What happens when you design your website for users and not for Google?

  • 1
  • August 3, 2015
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Strategy Director

When the guys over at White.net asked me to contribute an “SEO myth” to what ended up as an awesome blog post, I went with the following:

Design for users and the rest will follow.

Let me explain.

SEO used to look very different. In my experience it is easier to get buy in for SEO now than ever before – despite (not provided), Penguin, Panda and the constant proclamations that “SEO is dead” – because we’ve finally convinced the rest of the marketing industry that SEO is just good marketing.

In a way, though, we’ve created a rod for our own backs. If you read blogs from the white knights of SEO (and I’m sure I’m as guilty of this as anyone) you might get the impression that if you do just good marketing your SEO performance will just sort itself out. Unfortunately, this is absolutely not the case.

It’s definitely fair to say that Google likes what users like.

Or at least it tries to.

If Google was perfect we wouldn’t have to do redirects and canonical tags and all the other fun stuff that we do.

I think “design for users and the rest will follow” is a dangerous attitude to have – especially when you’re designing and building a new website.

In a site migration you can hope for the best and plan for the worst. Realistically, if you don’t lose your current rankings and visibility then I would call that a successful migration.

There are plenty of horror stories out there that are very well publicised. A botched site migration can cost a company equally as much as a Google penalty, or more. And 9 times out of 10, a site migration isn’t botched because the design wasn’t right, but because it wasn’t quite right technically.

Your redesign could (and hopefully should!) provide users with a better experience and make it easier to navigate, but if it:

  • Changes the site structure
  • Doesn’t take into account what keywords you are already ranking for and make sure that you keep that content etc.
  • Moves ranking pages out of the main navigation
  • Removes generic boilerplate content (quite rightly) but doesn’t replace it with something better (quite wrongly)

Every single thing you change in a site redesign presents a risk that Google will not understand it, because Google is not perfect.

Don’t just assume that a better user experience will result in better rankings.