We get many requests to build amazing websites, and we also get many requests to help small businesses rank higher in search results. What we’ve come to realize is that sometimes business owners see the two as very distinct practices when, in fact, they are closely tied together. The way a website is designed has a big impact on SEO, which is why we aim to develop each website with SEO in mind so that no matter what agency performs your SEO, they won’t have a hard time making it work well.


Difference between UI and UX and why they matter

Before we jump in we should know a little bit about the differences between UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) because both are important for good design and strong SEO.

UI refers to the visual layout that is made up of individual visual components. A header, sidebar, images, text, basically any elements on the page need to be well designed in order to grab the user’s attention.

UX refers to the usability of your site. It takes a deeper look past the visual style of the page and asks how easily the user can navigate the website. Are links easy to find? Can the user quickly and efficiently perform the actions you want them to perform? Can a user dive deeper into your site without getting frustrated and complete a sales funnel, or maybe just learn more about your product or service?

Why are these two concepts important to SEO? Dwell time. Dwell time is the metric search engines use to calculate user engagement on your site, and is composed of Bounce Rate, Session Duration, and a related component, CTR (Click Through Rate).


UX and bounce rate

Bounce rate refers to the number of one page sessions performed on your site. Basically a user lands on your home page (Or any page) looks over the content and then leaves without navigating to another page on your site. This is a bounce. As your bounce rate increases, search engines begin to think that your website is not offering enough quality content to entice the user to look around. Inversely, a low bounce rate means that your website has plenty of quality content that users love to explore, making your website a hot topic in the industry.

Analytics showing the bounce rate of a site

Bounce rate is affected by both UX and UI, but more by UX. By creating an interface that’s attractive and easy to navigate, users who are interested in the content will have an easy time navigating to other parts of the site. By strategically placing an enticing CTA (Call to Action) above the fold of your site, you can guide users to visit another part, thus lowering your bounce rate.

It’s a delicate balance because people can be faced with too many choices and then paralyzed from making any decision.


UI and session duration

Session duration is how long a user spends on your website as a whole, navigating all the different pages. Again, if a user spends a long time on your website, it means they are attracted to the content or visual style and feel good about staying. If they spend only a minute on your site, it probably means that it didn’t offer them what they were looking for, or was too ugly to use.

A graph displaying the average session duration for a website

Session duration is also affected by both UX and UI. Initially, when a user first lands on your website they have a few seconds to make a decision about whether to stay or look elsewhere. It is the UI of the site that will decide the outcome. A Very attractive site that looks credible and legitimate, with easy to read text and proper color contrast will be pleasing to the eye and allow the user to then decide of the content is worth their time. This is then where UX takes over, by allowing the user to easily find the content they are looking for.

On the other hand, an ugly site could have the opposite effect by driving users away at first glance. Picture this; you land on a site for a product or service you’re actively looking for and want to purchase, but the site looks homemade and is hard to navigate. Would you trust this website to take a credit card payment? Would you trust this website to provide you with expert knowledge of the product or service you’re looking for?

As you can see the two are closely linked and feed off each other to keep a user glued to your site. This effectively tells search engines that your site has a lot of value and is worth showing to other people, thus ranking higher.


Understanding CTR (Click Through Rate)

CTR is how often users click on your link in search results and is a major factor in determining site value. If users are consistently clicking on your website in their search results it must mean that your website has something great to offer.

Although it’s not directly related to dwell time, CTR is the entry point that allows search engines to calculate the dwell time of your site. Without people visiting your site, how can search engines accurately measure its value?

Which is why it’s important to make SEO a part of the web design process.


SEO needs to be built into the web design process

To craft a high ranking website with good UI and UX, SEO needs to be integrated into the web design process, not added on as an afterthought.

We receive many requests for SEO audits, and too often we’ve had to give advice to make major structural changes to the site. Sometimes the design of the site just doesn’t lend itself to strong SEO. Headers are misused, content needs to be rewritten, user actions are not clearly defined.

By taking the time to fully understand what the SEO strategy will be post launch, we can accurately produce a website that will look amazing and also perform well with search engines.

Before even beginning a site design, you need to answer who your ideal customer is. How old are they? Where do they live? What car do they drive? Anything you can think of to help truly identify to whom you’re selling. Once you know that, you can create the ideal website for that customer.


Technical SEO in the web design process

Technical SEO refers to the actual HTML markup that makes up the website. On this topic we talk about things like header tags, image meta tags, page titles, and other things that refer to the actual code.

But why is this important? All of these components work together to tell search engines what your site is about. In the end, search engines deploy robots to scan your website and discover what the content is about, and we have to help them by properly identifying ourselves. And search engines love websites that make it easy for them to discover what they are about.


What people see vs what search engines see

By strategically using tools like header and image tags, we can create a website that’s attractive and informative for both users and search engines.

A user will see the sites pretty colors and easy to read layout. Header tags, like chapters of a book, will allow users to easily read through your content while Image alt tags will aid people who cannot see. Two small examples, but enough to show why these technical items are important.

A vector representation of a website with visual elements that are viewable by the user

But search engines will view the site in a stripped down version, only accessing the HTML tags. From a user’s perspective we might think that the title needs to be large and bold, which are both UI elements. But from a search engine’s perspective we need to know that the title of the page needs to be an H1 tag so the robot will properly understand what the site is about.

A vector representation of a website with visual elements that are viewable by a search engine. The search engine can only see the HTML markup


What web design means and what it really includes

Intelligent web design, therefore, is equal parts focus on UI, UX, and SEO. A website can be developed to look nice but rank horribly because the underlying code is not well written, or can have a great foundation but be too ugly or too hard to use for people to stay.

A website needs to be designed with the user in mind, and how you will reach that user. It takes an understanding of your brand and what makes you unique to be able to effectively market your product or service.

By viewing web design and SEO as two separate entities with SEO as a band aid to be applied later, you are setting yourself up for failure. By taking a proper first step to design and develop a small business website to be user and search engines focused, you are embarking on a path to marketing success.

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SproutFrame is an Atlanta based digital agency specializing in helping small businesses market professionally and efficiently.