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Try a Little Tenderness – The Relationship Between Designers and SEOs

18 July 2013 BY

From the outside it would seem that designers and SEOs are working towards a common goal; to create beautifully built, fully optimised, high converting sites, yet the reality is often somewhat different.

Designers and SEOs are not always bosom buddies, rarely in fact. We all know that design is fundamental in attraction and usability, plus it has a strong impact on conversion potential. To the same ends we all know that a well optimised site maximises its opportunity for traffic and conversion.

So what’s the beef?

It’s Elementary

While our priorities are the same at the top level, as you dissect our two roles, some components become increasingly disparate, leading to the false belief that they need to be thought about as separate elements when it comes to design and build. A pretty site does not mean a well optimised site; but a well optimised site can still be a pretty one.

There are many definitions of web design, so for argument’s sake I’m sticking with the old favourite, Wikipedia:

“Web design encompasses many different skills and disciplines in the production and maintenance of websites. The different areas of web design include web graphic design; interface design; authoring, including standardised code and proprietary software; user experience design; and search engine optimization.”

So SEO is part of the job of a designer? Hmm. I’m not convinced that there are enough designers out there with a complete and up to date knowledge of SEO that it should be considered part of their job description on one of the world’s largest knowledge bases. Nor am I convinced that this idea is strictly where the argument lies. The two main elements of web design and optimisation I have witnessed bring designers and SEOs to metaphorical blows are the following:

  • Code

Clean, simple, W3C compliant HTML and external CSS and Javascript is the SEOs weapon of choice in most cases. Not because they want to limit the designer of course, but because this is the simplest, therefore fastest, and most readable way for search engine bots to scour and index the site. Please use all the proper tags too, Google love them.

In order to place the site in SERPs for the correct terms, search engine robots need to understand what the site is about, so make it easy for them. They are also big fans of quick sites, slow ones risk dropping in rankings if they fall behind their competitors in speed and other areas. Which brings me to Flash. Urgh. Yes, it’s pretty, sometimes, but it’s an SEO nightmare. Here’s a few reasons why…

  • Just one main URL to optimise for
  • Slow loading time
  • Lack of basic tags and attributes
  • Harder to measure results

It’s like trying to fix a car with nothing but a hammer and some Party Rings. I’m exaggerating of course, there are ways to get around a number of these problems, but Flash is not a friend to the SEO. If, as a designer you choose to use Flash, and you split your site into multiple files, or integrate HTML elements into the site, your SEO would be most grateful.

  • Usability

Form follows function and all that jazz. Usability is an area where you may think we’d all get on, but this is not always the case, especially in particularly minimalistic sites, and those with a large amount of pages.

Websites need to make the conversion process as quick and simple as possible, while aesthetics remain pleasing and help instil trust in the user.  The design of the interface has a direct and fundamental impact on how easy it is and how long it takes for a user to convert and it is imperative that this is a primary objective in the early stages of designing the site.

Usability can be a huge bone of contention if an SEO is brought in at the end of a project, causing delays, distress, and cost to all involved. In my humble opinion this is the area when designers and SEOs need to get their heads together the most, right from the start of the project.

  • URLs

A simple thing, but www.mywebsite.co.uk/clothing/jeans/bootcut is so much better an option than http://www.mywebsite.co.uk/01447/332/jeans/001/446-32a. Ideally URLs should have a clear meaning and act as a breadcrumb trail for the user to follow.

Search engines prefer static URLs, and Google recommends using hyphens instead of underscores; they see phrases with underscores as all one word so ‘bootcut_jeans’ would be ‘bootcutjeans’ to Google, but ‘bootcut-jeans’ would be translated as ‘bootcut jeans’. Knowing what you mean is pretty important to rank for your key terms, and a good URL structure can really help.

These two elements are merely the symptoms though, not the cause. So where do the problems really lie and how do we fix them?

