the user experience of your site. So, once again, the user wins.
All of this is to say that ultimately UX designers and SEO specialists are all heading in the same direction. Although we might still argue over semantics (should we be optimizing for people or search engines?) ultimately the result is a site that works better for visitors and is easier to find on search engines too.