Having started out as a bit of an artist before moving into the world of graphic design, I have seen first-hand how creativity has evolved in the digital age.
It’s the old ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ scenario, and while I’m not saying that more traditional forms of art are dead, they have certainly had to move quickly to keep up with the evolving trends – even if it’s just the way in which they are curated: art has had to move beyond just the gallery and has found a very comfortable home on the web in the form of viral video, live performance streams, online image galleries and of course digital design.
But even digital design is no exception to this evolution. Traditionally, websites were designed with one thing in mind: function. Text heavy with just a header tag and blue underlined links were, pretty much all you needed to keep your site functioning in the beginning of the World Wide Web.
Then, to many a developer’s dismay, along came the designers with all their colours, images, layouts, fancy fonts and big ideas on how sites should be structured. Who do they think they are…?
So websites moved forward and began to set the bar for digital artistry and soon, developers and designers joined forces to combine both form and function and create some innovative new ways to browse the web.
Then came SEO and ever refined semantic search algorithms. SEO is still kind of ‘the new guy’ in this respect and even the designers have been knocked-for-six a little bit. Now, designers not only have to get to grips with marrying form and function, but they also have to consider whether there’s any point in having a beautiful website if no-one is going to see it. On the other hand, you don’t want your page to be top in the search results if it’s been structured purely with SEO in mind – it doesn’t look good to the end-user.
Now, this is where I struggle a little bit, because I like SEO. But I REALLY like design.
But which is better?
Which will make your site more successful? Can the two work in harmony or does one have to be compromised for the other?
There’s only one way to find out…
Our very own resident PPC-nerd Brett against our experienced design-guru Alistair – a no-holds-barred, no-shirt, no-shoes, bare-knuckled bout in the name of their field, right here on the rooftop of Mobius Towers! Sure, Al’s got the height, but Brett certainly has the training backgro…WAIT!
There must be a better way to settle this. Before I dig out my ref’s whistle, let’s take a look at how SEO and design have brushed paths before (besides, I’m not sweeping the circle of death twice in one day).
The first battle was over keywords – search engines required web pages to be keyword rich in order to climb up their rankings. This meant designers had to alter content to oblige which in-turn led them to compromising the way page content was created. For example, to optimise this blog for the keyword ‘SEO in Hull’, I would have to compromise my title, URL, headers and even paragraphs and make them look a little something like this;
“Having started out as a bit of an artist before moving into the world of SEO in Hull, I have seen first-hand how creativity has evolved in the digital age. It’s the old ‘Video Killed the SEO in Hull Star’ scenario…” You get the idea!
Looks like SEO’s got design up against the ropes in this first round. How did designers fight back? With sneaky, underhand tactics of course! Designers began to sneak keywords into their designs with techniques such as keyword-stuffing. Some designers even got so sneaky as to hide their keywords in pages by matching the font colour to the background colour so as to not compromise their content while still obtaining top search engine results.
It wasn’t long before Zen-Master Google got wind of back-hand tactics like keyword-stuffing and it was soon to be considered foul-conduct – or a ‘black-hat’ SEO technique.
Winner: SEO. Hitting below the belt didn’t get design anywhere in our first round.
However, in comes Zen-Master Google with a little pep-talk for design. Content is king! Of course. Penguin and Panda algorithm updates see the focus shift to content over keywords. Keywords are still present, but now the content has to be more relevant and of higher quality.
Designers can now have a field day with shareable content, beautiful graphics and viral videos – and all will do wonders to push them up the rankings. GO ON DESIGN! You beast.
Winner: DESIGN. Pitty-pat punches from SEO can’t compete with content and design is well on the way to victory here.
But who’s that coming into the ring!? “MY GAWD!” Yes, just when you least expect it, the tech-savvy customer sneaks up on SEO and design and hits them both with the chair. KO!
Well, sort of. With web use and mobile browsing on the rise, let’s call this one a ‘technical’ knock-out…
Customers and end-users are now more technical and are calling the shots; Google’s most recent Hummingbird update is in direct reflection of this. The Hummingbird algorithm has been designed to benefit the mobile user – a more conversational search method fetches results with voice activated devices in mind as well as keywords and quality content.
They didn’t see that one coming did they!?
Winner: Well it looks like it’s a draw this time. With the exception of maybe an increase in Google+ usage for SEO and designing sites for mobile use, this update won’t make great shakes for the way in which SEO’s and designers work for now. But much like we’ve seen before, design and SEO will now have to co-exist on the web in order to work towards giving the best user experience. Sure you might have to tweak one to keep the other afloat, but a good balance and harmony of the two is the best way to ensure a good, quality website – that will actually be seen!
HARMONY? Godamn! I wanted blood! I suppose we’ll have to wait for the title fight…