Design For People Not For Bots

The longer I work in internet marketing, the more I wonder if we’re often missing the point. We tend to think primarily in terms of “link-juice,” conversion rates, or increasing traffic, and when it comes to accountability, we usually look to Google as some omnipotent deity, hoping it will bestow favor upon us. But with so much emphasis on these inanimate statistics, we’ve forgotten something really important:

The internet is not about Google.

The internet is not about ads.

The internet is not about traffic.

The internet is about PEOPLE.

Shocker, right? Amidst all the hubbub centered around how to best optimize X, or increase Y, or reduce Z, we overlook the simple, raw purpose of the internet.

The user

At its core, the internet was created as a tool for sharing information and connecting networks of people. Websites were developed to be a place for users to engage with unique content, and Google was designed to help people find this content. The internet has always been about making things easier for people.

But in our hurry to “rise-to-the-top,” we often forget that there are living, breathing humans behind the mouse and keyboards and hyper-focus on marketing tactics instead of creating engaging and helpful experiences for our users.

Usability First. Optimization Second.

When designing a piece of content for your users, it’s really important that you don’t let yourself elevate the role of tactics. Yes, optimization is important, but it’s more important that you focus on the user’s experience. People are really good at sniffing out marketing strategies, and so you have to ask yourself whether or not your piece is actually bringing value to your users. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where your page ranks if no one is interested in what you have to offer.

Skip the Jargon

As marketers, it’s really easy to over-optimize content and spend too much time talking about our brand(s). But here’s the deal: no one likes an egocentric company. So cut everyone a break and quit talking about yourself. One of the most common mistakes is when websites/creative pieces assume others are interested in their products. Don’t assume anything. Instead, convince your user that you actually have something valuable to offer.

Limit CTAs

With regards to design, there are a few things to keep track of. First, be aware of how you use your calls to action. We’ve all seen sites that inundate their readers with “buy now” or “find out more” buttons scattered throughout the page. Instead, try and hone in on a clear navigational path and then use your resources to show your users what you have to offer.

Refine Your Content

We’ve all read the studies about how much more distracted we’re becoming, and yet so many websites still rely too heavily on text. While there’s nothing wrong with well-written copy (you are reading an article after all!), it’s usually better to distil your content down to its bare bones and implement visual elements like icons, charts and video. Focus on creating easily skim-able columns of content with a clear option for the user to read more.

There’s a common dilemma between designers and marketers regarding how content should be displayed. Designers typically want things stripped completely down, usually only showcasing images and video. Marketers, on the other hand, typically like to fill pages with search-friendly content that can often create a cluttered design. Fight the desire to swing to an extreme. You’ll run the danger of creating a beautiful site that no one can find, or an easily accessible site that nobody wants to use.

DO Sweat the Small Stuff

In the age of agile, we’ve grown used to shipping projects. And while this works really well for a whole host of tasks, don’t let it make you lazy when testing your projects. When it comes to user experience, the beauty is in the details. Take the time to sift through your contact forms, navigate to deep pages and assess the quality of your design elements. While it may not seem pressing to have a universal system for all your colors and images, its details like these that will go a long way in allowing your user to engage with your content.

beauty in the details

Meet People Where They’re At

In a world where anything can be accessed from anywhere, it’s vital that your content has the chops to meet users in their current contexts. And with a growing mobile market, you content can’t just slide by on smaller screens. Instead, it has to be just as beautiful on a 4-inch display as on a 27-inch monitor.

While there’s a lot of discussion around whether to utilize responsive design or build a separate mobile site, make sure to keep your user’s interests at the forefront of your decision process – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Regardless of your decision, when it comes to designing for mobile, it’s important that you recognize responsive design not as a inferior to its desktop alternative, but as a completely new medium in itself. While there are a ton of different techniques, the bigger theme is that you focus on making it a pleasant experience for your users to engage with your content on mobile platforms.


Amidst so many tactics and strategies, it can be easy to forget the simple importance of building quality user experiences. Social shares, rankings, and traffic are only as good as the user engagement. Ultimately, we can’t look at our users as mindless lemmings who will click through our pages. Instead, we have to recognize the common motivations, desires and expectations of our audience and try to meet these needs in the most engaging and humanlike manner.

