How can you best optimize your website? And what comes first?
It’s been a lifelong debate between designers, marketing gurus, and SEO experts. There’s lots of checklists, tips, and opinions to sift through on the web. Some articles are geared towards functionality, while other content is geared solely towards design or SEO. How do you find the balance in this tug-of-war? And, if you don’t strike that balance, do you risk over-optimizing your website?
The short answer: yes, absolutely.
When all three elements are fighting for the spotlight, a website can quickly go from classy to cluttered. There can be a lack of flow and clear brand identity, leaving your users confused and underwhelmed — much like a dish from a chef who couldn’t make up his mind on whether to go sweet or savory.
To avoid the issue of over-optimization, you first need to understand the intention and purpose of your website. Only then can you decide what area to focus your improvements in.
We’ll start with highlighting the different priorities of design, marketing, and SEO. Understanding these priorities will help you avoid over-optimizing and instead optimize with intention.
When Design Is the Priority
With studies showing that 94% of first impressions relate to your website’s design, you can’t deny looks matter.
When beauty is the priority, designers can make choices that are more visually appealing than necessarily functional or user-friendly. You might have noticed many creative agencies’ websites use cut-off typography, cool image transitions, parallax effects, and trendy color schemes. These design choices are focused on delighting visitors and providing unusual digital experiences.
Prioritizing design in this way can be beneficial. According to WebFX, 66% of people prefer to look at a beautifully designed website if given 15 minutes to consume content.
But prioritizing design also has its disadvantages. A beautifully designed website might not be an accessible one. Often, design choices like adding parallax scrolling or carousels to a website are made without considering users with physical disabilities or disabilities related to vision.
Design and accessibility aren’t necessarily at odds. There are several steps you can take to create an accessible — and beautiful! — website. But this can take time and require a developer budget.
So you have to ask yourself who is your target audience? Do they have the time and patience to play with animations? Do they care about bold colors? Do they want fade-in transitions as they scroll down the page?
If the answer is yes, then you can create a piece of digital art that’s designed to impress and delight users. If the answer is no, then you might be better off picking another priority for your optimization efforts.
When Marketing Is the Priority
While designers will prioritize beauty, marketing aficionados will prioritize getting a user to take action.
When prioritizing marketing efforts, a website will likely feature calls-to-action in its navigation bar, header, footer, sidebar, and other sections. It might even feature a lightbox popup with a CTA. Different CTAs might encourage customers to schedule a call with a sales rep, book an appointment, contact customer service, sign up for a newsletter, and more.
Understanding the persuasive nature of social proof, marketing experts also favor content like customer reviews and testimonials, award badges, and image and video galleries connected to their social media accounts. This type of content can help push users along the buyer’s journey.
But if your only focus is converting prospects into customers, then your website might seem like it’s making a hard sell to visitors who aren’t ready to make a purchase yet. Or it might overwhelm visitors with too many choices, causing choice paralysis. According to a survey by zoovu, 42% of consumers said they have abandoned a planned purchase altogether because there was too much choice.
Looking at web analytics like pageviews, sessions, and bounce rate can help tell you if you’re providing too much choice to your visitors. If your conversion rate is fine but your traffic is relatively low or trending down, then you might be better off prioritizing SEO.
When SEO Is the Priority
While designers want to make a beautiful website and marketers want to make a website that converts, SEO specialists care about ranking highly on Google SERPs first and foremost. And why wouldn’t they with 49% of web users saying they use Google to find a new item or product?
With a complex and somewhat secret algorithm, Google uses many factors to rank web pages. Some of them are related to technical aspects of a website, like load time, while others are related to what’s on the page, like keywords and backlinks.
A focus on SEO might mean improving your website’s navigation and page speed, removing duplicate content and broken links, and publishing more long-form blog content.
The latter in particular is a big focus for SEO experts — and for good reason. When combined with keyword research, proper backlinking, and more, business blogging can help you establish authority in a topic, drive traffic to your site, and generate trust with your target audience.
But too much focus on SEO without any consideration for design or the user experience can actually end up hurting your ability to rank. Keyword stuffing, link spamming, and other black hat SEO techniques are infamous examples of over-optimization. But subtler examples today include trying to rank for keywords that aren’t relevant to your business, using multiple H1 tags on a page, and linking to sites with low domain authority — and these are just as important to avoid.
Now that we understand the different priorities of design, marketing, and SEO, let’s look at how you can balance them to avoid over-optimizing your site.
How to Avoid Over-Optimization on Your Site
A website that is over-optimized will have invested in all three focus areas — design, marketing, and SEO — in an unbalanced way. Visualize a website with parallax sections, lots of CTA buttons, and blog posts with overly long titles and chunky paragraphs. Sound familiar?
Not to worry. If your website is a victim of over-optimization, it’s easier to remedy than you might think.
Start by assessing your website’s main purpose. Is it design, marketing, or SEO? These priorities are not mutually exclusive — in fact, they’re interdependent. But you should maximize your efforts in one area and prune back in the others.
Here are some questions to help you assess your website’s purpose:
- Is your intention to create a memorable and emotive experience?
- Do you want to captivate your user?
- Do you want to impress your audience?
- Do you care more about driving your audience to take action and convert?
- Do you want to develop a closer relationship with your audience through social media?
- Is your audience time-poor?
- Do you want to rank on Google?
- Are you relying on organic traffic through Google?
It might be hard to narrow down your top priority. Answering these questions on a 1-8 grading scale will help you order your priorities. Consider who your target audience is, what motivates them, what the expectations of your industry are, and what your business goals are.
Questions 1-3 are geared towards design, questions 4-6 towards marketing, and questions 7-8 towards SEO. So, if your highest grades are at the top of the list, then you should focus on design. If they’re at the bottom, then you should focus on SEO. If they’re in the middle, then focus on marketing.
Once you have figured out your principal driver, you can realign your optimization strategy and elect a leader in that field to drive the new strategy. If it’s design, that might mean enhancing the visuals on your site. If it’s marketing, then you might need to cut down on visual effects so visitors can see and access your CTAs more easily. If it’s SEO, then try shifting your focus from engaging and delighting visitors to attracting them to your site.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to make the right cuts to create a well-balanced optimization strategy for your unique website.