The connection between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and User Experience is not that new of a concept for those that work in the field, however it is a messy concept with no strong basis on why they are connected. This leads to awkward and long explanations to friends, clients and prospective employers. First, what is SEO? What is User Experience? How are the two concepts connected? Why does it matter?
It was during my Marketing internship with Amadeus Consulting where I had one of the biggest learning experiences so far: the concept of User Interface (UI), which led to User Experience (UX). It sounded like what I was doing, but I was calling myself a “Search Engine Optimization specialist” in the Marketing field? Am I supposed to be a User Experience designer instead and not work in Marketing?
I wanted both! So, I decided to investigate and, luckily, Colorado has one of the most active SEO/Marketing/Tech meet ups, so I met various UI/UX designers, software developers, graphic designers, web designers, business administrators and asked them about UX and SEO. The good news is that after the research, I found this obscure third dirt path just right behind that bush.
Instead of simply explaining UX and SEO, I will write comprehensive narration of my own career development journey in order to provide you with the understanding of the fundamentals that make up SEO and User Experience, and how they complement each other.
University: Studying Humans
I did not go to university knowing I wanted Marketing. I went to university knowing I loved Anthropology, especially the Socio-Cultural field. I learned so much about qualitative research, participatory research, jumping from one perspective to the next with the least amount of bias possible and finding objective ways to ask something during conversations or interviews.
However, Anthropology is very powerful soft skill, which means “personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects,” as opposed to a hard skill, which means “a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are interpersonal and broadly applicable.” Thanks, Margaret Rouse, for the definitions. As a soft skill and holistic discipline, you probably have met many Anthropologists like me that work under a different title, such as “Nurse” or “Teacher”, and we don’t hold a shovel or brush (that’s really Archaeology, but that’s another topic). The only exceptions are the academic or applied anthropologists (usually Masters or PhD) that work on “traditional” research projects and retain their titles.
In fact, did you know that many anthropologists work in Marketing research firms under titles like “CEO”, “Data analyst”, or “Market research Analyst?” They are the most well-equipped professionals for a firm that studies people, after all.
Anyway, even if I definitely knew what I wanted to study since I started university and never changed my major, I had no idea what I was going to do in the future. Most of my Anthropology classmates would have extra training/courses in order to acquire the hard skills that would allow them to better compete in the field they want to enter. For me, Marketing and User Interface was a hobby.
Throughout my life, I was very involved in online communities and games. I would always be aware about some brand new social website that came up (social media was not that big back then during high school and university) and I would always participate in support forums or talk to the owners personally and give them feedback on how to improve the site and ideas of how we could pull more people. Eventually, I started joining many different informal “Startup” projects that involved making a website. For me, website was always about practical “features,” best ways to make users happy, gain profit and positive reputationbecause of it. That was back then, when I didn’t know what UI was. I wasn’t even thinking like a Marketing person because uh… I never took Marketing courses back then, but my feedback was frequently heard and implemented. One word: User Experience. Not that I knew UX was a thing. It probably wasn’t back then.
Internships and Jobs: Digital Marketing
When I started working internships, freelancing, holding part-time, or full-time jobs, I focused on Digital Marketing because Marketing seemed like something I would enjoy doing and digital because that’s where my barrier of deafness is at its lowest impact.
It was not as hard as I thought. With each internship and job, I learned more and more techniques and terms used in Digital Marketing. I grew very interested in auditing and improving websites, designing new events or features in order to improve brand reputation, encourage lead conversion, and public engagement. At about this point, I learned about SEO and started implementing SEO techniques. I learned that SEO is how you optimize your website and, because Google places emphasis on authenticity and quality for navigation and content, I thought that was it. SEO is improving a website for both bots and users. I found my place!
Soon, I learned I was wrong.
SEO techniques is technically all about improving a website in the back-end, for the most part, so it would show up in search engines for the right keywords and utilizing the different practices in order to make your website stand out on the search results page. This means that there is something called Black Hat SEO. Black Hat SEO is where you take advantage of the different SEO techniques to exploit the search engine algorithms and intentionally damage or steal from other sites to gain unfair advantage over others.