Luke Clum

Luke Clum

Luke joined the Distilled team in 2012. With a background in design, Luke loves discovering and promoting beautiful content on the web. He’s fascinated by the internet’s potential to act as a catalyst for creative ideas and is excited to be a part...   read more

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  1. Luke, spot on article.

    It can be a tough balance to strike. We've certainly fallen into those moments of a heavy focus on seeing those analytics needles move. There is value there to some regard, but everything in moderation.

    When it comes down to it the best focus is always on doing really good work that benefits people. And then do some more of it.

    Great tips here with a much appreciated no-nonsense voice.


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  2. "Amidst so many tactics and strategies, it can be easy to forget the simple importance of building quality user experiences"
    This is what we have to remember.

    Great post!

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  3. Ultimately, we can’t look at our users as mindless lemmings who will click through our pages.
    I think that before thinking about the creation of a website, and before thinking about logos, graphics and others stuff, we have to ask ourselves: what we have to offer to our visitors? Why one visitor should choose my website instead the one of a competitor?
    If we have a good answer to these questions, the success is guarantee.
    Then we can focus on creating a wonderful user experience that can make our website easy to navigate and attractive to visitors, making them happy on returning to visit.

    Really good post. Thanks for your suggestions.

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  4. For me maybe "Design for Conversion not for Bots"

    High quality page/with an informative post article/content
    Integrating 3 types of Call to Action on that page
    > Button (contact, apply, register, etc..)
    > Contact/Register Form Fields on the right/left sidebar would do
    > Email optin (Subscribe/RSS etc...)
    Proper U/X design and internal linking

    4. Get a Social Signal on the right business related people.

    @luke thank you for posting this great post.

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  5. Great post Luke! I really enjoyed the way you have presented the whole information. It is good, helpful, and what everybody wants. Thanks!

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  6. Ben

    Developing a website for Google isn't always 100% a bad thing, so long as you're not black hat about it.

    The company I work for has gone through 4 website designs in the last 3.5 years to update branding etc and for new products. Only now, have we really started getting into SEO ourselves (we previously had a company just doing... something).

    Over the last month, sure, I've added our keyword around the place a few more times (only where it made logical sense) for Google, but in focusing on updating the website for Google, which is a business requirement as it leads to more traffic and therefore more sales, I have come up with soo many more ideas on how to improve useability. I would not have been given the time at work to focus on UX and useability, without knowing it would improve our search visibility as a result, because of the potential increase in sales.

    Without Google's quality guidelines and mantra about sharable content and user experience, I never would have got onto the things we're just about to start doing, directly for the users, and indirectly for Google. So I say: think about what Google is after in all its aspects - keywords, back links, etc, and you will be able to brainstorm all the ways you can achieve them, by providing good content to the user.

    PS. I love this font.

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  7. The good news is things have finally begun shifting toward quality for the "people" and away from optimizing for the "bots." Focus is also being taken off keyword density and placed more on just overall content quality and relevance. And with the last couple Google updates, linking is now going that way too. Yes links are still VERY important, but not just sheer volume of them anymore. Too many in too short a time can actually hurt you now. I think the easiest way to go about the whole thing now is plain old common sense. If you ask yourself whether or not something you're doing can enhance your visitors experience, and the answer is yes, then there's a good chance it's good for your SEO as well. If you ask the same question and the answer is no, then it's probably going to be frowned upon by the search engines and you'd better look for something else to work on. :)

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  8. "Social shares, rankings, and traffic are only as good as the user engagement. "
    Very true Luke

    Social signals and the bounce rate addresses this but of course can be manipulated (and is).
    The end user is the aim here for Google and should be for us too. It easy to get tunnel vision and forget its about engagement.

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  9. "it has to be just as beautiful on a 4-inch display as on a 27-inch monitor"

    Totally agree, you never know what device a potential new client is using..

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  10. "Google as some omnipotent deity, hoping it will bestow favor upon us. " ... so true. Sitting back and hoping for the best will often times work out (with best practices) but it isnt something you can make consistent gains with. User experience through UI and content coupled with good onsite search elements is the best method to build consistent results. Thanks for the great article Luke!

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  11. I agree with you Luke if we design for people than bots will be also like our website's design.

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