Client surveys – balancing SEO and design

When it comes to balancing search engine optimisation (SEO) and web design, a client survey is the most valuable tool you have. You may understand the conflicting interests of good design and SEO but your clients won’t. Finding out where their priorities lie, what they really want out of the project, is vital to getting the right balance. Getting the client’s views at the start of the project, a client survey can be a big help with all aspects of the work. So how can you make sure that the aspects you cover include the SEO/design balance?

SEO in the client survey

Your client probably can’t work out for themselves how to get the best SEO – if they could then they wouldn’t have come to you. So your questions need to get at this indirectly.

Start by asking them who they want coming to their site, and what they want those people to do there. But don’t just ask the who and what, ask the why. If you understand why they want those particular customers, and why they expect those customers to be interested in them, this will help to target your optimisation.

Ask them to provide you with a list of competitor sites. This will give you insight not only into what might draw people to those sites but also into what you’re competing with. Some analysis on your part should show how those sites have been optimised, giving you a starting place.

Design considerations in the client survey

Whereas SEO considerations are built around the competition, design considerations should focus more on what the client likes and admires.

Ask them to pick out some sites that they find particularly appealing, and get them to explain why. Gather as much information as you can on their branding and existing design. You can be more direct with your questions in this area, asking what looks appeal to them and whether they have any information on what their customers like.

Comparison with competitors will be helpful again, but design is where you want to stand out as different from the pack. Use this part of the survey to encourage the client to think creatively and feel like they’re having an input. After all, you’ll want them to feel ownership over the finished site.

Striking the balance

Information about SEO and design needs is good in itself, but it will only really be helpful if you can get the balance right. Having led the client through function and design, you now need them to prioritise. Ask them to put features they want in priority order, and to specifically address questions about conflicting areas, such as whether they’re more interested in drawing new readers to their site or making it accessible to those already visiting.

This isn’t just about informing the decisions you make during the design process, though that’s part of it. It’s also about justifying those decisions and avoiding changes of heart further down the line. If a client has said that they want clear, short blocks of text, then later hears that this may adversely impact their SEO, then they may demand changes to what you’ve done. If they’ve understood and at the start that the short, easily understood text isn’t going to get such high searching rankings then they are less likely to change their mind, and you have something to point them at if they blame you for what they originally decided.

Collaboration is key

Of course you’ll also be applying your own knowledge, translating their ideas into SEO action and design elements. This is a collaboration between you and the client. But the more you get from them at the start, the happier they will be at the end.