Web Design versus SEO Revisited

Interesting discussion at cre8asiteforums.com in the SEO has gone too far, web designers need to fix the balance thread exhorting web designers to devalue SEOs' status in the web design process. Among other things, friend and poet Ron Carnell observed:

I'm afraid if those are your perceptions, you're making the same mistake that average man on the street has made. You and he are gazing into deep pools and seeing only a surface reflection.You and he are gazing into deep pools and seeing only a surface reflection.

Ron's right here.

I'd add: many people assume that the website they've hired a web designer to build will rank well. They have no idea of what causes ranking, but in all of the discussion about look and feel, they just expect that the designer is doing something behind the scenes to magically make it rank well in order to drive to the site tons of visitors who will then become customers. This you can bet on.

The fact that the designer does not mention rankings means nothing to people are mystified about what causes rankings in the first place. They may catch on later, though; a large percentage of the clients who come to us have already had a site that does not perform well, either because its marketing/sales aspects do not convert visitors to customers, or because the site just does not get much traffic at all, or both. They may not know what's wrong, but they certainly know that something is wrong. And at the point at which they learn that there is such a thing as search engine optimization, they will realize that their web designer — however brilliant, or not — was just that and only that, and will find him/her lacking.

Now, as much as there has been disdain from SEOs for designers who don't consider the whole picture, there now seems to be the same from designers against SEOs. This was illustrated famously in the designers-versus-SEOs Craptastic Adventures of SES San Jose 2004 thread at compooter.org a few months ago (which I covered here) wherein — amongst all the noise — one designer dismissively suggested that web designers simply ignore SEO and recommend that their clients utilize PPC. My response:

Bear in mind, just for a moment, that PPC costs have gone up over the years, as more and more website owners (what PPC companies call "advertisers") utilize PPC. Unless there is an unforeseen dramatic change, costs are unlikely to lessen. In some areas, the cost per click can be $10USD apiece; please tell me that anyone is comfortable with advising a client to depend on paying $1000 per 100 website visitors.

Actually, in for some terms, the prices are far, far higher, and we can expect a continued rise in costs as more competition hits the Web. Consider for a moment that Overture recently launched a program to educate/help ad agencies (who tend to have clients with deep pockets) with PPC, and don't expect we'll ever see the good old days of cheap PPC traffic again. As infrequently as it's stated that dependency upon SEO alone for traffic is a poor business plan, endless PPC bidding wars against growing numbers of competitors can't be the only response. Unfortunately, it is this that your average client with your average non-optimized site is heading for.

The question is whether the designer warned him/her/them that more was needed. If yes, then the client is forewarned. If no: then I'd say that the blame falls squarely on the designer, just as it is the designer's responsibility to know that titles and meta tags haven't been the answer to rankings for years. Someone once cleverly observed that "the web is not a piece of paper". True. It's also more complex than a piece of paper — so, while clients of print companies know at the start that they will have to be responsible for the distribution of their brochures, etc., the same is not generally true of clients of web designers. Inasmuch as the Web is a distribution medium, it's easy to grasp that web designers' clients might incorrectly conclude that any website uploaded to this world wide distribution medium will perform well, at least in terms of getting visitors. In any case, web designers are supposed to know all this, and it is a poor show to let clients proceed in the belief that the designer has addressed all issues if he/she hasn't.

I have always said that web design is a service industry. Sure, there's also artistry, coding knowledge, ingenuity. Our work can be very satisfying. But the end product has always been not the designer's satisfaction, his income or his ultimate pride in his portfolio; the end product is precisely what the client expected. Do better than that and you're a hero. Forget that and you're letting your clients down. (And kind of misrepresenting things, doncha think?)

The sales aspect is the other major issue. That, too, is not really categorized under "web design" either, is it?

Though I've been extremely busy with work lately, I've been sitting on a half-done article about a world-famous artist in another field who yet found a way to make teamwork a workable thing — and found the creativity to be had therein. <wink>


One Comment to "Web Design versus SEO Revisited"

  1. Reputational Assault: Web Designers and SEOs says:

    […] A Defense Of SEO blog post. Danny covered the sequence of events that with respect to the web designer blowup over a particular panel at a Search Engine Strategies […]

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