SEO Doesn’t Excuse Bad UI!

Recently during an interview, when meeting with the CEO of a startup we got to talking about the importantance of good UI and interaction. The CEO asked me if I had any design suggestions up front about their website, and as any good interviewee I had already spent a goodly amount of time pouring over it. I went through the list of suggestions I had prepared, and one by one this CEO proceeds to tell me that every bad UI decision was made purposefully and with forethought to cater to their SEO principles. Not only that but that everything I perceived as bad was done for “business reasons”, as if that were some magical wand that absolved them of any wrong doing.

So let’s get started. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a practice by which a site is designed so that it makes crawling and categorization easy for a search engine. Google especially has many rules and techniques it uses to distill your site and its pages down to quantifiable keywords that can then be searched. What SEO attempts to do is get the highest context for your coding effort, but when used over judiciously you reduce the effectiveness and simplicity of your design. In this instance I was told that to make sure all the metadata about an item was properly categorized it HAD to be visible on the page. This made the page bloated and complex.

The problem here is that first and foremost your user needs to be your focus, not a search engine. By coding a site for a search engine you begin to make certain design compromises that reduce the simplicity of your site and run the risk of losing that user.

Things to do when taking SEO into account

– Not every piece of information about an item must be visible at all times. Use CSS and some interface to effectively hide element when not needed, but keep them clearly defined and visible in you pages HTML.

– Include proper meta tagging and keywords in the page. If your site stores and serves up content that is user produced then provide a facility for effective tagging by the user.

– Design for the user, and they will come. If your service is looking to fill a niche in the market, then make it usable and enjoyable to interact with. Word of mouth will spread, and usership will increase. If you merely expect incoming traffic from searches then your product focus is misplaced.

– Make your own site’s search engine robust. You know your business and data better than Google, so make sure that finding the content through your own site is the best experience.

Conclusion

You are defined by your content, not Google. Users will come if your site is focused, simple and effective. And if bad UI is necessary to propel or protect your business interests, then you don’t understand your customer. The sooner your competitors come up to speed with a better experience, you’re gonna lose your niche.