How to improve the SEO of a site without deteriorating the UX?

Lucas Perrosé . February 16, 2021

The ways to improve the user experience and optimize a website for search engines have evolved considerably in recent years. This evolution is mainly a reflection of the transformation of Internet users’ behavior and the adaptation of search engine algorithms to these behaviors, in order to always provide qualified answers to their audience.

Nevertheless, an old belief remains: it would not be possible to improve UX (user experience) and SEO at the same time. It would be possible to have a beautiful website with improved navigation or a perfectly search engine friendly website, but not both!

But is this statement still true in early 2021? As Google approaches the global rollout of its Mobile First Index in March 2021, can we still claim that UX and SEO are incompatible?

Why oppose UX and SEO?

At Primelis, we believe that UX and SEO are both part of the same family. We have worked on hundreds of projects that include UX design and objectives in addition to SEO issues. We’ve helped many brands redesign their websites without sacrificing SEO performance. And we train all of our experts on UX considerations so they can include them in their optimization recommendations.

When we talk about UX and SEO, a dedicated term often comes up: SXO. It stands for Search eXperience Optimization and refers to ways to improve both UX and SEO.So why do we still often hear that it is impossible to reconcile them?

SEO has a bad reputation with UX teams

It’s a fact: SEO can still scare creative teams. Why? Because historically, an effective SEO website was one with a large amount of content and internal links. SEO experts typically asked designers to insert hundreds of words at the top of pages and blocks containing dozens of links.

So, a few years ago, when a web designer received SEO recommendations, it wasn’t the best news for his creative mind. Back then, UX and SEO were actually hardly compatible. But thankfully, that’s not the case anymore.

Many SEO agencies still don’t include UX in their scope

If it is now possible to optimize UX and SEO at the same time, why do some SEO specialists omit the user experience component?

First of all, because it is always get good SEO results with a very basic UX level. As smart as they are, search engine algorithms – even Google’s – are still robots that like text, long content, links… So yes, ugly websites with a bad UX can rank in search engine results, even if this constant also depends on the market theme.

Second, an SEO consultant doesn’t always work with brands that are very concerned about their image and UX. Some have short-term concerns, others produce websites in a rush, and most don’t have the team or budget to focus on improving the user experience.

Finally, SEO is not always the central topic in website redesign and update projects, which is a pity. If the client team does not create a link between UX and SEO experts, it is not possible to explain the recommendations, exchange and find the best solution.

This is why Primelis experts are perfectly aware of the issues related to UX and more generally to the topics related to the animation/redesign of a website. We make sure that we are involved in all stages of a project related, more or less directly, to SEO. We include user experience (and other considerations) in all our recommendations, in order to accelerate their activation.

How to combine UX and SEO issues?

Think mobile only

It’s nothing new: mobile is increasingly used for Google searches and online purchases. Mobile is no longer just used at the top of the conversion funnel: during the 2020 vacation season, mobile accounted for 39% of online spending (only 13% in 2014).

For UX teams, just like for search engines, mobile is essential. As most of the online traffic is mobile, players like Google or Bing need to provide a qualified search experience on this device by putting forward websites that are easily usable.

Google’s Mobile First Index and new Core Web Vitals (rollout planned for March and May 2021) are the main topics of SXO for this year. By defining the mobile version of a website as a priority for ranking sites in its results, and adding UX criteria in loading performance, Google is setting the tone.

All these evolutions imply to think only Mobile. SEO recommendations, such as content optimization or internal linking, must be considered in a mobile environment (with the desktop as a variation). There are now many more ways to build an effective website in terms of UX and SEO, including technology and design elements. Maximizing the UX above the waterline, prioritizing loading of elements useful for navigation, using dynamic rendering to serve content optimized for the device or creating an AMP/PWA version of a site are just a few examples.

Know what type of content to offer first

Another important way to align UX and SEO efforts is to identify what is actually useful to offer. Fortunately, search engines understand user expectations quite well: what is needed to provide to bots is usually similar to what users expect.

Let’s imagine that a brand wants to position its site on Google when users search for “swimsuit”. For this query, users expect to land on product listing pages (categories). And because users want to see listing pages, Google will promote these pages. This way, it’s easy to know which page of a website needs to be optimized and what users/bots want to find on that page: a product listing in this case, not a long text explaining how to choose a swimsuit or a video showing how to clean one. Immediately, UX and SEO concerns are aligned: make sure the products are visible above the waterline for users and bots that visit the page. Of course, there is still room to make some adjustments by adding rich content further down the page, making sure the SEO markup is correct, providing links to subcategories, etc. But all these SEO elements are not the main content that Google expects: you have more room to maneuver in the arrangement of the different elements on the page (placing them where they will not disturb the UX and will benefit the SEO).