It’s Education

“Trying to understand you is like trying to smell the colour 9” – Anon

“Education is a Progressive Discovery of Our Own Ignorance” – Will Durant

Without getting all happy-clappy, or too quotey, let’s help each other understand what exactly it is we do, and why we do it, instead of letting them assume. I swear there are designers out there who think SEOs are only on this planet to pull their work apart and make life difficult, and I know more than one SEO who thinks designers are intentionally fussy just to wind them up. It’s likely that neither is the case, we just don’t fully understand each other’s role yet.

The only thing to be careful of is where you pick up this education. There is some incredibly unhelpful misinformation out there such as this little gem I picked up on SERPs page one when searching for SEO for designers. This guy has over 60,000 followers on Twitter:

Ignore Most Meta Tags: A long time ago meta tags were the secret to SEO. Those days are gone. The only meta tag that really matters now is the description tag. Search engines may use it to provide the text under the link to your page in their results. Make sure it describes the page in a way that explains why a user searching for your content would want to look at your page.”

Sit down properly with your designer or SEO, you may just learn something.

And Mostly, It’s Communication

SEO is often an after-thought for a client, something tacked in to the end of a site project, a particularly painful situation for both parties. This often leading to squabbles between the designer, who has spent months building ‘the perfect site’, and the SEO brought in too late in the day who comes in to delicately/not so delicately tear it to pieces.

This is not the only problem, but historically, it’s not hard to see why the two haven’t always seen eye to eye.

To me, communication is the key, and I asked my lovely designer/developer friend Sii Cockerill for his opinion, to which I received an very insightful response:

“I’ve worked alongside SEOs as a Web Designer and Developer since 2002 and it’s fair to say that it hasn’t always been the easiest ride. But over the years, I’ve found that I have developed great relationships with Digital Marketers and the key to success in those relationships has always come down to the same thing – communication.

 

In my experience, conflicts between an SEO and Designer often revolve around a lack of appreciation for what the other party has to do / is doing in order to get the job done. And there’s the key – getting *the* job done. Not different jobs. The same job – with the same result. Which is invariably to produce a website or page that is easy to use, loved as much by Google as it is by the Customer and satisfies all the criteria set out for it by both the Marketer *and* the Designer.

 

 Ok, I know – that all *sounds* great. But how do the Marketer and the Designer agree on the criteria?

 

 If you’re asking yourself that question, you’re actually half way there already. Agreeing the criteria means that the Designer and Marketer will actually have to discuss the project – massive win! Digital Marketers are often on the front line of a business, they’re making decisions that can really affect the bottom line and as they are under pressure to get stuff done, they often fall into the trap of perceiving Designers as the resource they use to achieve their goals. This kind of attitude will leave you missing out on all kinds of opportunities for success”

And Finally…

How Can Designers Help SEOs?

  • Involve your SEO in the decision making process and agree a plan of action together
  • Keep your SEO aware of new developments every step of the way right from the start – you won’t always know what impact a relatively small change could make
  • If you don’t understand why your SEO requires something, ask. The more understanding we have, the better equipped we are to deal with hurdles that will inevitably arise

 How Can SEOs Help Designers?

 Sii: “The biggest recommendations I can make for SEOs working with Designers are:

  • Take time to discuss your project with your Designers & Developers
  • Empower the Designer with knowledge – explain to them what you are trying to achieve
  • Listen to them – really understand what they want to achieve and why
  • Compromise – some criteria you discuss may have short-term benefits, others long-term – weigh up the value of each and plan a schedule for achieving them all”

Ultimately, think of yourselves as a team – you’re trying to achieve the same goal and you’ll do a better job together.

Every digital marketer and every designer has experienced different working relationships and enviroments, have you picked up any tips along the way that might help grease the wheels of design/marketing departmental relationships?

AUTHORED BY:
h

Laura is a Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai. With search experience in a large number of industries both in-house and agency side, Laura has a strong interest in conversion optimisation and web psychology.
  • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

    Love the post Laura, but feel I need to point out that Wikipedia’s definition of a (web) designer differs from how the industry defines the role. As with most digital roles, design is becoming increasingly specialised and I know quite a few designers who are excellent at designing great websites, but who couldn’t code their way out of a cardboard box.

