I USED TO HATE SEO.

All those nefarious practices to lure people to websites just for the sake of traffic! For years, I sat through presentations by SEO companies who promised me that they could get me to the number-one spot on Google rankings, that I’d beat all the competition. All I had to do was produce content. Lots of content. Lots and lots of content, with lots and lots of words, on lots and lots of topics.

Did my organization have anything at all to do with these topics? No. Did we have to maintain all of this new content, at a cost? Yes. Did the content get us traffic? Sure.
Was it traffic that was actually of use to us or to our audience? No. And there we have it. The real problem.

I went to Rebekah and Chris’s presentation at Confab Central 2019, expecting to confirm my view that SEO is nothing more than vanity metrics and money, always in conflict with the user experience. And I was so wrong. I came away from their talk with love and admiration. Their approach to SEO was leagues ahead of the global
companies we’d worked with. They talked about search with flair, passion, and expertise. They suggested easy, practical tasks I could share with my clients immediately—tasks that would unify content and search rather than pitting them against each other.


Now they have put this mesmerizing information into a book for us. Handy. Thank you, Rebekah and Chris.

This isn’t a book about how to game the rankings system. This is a book about long-lasting relevance to your audience. It’s about producing good content. It is a thorough, in-depth look at how to rank well in search by serving your users and becoming brand champions. In short, it’s the only book on SEO I’d recommend.
Optimize for the humans. Let the tech do the rest.
—Sarah Winters

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO) is the practice of earning visibility in search engine results to increase both the quantity and quality of organic traffic to a website. Many web professionals view SEO as a function of marketing.

But SEO is about so much more than marketing. It’s about discovery. It’s about accessibility. It’s about helping people find the information they need to make important decisions.

Addressing search in digital projects deserves a thoughtful approach that focuses on meeting user needs and delivering a better experience—what we call human-centered SEO. And because it requires a deep understanding of your audiences, their needs and priorities, and, more importantly, what they’re trying to accomplish on your site,
this kind of SEO needs to be part of the overall design strategy, not the final step.

Human-centered SEO as design
Human-centered SEO requires design, content, and code decisions to be made in harmony. You can’t sprinkle SEO magic on polished web copy just before hitting publish and expect your site to rank well in search, or actually meet the search needs of real people.

In fact, that would be an impossible task: a lot of critical SEO elements—like content topics, navigation labels, and internal linking structures—are built into early design decisions. A lot of SEO work looks exactly like design, content, and development work—because it is.

Unfortunately, search optimization is often an afterthought in most web design workflows—a cursory task that comes after all the research, user experience design, and sometimes even writing is done. SEO can even be a source of conflict and bad feelings because of its unethical, spammy history. At best, SEO is seen as pushy marketing tactics that chase vanity metrics; at worst, it can feel completely at odds with a good user experience.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Human-centered SEO shifts the focus from “How much traffic can we win?” to “How can we help more people find what they’re looking for?” It emphasizes satisfying search intent—the actual task, question, or problem that drives the user to search for something in the first place. This shift changes everything, and makes you—yes, you, dear reader—part of the equation.
SEO is your job, too SEO isn’t the unwieldy monster it’s made out to be, relegated to a dark, spooky corner of the design process. It just needs a bit of understanding, some cross-disciplinary collaboration, and a little TLC.

Want to know a secret about people with “SEO” in their job title? They don’t actually implement every possible aspect of search optimization. They may guide decisions that benefit findability. They may make recommendations about how to craft content for search visibility. Or they may ensure important technical factors aren’t overlooked during development.

But when it comes to optimizing any website, there’s still plenty of necessity for people like you—the designers, content specialists, developers, and project managers of the world—to get involved. Most web professionals are, at heart, communicators; and most SEO challenges are, at heart, communication challenges.

Optimizing search isn’t about using the right tools or knowing the best techniques—it’s about understanding the role of search in delivering the best possible user experience. You are an essential part of making human-centered SEO happen.

What to expect In this book, we aren’t going to teach you everything there is to know about SEO, and this book can’t take the place of working with an SEO specialist. Having help from a seasoned search professional is a good idea on any web project, especially if your organization is large and complex.

But we will show you exactly where SEO and design intersect, and help you identify the tools and techniques you need to create content that’s both user-friendly and search-friendly. Whether you’re completely new to SEO or a bona fide search professional yourself, our mission is to give you the insights you need to successfully collaborate across teams and disciplines and integrate SEO into your design process.
Let’s explore some practical ways to do just that.