TL;DR: Most people consider the value of both UX and SEO in the same way. Instead, we need to emphasize that both are about the process and an end result, not a product or deliverable.
The Internet is a crazy place.
Where else can you find a whirlwind of scholarly papers one minute and an endless flood of dancing cat memes the next?
We tend to forget the Internet is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things; the World Wide Web as we know it has only existed since 1990.
It’s for this very reason that we’re all still a little unsure of how to make the most of it and its by-products.
What exactly do I mean by by-products?
Consider all of the programs, apps, websites, and devices we all use with the help of the Internet. A smartphone wouldn’t be that smart if it wasn’t for its connection to the network of networks. If it wasn’t for Google and similar services, a phone would simply be just that: a phone (and a few other tools).
Thanks to these innovations, several major industries emerged all centered around two questions:
1. How do we make the use of these devices easier?
2. How do we get our product/service/business/website in front of the people that need it?
In case these two industries aren’t immediately apparent (and if you skipped the title of this article), we use User Experience (UX) to answer the first question and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to answer the second.
If you are at all involved with either career path, you might not think there is a ton of overlap. After all, UX tends to be a broad field, encompassing how humans interact with a variety of products, systems, or services. SEO, on the other hand, is the specific task of improving one’s ranking among various search engines like Google, Bing, and various others.
However, if you are one of the brave souls that works directly with clients and customers, you may have already made this connection. It’s no secret customers pay you in order to accomplish a specific task or alleviate a specific pain. In terms of UX, your goal is to make a product or service as easy to use as possible for the people it’s meant for. With SEO, you are paid to make the client’s offering as visible as possible by bumping them to number one on certain search engines.
Unfortunately, both of these industries are fundamentally broken.
Specifically, each has a disconnect between current practitioners and customers. As usual, the customer wants to see a tangible, positive outcome or return on their investment. With other design-related industries, this is a little more straightforward.
If you’re a web designer, it’s fairly common practice to hand over certain deliverables throughout the entire process of designing and building a website. These tend to look like navigation diagrams, content documents, even visual wireframes of the new design. From the customer’s perspective, these are all indicators of progress well-worth their money.
User experience tends to be a little more complicated.
Yes, there are universal “deliverables” such as user personas, user flows, and wireframes, but these don’t have individual, inherent value. Each one is necessary to learn about the user, but the real value comes when they are combined to paint a clearer overall picture.
In other words, the value of UX is in the process, not in any one product or deliverable.
In much the same way, SEO doesn’t have individual parts or units that make it valuable. A customer can’t simply purchase 5 SEO’s and call it a day. It takes time and effort to capture visibility on a search engine.
Where did these disconnects come from?
Per usual, the blame falls on the practitioners, not the clients. After all, you are the professionals who are hired for your experience. Part of being a professional is not only being good at what you do, it also requires the ability to communicate what you do clearly to the people who need your services.
Let me say that again:
Being a professional in any field also means being a professional communicator.
It doesn’t matter if that communication takes place verbally or through written word. It comes with the territory and you can’t do an effective job unless you can clearly communicate the value you offer.
For some mind-boggling reason, communication doesn’t seem to be a priority when starting either of the above career paths. It tends to be learned the hard way, through real-world communication breakdowns and countless hours wasted.
If we have any chance at progressing the overall field of UX, we need to take this lack of communication just as seriously as any other aspect of the job.