    It’s important to distinguish between web designers and web developers, the latter of which is who you seem to refer to most of the time when you use the word ‘designers’ in this post.

    • Graeme Benge

      Fair point Barry, I expect a large number of companies use one person/firm for both design and development though – well, that’s my gut feeling anyway. Either way, the priorities have got to be lined up right for the benefit of the job/client/goal.
      Would be interested to hear from Designers and Devs – bet we SEO’s wind them right up!

      • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

        I might have a different perspective here, working as I do in a company with distinct design and development roles, but I genuinely believe it’s best of designers don’t do the coding bit, and developers don’t do the designing bit.

        There should be a lot of cooperation between the two disciplines, of course, and both need to understand the key elements of one anothers’ specialities.

        But I think web design is fundamentally different (requiring a different skillset and mentality) than web development. Mixing the two in one person is likely to lead to substandard work in both, imho.

        • http://www.rhyswynne.co.uk/ Rhys Wynne

          You could also argue particularly with larger agencies that there’s a different between front end developers (i.e. PSD to HTML) and back end developers (sticking HTML into WordPress and making things work) :)

          • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

            Definitely – and we too have those as separate disciplines. :)

    • http://robertoblake.com/ Roberto Blake

      This is an excellent point. There is a huge range of skill sets that overlap but a Web Designer and Web Developer are not the same. The semantics here do matter, a Graphic Designer and Digital Artist are also not the same (though most people don’t realize this either).

      I’ve known some amazing developers whose sense of aesthetic and visual creativity peaked in third grade. By the same token I’ve known amazing designers who would be hard pressed to even to modify a JQuery function.

      And then you have simple fact that sometimes neither of these people could write/produce decent web content that anyone would find worth reading, that is what a Web Producer is for.

      But today, particularly in this economic climate, people have the unreasonable expectation that someone can and should be able to do all these things, and do them for one page check.

      In most cases individuals who can do all these things well, work for themselves, because nobody is willing to pay them appropriately to be that talented and educated.

  • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

    Love the post Laura, but feel I need to point out that Wikipedia’s definition of a (web) designer differs from how the industry defines the role. As with most digital roles, design is becoming increasingly specialised and I know quite a few designers who are excellent at designing great websites, but who couldn’t code their way out of a cardboard box.

    It’s important to distinguish between web designers and web developers, the latter of which is who you seem to refer to most of the time when you use the word ‘designers’ in this post.

    • Graeme Benge

      Fair point Barry, I expect a large number of companies use one person/firm for both design and development though – well, that’s my gut feeling anyway. Either way, the priorities have got to be lined up right for the benefit of the job/client/goal.
      Would be interested to hear from Designers and Devs – bet we SEO’s wind them right up!

      • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

        I might have a different perspective here, working as I do in a company with distinct design and development roles, but I genuinely believe it’s best of designers don’t do the coding bit, and developers don’t do the designing bit.

        There should be a lot of cooperation between the two disciplines, of course, and both need to understand the key elements of one anothers’ specialities.

        But I think web design is fundamentally different (requiring a different skillset and mentality) than web development. Mixing the two in one person is likely to lead to substandard work in both, imho.

        • http://www.rhyswynne.co.uk/ Rhys Wynne

          You could also argue particularly with larger agencies that there’s a different between front end developers (i.e. PSD to HTML) and back end developers (sticking HTML into WordPress and making things work) :)

          • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

            Definitely – and we too have those as separate disciplines. :)

    • http://robertoblake.com/ Roberto Blake

      This is an excellent point. There is a huge range of skill sets that overlap but a Web Designer and Web Developer are not the same. The semantics here do matter, a Graphic Designer and Digital Artist are also not the same (though most people don’t realize this either).

