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UX vs. SEO: Why you need cohesion across teams

Wes Flippo
Wes Flippo
6 min read
18 April 2022

Implementing SEO initiatives for organic growth comes with a variety of roadblocks for both agencies and brands. What’s best for the SEO strategy may not always align with the goals of other departments at the company. One department that SEO teams often disagree with is User Experience (UX). Sometimes, it feels that UX and SEO teams are working on completely separate tracks with entirely different goals and objectives. Despite this, many initiatives, such as increasing online revenue, have significant cross-channel impact.

With this in mind, how can you take the right steps to adopt a growth marketing mindset and create cohesion across SEO and UX teams?

Cross-departmental goals

Let’s jump in by broaching the subject of UX teams wanting to create a clean, streamlined experience with minimal content. This often conflicts with the goals of SEO teams, who want a content-rich page with FAQs and considerable copy. Recent design trends have also lent themselves to pushing the idea that simplicity is better by minimizing the amount of internal links and pages in the main navigation. This is problematic for SEO, as it prevents link equity and relevancy signals from flowing through your website. This is especially true for eCommerce sites with large category sets.

Despite these differing priorities from the UX and design side, these important ranking factors aren’t going away for search engines. Crawlers need that content-rich context to understand the purpose of your pages and rank them accordingly. However, it’s also important that users can navigate and find the information they need throughout your website. UX and SEO teams have no choice but to collaborate and find a happy medium to achieve their goals.

You need to ensure your website is full of highly relevant information and answers any and all questions about your product or service. If not, users will turn to competitors to find the information they need to feel confident making a purchasing decision. This requires UX teams to implement SEO recommendations so that they can rank competitively for editorial pages as well as category pages. This also means that SEO teams must account for UX recommendations to increase time on site and decrease bounce rates.

A common source of contention from UX and SEO teams is recommendations around internal linking. Search Engine Land Editor George Nguyen shares, “from a crawling perspective, internal links aren’t going to go away any time soon – it’s a very important source for how Google navigates your website and discovers new pages.”

Google has more than a trillion pages to crawl and index, and a large portion of their algorithm focuses on that crawlability – making it a critical factor for brands that want to successfully rank on the search engine.

Finding alignment for cross-channel success

With this in mind, how can SEO experts help their clients and UX teams better understand the importance of implementing SEO recommendations, such as context-rich pages and numerous internal links? This is one of the most challenging roadblocks that SEO teams face. Even if we quantify and forecast potential traffic growth, leads, and revenue based on building net new pages or sections of a website, there are numerous external factors that make it difficult to predict an exact number.

What we’ve found to be most helpful in these situations is to conduct a main navigation risk analysis. For example, if a website has a large main navigation with roughly 100 links and they want to scale down to only 12, we analyze the traffic and revenue from a non-brand perspective and determine an estimated amount of non-brand revenue or leads. From there, we can attempt to project a percentage lost from removing those pages from the main navigation. While this is more of a reactive approach, it can still make a strong case for maintaining best SEO practices.

SEO vs. UX – page intent

It’s important for SEO professionals to understand when the intent of a page should be focused on driving organic traffic as opposed to creating a brand experience. By differentiating between these types of pages, UX teams can still have their own brand pages focus on a great experience, and SEO teams can prioritize driving organic revenue. Being mindful about where each user is on their journey with a brand is helpful to both teams when determining the page’s purpose.

SEO is great at giving us a lot of quantitative data. It can determine which search queries are driving traffic to the site and which pages are converting well and which aren’t. These are data points that show what is happening. UX and conversion research, on the other hand, can provide qualitative data to understand the why.

For example, you can see that users are landing on your blog content but aren’t clicking on a secondary page. This is where you have to rely on UX and conversion research to understand how to continue enriching the page.

SEO teams have a goal of acquiring more traffic, while UX is focused on aesthetics, brand presence, and keeping users engaged. The issue lies in seeing these as separate goals. For example, if you make an SEO change that increases traffic but hurts conversion rate, you effectively gained more traffic but lost that business. The common ground is having both teams work towards a common goal of meeting in the middle, where changes have a positive impact on traffic and conversion rate so that you lift efforts across the board.

SEO teams should also focus on driving the right kind of traffic to a website. By this, we mean customers that actually want to be on the page. This will both reduce bounce rate and increase time on page, helping send indirect ranking signals to the search algorithms. This is another cross-channel aspect that benefits both departments.

We know the goal of UX is to create the most aesthetically-pleasing brand experience possible, while the goal of SEO is to increase traffic, revenue, and conversions. And it’s not that UX teams don’t care about SEO or vice versa…it’s that most of the time, these teams aren’t incentivized to prioritize the other department’s goals.

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize there likely need to be trade-offs for both teams. The bottom line is that if SEO isn’t driving new visitors, then there aren’t any customers to create a great experience for anyway. By understanding what each team can and can not compromise on, you’ll be able to effectively align each team’s goals and achieve sustainable success.

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