“I don’t care about usability. I only care about SEO.”
I’ve heard this sentence come out of more clients’ mouths than I care to admit. And sadly, they used to be right.
Eight years ago there were things that you did to game search engines. Things like put keywords as the same color as your background text to improve your keyword density. No user is every going to see that, but search engines will and they ate it up. That is, until they got smart.
Nowadays, search engines are incredibly smart, and there is no such thing as designing a piece of your website “only for search engines.” That was further hammered home when Google brought in human evaluators to test their search results — and that was back in 2008.
What’s good for search engines is what’s good for users. They want to see traction to your deep inner pages; they want to see a low bounce rate; they want to see users staying on your pages for a long time. Yes, there are a number of other off-site factors that come into play, but when you boil it down to what search engines look for on your website, they look for a good user experience.
SEO and usability are two clans in the same tribe. One helps people get somewhere — in other words, exposure; the other helps people understand what to do when they get there — in other words, trust. Good SEO brings you exposure where good usability builds your trust, and for a truly successful inbound marketing campaign, you’ve got to excel at both.
Within the interface of your website, you have three main areas to focus on for good usability and SEO:
Navigation: If you want people to easily navigate your site, you have to make it descriptive enough for people to understand where to go. Don’t name your services “Services” or your products “Products.” Be descriptive by telling people what they can expect when they land on that page. This will also improve your SEO because what’s descriptive is likely one of your keyword phrases.
In addition, you want to keep your main navigation simple enough to tell people where they are but detailed enough to show them where they want to go. Breadcrumbs are a great way to include links to some of your other pages while helping users navigate your site.
Links: Similar to your navigation elements, internal links to deeper pages of your website are critical to getting people and search engines to where you want them to go. If they can’t find it, they won’t go there, and if they don’t go there, it might as well not exist.
Look at a page on your website: What else would people be interested in learning about if they’re on this page? What other information supplements what I talk about here? For example, if you’re a marketing company and you have a page that talks about your social media marketing services, people may also be interested in SEO or email marketing.
URL structure: Both users and search engines favor shorter URLs than long, complicated strings with problematic characters (&, ?, =, %, +). Avoid cluttering up your URLs by keeping them concise. Use your keywords when naming your URLs and separate them with hyphens. When possible, only include 3 hyphens in the URL.
Filter Information Slowly
Users may say they want a lot of information at once. That way they have all the facts and data ahead of them and can make an informed decision. Well, your users are wrong.
While users may say they want to see everything at once, their actions dictate differently. In the mid-‘90s, Dr. Sheena Iyengar looked at this through her jam study where she set out jars of jam on two different tables in supermarkets — one table had 6 jars, one had 24. While more people stopped at the table with more jam (60% compared to 30%), more people bought jam when there were fewer options (30% compared to 3%).
This principle can easily be carried over to your website. Don’t throw every piece of information that you offer on your home page. Instead, break it down into bite-sized pieces that are easily digestible. This not only improves your user experience, but it opens up the door for a more granular approach to landing page optimization.
By taking your users through a series of portals, you’re able to better target your keywords onto specific pages instead of cramming unrelated keywords on one page. For example, if you sell gift baskets and you were looking to market your Father’s Day gift baskets, that section’s hierarchy could look something like this:
- Gift Baskets
- Father’s Day Gift Baskets
- Golf Gift Baskets
- Outdoor Gift Baskets
- Beer Gift Baskets
- Sports Gift Baskets
- Baseball Gift Baskets
- Yankees Gift Baskets
- Red Sox Gift Baskets
- Baseball Gift Baskets
- Football Gift Baskets
- Florida Gators Gift Baskets
- Dallas Cowboys Gift Baskets
- Father’s Day Gift Baskets
By breaking your information, you’re able to get more targeted with your keywords and your users, and that’s a win-win situation for both user experience and SEO.
Check Your Analytics
The only way you’re going to be able to full identify any usability problems you have is by going directly to the source and in this instance, that source is your users. The easiest way to do that is through your analytics, which will help you identify any key usability problems that you’re having, which in turn is causing a disconnect between the rankings you have, the traffic you’re getting and the conversions you’re seeing.
After diving into your analytics, ask your users. Hold focus groups that will ask users how they expect to find content or functionality on you website. Have them create a mock navigation or homepage layout, and analyze the patterns that you see between your user groups.
Long story short, the intersection of usability and SEO is making websites that work. Plain and simple.
About The Author
Erin Everhart is the director of web marketing at 352 Media Group, a custom web development and digital marketing company, where she works closely with iGLASS Networks, a NOC service provider that monitors networks, servers and critical applications for small businesses and large corporations.