A Gap In The Market?
Can good design transform a website from an information, SEO driven area, to a rewarding, knowledge creating experiences, leaving the viewer fulfilled?
Having been a marketing communications designer, working across the myriad of channels necessary to broadcast clients’ messages to it’s various audiences, I’ve been intrigued by all the posts on Website Design and Search Engine Optimisation.
It strikes me that there’s a huge gap between SEO focused companies and the Design companies.
The minority of sites that seem to be designed by designers rather than, I’m sure, highly competent technical production companies, (I’m not talking about visual stuff that appeals to me personally), but all the markers of good design: Attraction, Content, Empathy, Pathways, Navigation, Readability, Stickiness etc), seem to fall short from all the requirements of SEO. And the sites that fulfil the SEO requirements, mainly, lack accessibility (type styles and readability), the ability to interest and fulfil a sense of discovery, to intrigue and hold the interest of the viewer beyond getting the basic information they seek.
The problems designers seem to have is in creating sites that take to long to load, little or no information on the home page, not enough relevancy to target audiences, not enough information on the subject, reliance on Flash for navigation (Search Engines can’t read Flash), and maybe a lack of understanding of the values and importance of SEO.
Likewise the SEO driven sites mainly disregard the value of good design. The SEO companies I’ve spoken to, (few, so not of statistical relevance), seem to believe with limited budgets, their clients can afford to ignore good design, and focus on the SEO attributes.
I think that SEO companies and Design companies need to come together. Both, I believe have a lot to offer each other. Many of the posts from the more technical aspects of SEO do say, mainly in the last paragraph at the bottom, that content is in fact the most important part of SEO building. No matter how good that content, if it isn’t displayed in the correct way, it’s not going to get read. And I truly believe that good content implies that it should be well designed. To have clarity. To be appealing. To be relevant. To attract and signpost the viewer, through the message.
For what it's worth, the reason you tend to see that gap is because most SEO techniques are applied by people who have little or no design training. The same thing happens with software. Systems analysts generally focus on usability and documentation, programmers generally focus on function, GUI designers focus on the interface -- and each area tends to disregard the others because they feel their part is the most important. And in a way, each area is correct. They're all important. This is why a good CTO of some sort is needed to keep everyone playing nice until they get a final finished product. Without that top level thinking, we end up with things like you've discussed... Optimized sites with no aesthetic quality, or flashy eye-catching sites with thin content. Truth be told, at this stage of the evolution of the Internet (and depending on the industry), many companies eventually learn that going beyond the basics of SEO is an investment in a quest for "Holy Grail Magic Bullet". In those cases, the increased traffic is almost an empty victory because if it's not the right kind of traffic then the numbers are only good for bragging rights or maybe earning a little money through Google Ad placement. Past trends in SEO have shown that techniques tend to get whittled away due to abuses. Eventually SEO will be watered down to well-written, focused content, and all the alchemist tricks of today will be the talk of nostalgic geeks and net historians.
Posted by Max Nomad
I worked for a company that was an SEO marketing company. I hated the end results of our designs. The backend structure and the SEO was great but it got to a point where I was trying to talk to my boss (being the senior designer) about design, and changes in trends I was told not to think. I don't add these sites to my design category, I use them for the clean CSS/XHTML code, backend, and SEO but not for my designs. I believe that you can have an eye catching design and still meet SEO standards. I cant tell you the sites I worked on at the other place rank high in the search engines but do they keep the visitor? Do they capture the attention? This is where I was struggling when I was there and why I left. Turn over and return visitors are more important. If you are ranked #1 but you're not getting customers to stay on your page what good is it? The problem is many SEO strategists believe menus shouldn't be graphic but created using CSS/XHTML. Google doesn't read an image the same as it would the list menu. I have seen on http://www.csselite.com/ some really great sites designed with content and SEO in mind while still being attractive. There are other CSS galleries that show some well designed sites that do address the GAP you mention.
Posted by Laura Karolchik-Griffin
In brief, I think things don't work unless you work together. Liken the development of a website to the development of a multi-part ad campaign in the days before the internet. For all the parts--media buys, demographic and marketing studies, logo development, copywriting, identity, style, colors, all the way down to promotional products for giveaways--you had a team approach with, usually, one point person, the "art director". This approach helped to keep all the team members in contact with each other and each could see the importance of their own roles and that of others on the team. These were also the days when you met in person, face to face, with tangible materials. Now, often, each part is done by an entity that specializes in that activity, often so specialized that they don't really know what the other does, and none ever communicates with any other. The outcome is entirely electronic, and this virtual interaction has a definite impact on how we work together today. I've seen the difference in sites that were developed by agencies or groups who simply worked together, often with the customer as the director, and the results were stunning in internet success and in enviable design. I've been a member of these teams and it's very exciting. I really think that teamwork is key, and that each discipline needs to have a functional understanding of what each other does.
Posted by Bernadette Kazmarski
Thanks Jonathan, your website is Bookmarked. I will learn much from you.
Posted by Jane Massey
I think that any web designer worth her salt will be able to design within the 'confines' that make up good SEO.
Posted by Andrew Dolman
I do like your site a lot. Tons of information. Hopefully your clients are reading it & not just us designers.
Posted by Kathryn Hathaway
I agree with Laura when she mentions csselite.com - proof that websites CAN be designed with great aesthetics, and yet have a robust, clean, SEO-friendly front-end code. It's not an either/or situation - good websites can excel in both fronts. Another great resource that I used to look to when I was first learning CSS is the www.csszengarden.com - another website that proves this point.
And yet, I think it will boil down to the priorities of each project. Some people will think so much about getting the traffic and overlook the importance of design. And yet others will start a project focusing too much on the design aspects and forget about the commercial imperatives, technical considerations... ...and the need to have good content.
Posted by Rodrigo Amorim