      I’ve known some amazing developers whose sense of aesthetic and visual creativity peaked in third grade. By the same token I’ve known amazing designers who would be hard pressed to even to modify a JQuery function.

      And then you have simple fact that sometimes neither of these people could write/produce decent web content that anyone would find worth reading, that is what a Web Producer is for.

      But today, particularly in this economic climate, people have the unreasonable expectation that someone can and should be able to do all these things, and do them for one page check.

      In most cases individuals who can do all these things well, work for themselves, because nobody is willing to pay them appropriately to be that talented and educated.

  • Sii Cockerill

    Hey Laura,

    Thanks for including my insights in your post.

    I’m a firm believer that project success comes from a great collaboration between the key players – whether they be SEOs, Digital Marketers, Business Development Managers, Database Designers or Front-end Engineers, in-house or cross agency. Ultimately, we all have many different job titles and many different skills – but putting names aside and focussing on using our strengths to achieve our goals will always lead to a better end result.

    As a Digital Marketing Agency, what strategies does Koozai have for communicating with other specialist agencies so that your Clients get the best results?

  • Sii Cockerill

    Hey Laura,

    Thanks for including my insights in your post.

    I’m a firm believer that project success comes from a great collaboration between the key players – whether they be SEOs, Digital Marketers, Business Development Managers, Database Designers or Front-end Engineers, in-house or cross agency. Ultimately, we all have many different job titles and many different skills – but putting names aside and focussing on using our strengths to achieve our goals will always lead to a better end result.

    As a Digital Marketing Agency, what strategies does Koozai have for communicating with other specialist agencies so that your Clients get the best results?

  • Phil

    Good to read an article mixing the worlds of design/development with that of SEO. I just wanted to add though, ever since i started learning HTML in the mid-90s, so much of the SEO aspect is taken care of with proper code, like you mentioned. The problem is there are too many bad designers and developers out there not doing a decent job. But i guess if they did their job properly, you might be out of a job ;)

    • Laura Phillips

      Thanks for your comment Phil, I’d love to meet the guy who was expert at all three, but I don’t think he’d have a life outside of his work and would probably lose the plot from time to time! :)

  • Phil

    Good to read an article mixing the worlds of design/development with that of SEO. I just wanted to add though, ever since i started learning HTML in the mid-90s, so much of the SEO aspect is taken care of with proper code, like you mentioned. The problem is there are too many bad designers and developers out there not doing a decent job. But i guess if they did their job properly, you might be out of a job ;)

    • Laura Phillips

      Thanks for your comment Phil, I’d love to meet the guy who was expert at all three, but I don’t think he’d have a life outside of his work and would probably lose the plot from time to time! :)

  • http://robertoblake.com/ Roberto Blake

    SEO is a lie we all agreed to keep telling each other until we forget its a lie…
    Yes I did just paraphrase Littlefinger from Game of Thrones.

    But really the “meta-game” aspect of SEO is a lie. People keep trying to play a game with the system they can only loose and in the process they fail to remember what is really important, PEOPLE.

    Sounds just like the Game of Thrones right? In their climb to the top they forget about the people who suffer in the process. When websites decide to focus on their Search Rankings instead of on building a loyal audience and strong network by producing good content that people can either use or enjoy, they ruin themselves.

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      Methinks you have failed to grasp what SEO really is – or at least bought in to some dreadfully misguided anti-SEO propaganda…

      • http://robertoblake.com/ Roberto Blake

        No I actually do understand it, I’m talking about the GAME people make of it and specifically parelleling the conversation between Lord Varys and Littlefinger in Game of Thrones.

        In this context I am Varys who values the people (i.e. content is king, build strong relationships with your audience and network, provide quality content, communicate and share rather than spam, be accessible, engaged etc.)

        Someone who tries to Game the search engines and climb the “Ladder”, would represent Lord Baelish (Littlefinger), in terms of trying to do things like buy their way to top, utilize black hat methods, link farms and all out stack the deck in their favor to meet their goal, with no regard for the actual people/audience.

