Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

SEO vs. Design: The Design Argument

I’m a designer before anything else. Before student, before music enthusiast – even search marketer or search optimizer. You read that right; my loyalties lie in the art of communicating information in pretty ways – not making the information super accessible and searchable. It’s not that I hold no value to optimization; in fact I often fight with designers about its importance. It’s just that to me, how something looks when it is found is more important to me than the ease of finding it. As a user, I have loads more satisfaction in going through a little trouble to find something that is absolutely awesome looking than finding something really easily and becoming disappointed at its mediocrity. However, I do understand that most people (especially clients!) think the opposite, and take that greatly into account when I sit down to do work.

Even still, while sitting through Gord Hotchkiss’ and Shari Thurow’s presentation about SEO, Usability, & Design at SMX West, I found myself writhing silently in my seat every time they gave design a roll of the eyes. We designers get such a stereotype in the search world it’s hard not to get offended. Yes, we love flash. Yes, we value aesthetics over usability. Yes, we think most things that are optimized compromise beauty. But I do think there is such a thing as a world where designers and optimizers exist peacefully in a completely beautiful, usable, and searchable world.

Take me for instance. While design trumps mostly everything, I don’t make any design choices without first considering usability. SEO and usability have been integrated into my design process, so no part of it is actually neglected. Sometimes one wins over another, and if it’s SEO I just swallow my pride a little bit and deal with it. In the end, hopefully (and usually) something that is more than satisfactory for both designer and client results.

I know that steadfast searchers and stubborn designers will probably forever be at odds to some degree, but I think if we continue to work together we might discover something new about the beauty of these things in conjunction.



  Shari Thurow wrote @

With all due respect, I have been a Web designer since 1995. I have aesthetic preferences, as do you, as do your and my clients. I am still a Web designer and am building a number of new sites. I will be a Web designer/developer for many years to come as I enjoy doing it.

But I am also an SEO and usability professional. Web design does not exist in a vacuum. I learned a long time ago that personal aesthetic preferences do not necessarily translate into conversions. When I learned to get over my personal design preferences, I became a better designer/developer.

Personally, before you criticize my or my opinions, maybe you should do your research. It’s not hard to figure out online that I’ve been designing/developing sites since 1995. Or that I’ve done search-friendly design since 1995.

I would at least give you (and a lot of other people) the same courtesy.

  Jackie wrote @

I appreciate your feedback – and completely agree with you. In fact, what you describe is probably the perfect example of what I wrote about – a nice balance of SEO/usability and design (something very hard to do!). For me personally, this is sometimes extra hard to achieve because I’m so much more of a design enthusiast that I often have to compromise what I think is best for what the client think is best. But you seem to have that nice conjunction of the two nailed down. So, my apologies if I sounded uncouth – we designers get lumped into this “anti-SEO” category that I feel like I take extra offense to because I try so hard to have the two work together – like yourself, I’m sure!

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