What’s Best for UX Isn’t Always Best for SEO – or is it?

Author - Nicola Campbell

Posted By Nicola Campbell Head of Design and UX

Date posted 29th Aug 2023

Category 93digital, Blog, Design


Balancing User Experience and Search Engine Optimization in the Digital Landscape

Businesses constantly strive to maximize their online presence and achieve the holy grail of success: higher search engine rankings and improved user experience. However, achieving both goals simultaneously requires an understanding of both, how they work and their differing objectives. In the past it has been a hotly debated topic in the realm of web development and online marketing: what’s best for user experience (UX) isn’t always best for SEO.

In a current reality, top SEO teams take UX into consideration when they make recommendations, especially since the release of Google’s Core Web Vitals update. This update ensures UX is a ranking factor, so that good websites float to the top and SEO teams pay attention to user experience more than ever before. 

Understanding UX and SEO

User Experience refers to the overall experience users have while interacting with a website or digital application. It encompasses various elements such as design, usability, accessibility, and performance. An excellent UX ensures that visitors find what they seek quickly and intuitively, leading to higher engagement, increased conversions, and brand loyalty.

On the other hand, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of optimizing a website to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). Effective SEO strategies involve various techniques, including keyword research, backlinking, and creating high-quality, relevant content. Achieving a prominent position in search engine rankings can significantly increase organic traffic and subsequently lead to improved business outcomes.

Keyword Stuffing vs. Natural Language

One of the most contentious issues between UX and SEO is keyword usage. Search engines favor websites that use relevant keywords strategically throughout their content, indicating the site’s relevance to specific search queries. This practice, known as keyword optimization, has led to “keyword stuffing” in the past, where websites would cram keywords unnaturally into their content, disrupting the user experience and making the content feel robotic.

To maintain a high standard of UX, web creators now strive for natural, engaging content that resonates with human readers. This often means using synonyms and related phrases rather than rigidly sticking to specific keywords. As a result, SEO rankings might suffer due to perceived keyword inadequacy, even though the content caters to users better.

Page Loading Speed vs. Feature-Rich Websites

SEO rankings are also influenced by factors like website depth and the presence of rich media and interactive elements. To provide a better UX, websites often include captivating videos, image sliders, and dynamic content, which can slow down loading times. The challenge lies in finding the right balance between captivating user experiences and optimal page loading speed to satisfy both users and search engines.

Fortunately, this is quickly becoming an archaic concern. Developers, designers and marketers have worked together to reduce these conflicts with plugins and assets that enable a website to have both full pages and fast loading. 

Mobile Responsiveness vs. Mobile-First Indexing

The growing dominance of mobile devices has compelled websites to prioritize mobile responsiveness. Google, in particular, has embraced mobile-first indexing, which means it primarily uses the mobile version of a site for ranking and indexing. This has led to web developers focusing on designing mobile-friendly sites that adjust seamlessly to various screen sizes.

While this shift undoubtedly enhances the UX for mobile users, it can create challenges for SEO. The mobile versions of websites may have reduced content or different URLs, leading to disparities between desktop and mobile rankings. Striking the right balance between a smooth mobile experience and maintaining SEO consistency across different platforms is a tricky task.

The Way Forward: Harmonizing UX and SEO

Rather than viewing UX and SEO as competing forces, savvy web developers and marketers recognize that they are interconnected elements of a successful online presence. Striking a harmonious balance between the two is key to thriving in the digital landscape.

  1.  Mobile-Responsive Approach: Prioritize mobile responsiveness and ensure a smooth user experience on all devices. A mobile-responsive approach aligns with search engine preferences and caters to the growing mobile user base. 
  1. Landing pages: It is helpful to create distinct landing pages that cater to various SEO keywords that are not a part of the website’s main menu. That way you can capture that audience and point them towards conversion or into site content, but you don’t risk confusing other users who need to interact with the website navigation without friction.
  1. Performance Optimization: Enhance page loading speed while maintaining feature-rich content. You can achieve this by integrating plugins on your website that adjust the sizes of images, for example. 
  1. Avoid Keyword Stuffing: Instead of cramming content with keywords, focus on using natural language and semantic search terms. This approach provides a better user experience and ensures that the content remains valuable to both readers and search engines.

    Use SEO research to better understand user intent and find the semantic terms they’re looking for, which can then guide your blogs so that they’re naturally optimized. This helps you to provide more useful content, and a better site UX, as well as making your site more discoverable in search. 

In conclusion, achieving a balance between UX and SEO is an essential endeavor in the modern digital landscape. Businesses that recognize the interconnectedness of these two elements and prioritize user-centric experiences while adhering to SEO best practices will be better poised for long-term success. By understanding and respecting the intricacies of UX and SEO, web developers and marketers can walk the tightrope to a higher level of online performance and audience satisfaction.

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