Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch posted an excellent article regarding the ongoing reputation issues that the Search Engine Optimization industry has been experiencing. In particular, this article brings up the frequent disconnect between web designers and SEO efforts.
If you’re in the business of SEO and you’ve worked with web design or interactive shops, undoubtedly you’ve heard comments like, “your SEO makes the site ugly”. A lot of the time this comes off as elitist and arrogant because data is rarely offered to support the notion that adding text links or modifying title tags has a negative effect on site conversion.
Abundant data is available on before/after search engine optimization, where a site has significantly increased rankings, visitors and conversions. I am not saying great design is less important than search engine friendliness, but I am saying that profit generating web sites incorporate a combination of critical design and requirements for optimal search engine visibility.
Really good SEO works hand in hand with design and usability. The problem is, really bad SEO stands out and is what gets pointed out by those prone to complain about such things. Of course not all folks in the business of design are ingnorant of the value of SEO and SEO tactics, but it is often inconvenient for them to incorporate since objectives are often different. Not all SEOs are ignorant of proper design either but there is an important need to improve.
In the end, if no one can find a site that looks fantastic, does that help the client? Alternatively, if everyone can find a crappy looking site, will it build brand and convert sales?
I remember in 1997-99 when similar issues came up between print designers and web designers. Websites created by designers from a print background often did not take into account the dynamic nature of the web and how the various browsers operated. Pages were overloaded with huge graphics, sites would look good in one browser and horrible in another. Some of the print designers I worked with often blamed the “inferiority” of the browsers or consumer computer screen resolutions rather than the design methodology used. Through communication, testing, feedback and a focus on common goals, many of those print designers learned that designing for the web is very different.
I think most web designers today will also eventually understand the importance of search engine friendliness. With 6 out of 7 referrals from search engines to commercial web sites coming from organic search engine listings, (Jupiter) companies will insist on it. It will take communication and accurate information, testing and feedback with a focus on a common goal to create some alignment. Really great designers will take SEO into account and really great SEOs will perform their craft without ruining design.
Danny’s article (with a interestingly controversial title) points out specific good/bad examples of SEO as it affects web design and I highly recommend it.