Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Design for People, Develop for Bots

One of the frequent reasons given for ignoring search engine optimization is this: “We’re not selling to bots, we’re selling to people.” This argument highlights an ignorance of the role that SEO plays in modern digital marketing and development, an ignorance that is unfortunately difficult to dissuade.

Years ago, the search engine bots that crawled the world wide web seeking and cataloging all of the information possible were able only to access stark pages made up of plain text and plain HTML links. Those bots fed content into algorithms that valued keyword repetition. Strong SEO therefore meant generating sites with limited and, often, poor user experience.

Rich Experiences

Today’s bots are just a short step behind what humans can access and experience on modern sites full of JavaScript and CSS, multi-device interfaces, synonyms, and contextual meaning. In other words, it’s more necessary than ever to work with SEO professionals as you’re designing and developing sites with rich user experiences.

Search engine bots can crawl and index many experiences today, but there are still some pitfalls that they encounter that cut off the crawl and shut down the ability to rank in natural search. Many of those pitfalls amount to choices made in design or development that could just as easily be made a different way.

For instance, say a link in JavaScript could be coded using three different methods. They all produce the same result for shoppers on the site, but only one is optimal for SEO. In that case, working with SEO costs nothing and gains potential revenue.

I rarely see a site strategy and design that cannot be optimized for natural search performance, short of experiences that rely solely on natural language input or require users to log in before they can proceed past the home page.

A Seat at the Table

In partnership with a digital marketing team committed to creative exploration of options and resources, natural search should be one of your site’s top traffic drivers. That team needs to include players from across the board — strategy, merchandising, branding, user experience, creative, and development. SEO needs to have a seat at the table when they make decisions.

The key is to embrace SEO instead of holding it at arm’s length. When everyone commits to working with SEO, and the SEO professional commits to solving potential challenges creatively rather than dogmatically clinging to every single best practice, the result is a digital experience that customers enjoy and search engines can send natural search traffic to.

In fact, instead of hindering digital experience in the strategy and design stages, SEO can actually help. Keyword data used to optimize for natural search is a simple form of customer research. Think of every search query that someone enters as an expressed desire for products or information.

In fact, instead of hindering digital experience in the strategy and design stages, SEO can actually help.

You can collect data on millions of those desires in a short period of time at no cost, and analyze them in much the same way as other forms of qualitative research. Read more about keyword research as customer research at “SEO: Using Keyword Research to Better Your Business.”

Armed with the rich information that keywords can provide to the customer research landscape, you’ll not only understand your customers better, but you’ll have a tool to use to start to bake in SEO, from the beginning, for stronger natural search performance.

When it’s factored in up front, SEO ceases to be aggravating rework and becomes a valuable part of the way that you design and build digital experiences.

Jill Kocher Brown

Jill Kocher Brown

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