As it stands now, SEO is simply a manual of techniques you can use to include your website in search engine results. This means that while what I do includes SEO, it isn’t a good definition to explain my current and future career plans. In other words, I don’t want to be known as a “SEO specialist” as my primary title.
Current Internship: Learning about UX
During my research, I asked about how I could find out whether I am currently a UX designer, and if not then how? There are no degrees that focus on UX, no real sustainable UX market because many companies believe that the coders or UI designers would already have the UX experience and skill set because it seems to come with their job. There aren’t many entry-level or mid-level “UX designer” job positions. According to what I found out… Since it’s a relatively “new” field, especially in tech industry, there are some ways you can do to buff up your User Experience knowledge and authority:
- Read articles, blog posts, participate in UX communities. Everyday.
- Bentley University’s UX certification.
- Human Factors International’s HFI-Certified Usability Analyst and Certified User Experience Analyst™ Certification (CXA)
- Learn about cognitive psychology and human behavior.
- Find at least one mentor that can help answer or nudge you in the right direction.
One of the UX professionals I spoke with told me to stop thinking so much from the perspective of Digital Marketing. Stop thinking about websites and apps. Stop thinking about online events. Start to realize that UX is wider than I thought it is, being applied to more than just technology products. There are UX people working in many different companies, including kitchen appliance manufacturers, service-oriented agencies, or even in education and government. Eeriely, it’s so similar to Anthropology! You study the humans using your company’s product and services, and then improve upon it. You test the prototype and current products to find better ways it could interact with customers. You observe people’s feelings regarding your company and products, and act upon it.
The Obscure Third Path: SEO and User Experience
Funnily enough, the UX designer telling me to stop thinking about UX from the perspective of Marketing is what led me to understand why I enjoy what I am doing, even though I don’t fully know what it is considered by the society.
Since I have been focusing on Digital Marketing, what I have been doing this whole time is optimizing and improving the website, along with online engagement techniques such as social media and blog posting. The whole Marketing stuff.
Except, I have been doing so with the perspective of a User Experience designer. I would constantly think about users, how it will look like, what it will be like, and how the users will react and interact with an event we produce. How about a new engagement feature for an website? Would the message be understood across different cultures and devoid of any unintentional insults? If needed, immediately resolve any issues like a developer would resolve bugs of a recently launched website.
In short, what I have been doing is employing User Experience, not for the company and its products, but on its Marketing services and materials! Here are two things you should be aware of when it comes to Digital Marketing and User Experience:
1. Optimizing Marketing
One may think that marketers know what they are doing and would know what the targeted audience would want best. Not really. Unless they have a Marketing research team or a User Experience designer.
What I am doing now is employing User Experience for Marketing activities and products. Anything that will communicate with people needs UX, in the same way that if there’s anything involving the concept of “human”, then it has room for Anthropologists. Marketing is definitely often responsible (or should) for the development of front-end content, delivery method of Marketing products (how shipping boxes should look and with what promotional papers, for example) and customer service so… Doesn’t that mean UX is often needed in order to improve our Marketing services or products that will end up interacting with the users or customers.
2. Website is a Product
You see, nowadays we have companies that heavily depends on the Internet to do its business, such as e-commerce or website-based services. You know what is the actual product that these companies have that is constantly in contact with customers? The website!
This means that the website is not just a business extension for the purposes of Marketing for the digital companies. The website is a product that needs the same attention and dedication as any other real life product produced by manufacturers.
It just so happens that when it comes to websites or apps, Marketing and the product/service (website), the Marketing and product are commonly one and same, hence the need of combination of Marketing and UX. It is best exemplified, yet not adequately, by “SEO” which has a Marketing mindset but has to follow Google’s user-centric and genuine content regulations.
1. User Experience can be used in order to improve your Marketing services, especially if you have multiple target audiences.
2. UX practices should be used for websites that make up an business’ service or product.
3. You can be an UX designer and work in Marketing at same time.
4. SEO can be an tool for UX designers working with websites, but does not embody UX’s essence.
5. SEO is a hard skill with a long list of static practices, whereas UX is requires creativeness and critical thinking.
4. Does a User Experience designer working in the Marketing field by optimizing its efforts have its own name or something? I don’t know. I’m still working on answering this question.