        You’d have to watch Game of Thrones to truly appreciate the reference. It’s from the episode the Climb in Season 3.

        • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

          Well I can appreciate a good GoT reference, even if I think it’s misplaced in this instance. :)

  • http://robertoblake.com/ Roberto Blake

    SEO is a lie we all agreed to keep telling each other until we forget its a lie…
    Yes I did just paraphrase Littlefinger from Game of Thrones.

    But really the “meta-game” aspect of SEO is a lie. People keep trying to play a game with the system they can only loose and in the process they fail to remember what is really important, PEOPLE.

    Sounds just like the Game of Thrones right? In their climb to the top they forget about the people who suffer in the process. When websites decide to focus on their Search Rankings instead of on building a loyal audience and strong network by producing good content that people can either use or enjoy, they ruin themselves.

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      Methinks you have failed to grasp what SEO really is – or at least bought in to some dreadfully misguided anti-SEO propaganda…

      • http://robertoblake.com/ Roberto Blake

        No I actually do understand it, I’m talking about the GAME people make of it and specifically parelleling the conversation between Lord Varys and Littlefinger in Game of Thrones.

        In this context I am Varys who values the people (i.e. content is king, build strong relationships with your audience and network, provide quality content, communicate and share rather than spam, be accessible, engaged etc.)

        Someone who tries to Game the search engines and climb the “Ladder”, would represent Lord Baelish (Littlefinger), in terms of trying to do things like buy their way to top, utilize black hat methods, link farms and all out stack the deck in their favor to meet their goal, with no regard for the actual people/audience.

        You’d have to watch Game of Thrones to truly appreciate the reference. It’s from the episode the Climb in Season 3.

        • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

          Well I can appreciate a good GoT reference, even if I think it’s misplaced in this instance. :)

  • Pingback: Try a Little Tenderness – The Relationship Between Designers and SEOs | Hadoop 2.0 2013 and beyond

  • Hemant

    Thanks Laura,

    The article is really helpful. As I am new to this field of Internet marketing, your article is quite knowledgeable and helpful.

    • Laura Phillips

      Thanks Hemant, the same as any working relationship it’s all about communication, knowledge sharing, and a full understanding of the other person’s responsibilities and goals.

  • Hemant

    Thanks Laura,

    The article is really helpful. As I am new to this field of Internet marketing, your article is quite knowledgeable and helpful.

    • Laura Phillips

      Thanks Hemant, the same as any working relationship it’s all about communication, knowledge sharing, and a full understanding of the other person’s responsibilities and goals.

  • DaFoot

    Designers & SEOs are trying to achieve similar things – a functional, pretty, well ‘ranked’ site.

    Unfortunately a number of SEO people I’ve worked with seem to want to tell the designer how the page should look, the designer wants to tell the developer how it should be written and the developer has his own ideas about SEO strategies.

    The sooner each group of people appreciate they cannot master every aspect of building websites, the better. Make use of the expertise of each person and accept that they should be well informed in their particular field.

    As a developer I must admit I sometimes find myself having a feeling towards SEO people much the same as I would a snake oil salesmen…. ;)

  • DaFoot

    Designers & SEOs are trying to achieve similar things – a functional, pretty, well ‘ranked’ site.

    Unfortunately a number of SEO people I’ve worked with seem to want to tell the designer how the page should look, the designer wants to tell the developer how it should be written and the developer has his own ideas about SEO strategies.

    The sooner each group of people appreciate they cannot master every aspect of building websites, the better. Make use of the expertise of each person and accept that they should be well informed in their particular field.

    As a developer I must admit I sometimes find myself having a feeling towards SEO people much the same as I would a snake oil salesmen…. ;)

  • Rajesh_magar

    Was so nice and meaningful and I filling little tender because I am facing same issues with my coworkers. :(

  • Rajesh_magar

    Was so nice and meaningful and I am filling little tender because I am facing same issues with my coworkers. :(

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