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This is a subject that Web Designers, Developers, and SEOs often have conflicting views on.
So, which is more important, website usability or ensuring a site is optimised for
One argument is that there is no point having a website if it can’t be found by potential users, and that means making it at the very least ‘search engine friendly’. What about keeping users engaged once they reach your site though? Shouldn’t usability be the primary focus in order to create a seamless journey for the user to eventually purchase/sign up/review/vote/contribute?
So what is the answer?
When you think more into the purpose of a search engine, it becomes clear that actually their objectives and the objectives of usability aren’t actually too different from each other.
This post talks about the basic elements of best practice SEO and how implementing them can actually improve usability.
We have all seen websites that look great, with a fancy navigation that pops up and shrinks down and practically does a dance on the page. Sometimes it works great and looks fantastic, especially for users who are savvy to internet design or using the latest browsers. Unfortunately though, these kinds of menus can also be difficult to use, especially if the item you are hovering over suddenly disappears as soon as you accidentally move away from it slightly.
You then have to go back to the main navigation and attempt to find where you were. This can be very frustrating and could even lead to a potential consumer leaving your website. If you use a more stable text navigation, not only will all users be able to use it with ease, but search engines will be able to read it and navigate it too. Thus making your site more likely to be successfully crawled and successfully used by potential consumers.
Buttons as text not images
Having important buttons as plain text, rather than images, can seem boring but it can also benefit both the user and the search engines. Often if a page is slow to load, images are the last thing to resolve and the user may abandon the site if it takes too long, missing the important information.
Imagine your ‘Buy Now’ call-to-action button is an image rather than text, and there is an issue with the image loading. The user may have seen the item they wish to buy but not been aware of how to proceed to buy it because your image didn’t load.
You might think, “oh that wouldn’t happen to me because my site is optimised to load at lightning speed!”, but it’s important to consider that many things can affect page load speed, such as the users very own internet connection, which you have no power over.
Internal linking is a great way of optimising your site for search engines when it is used strategically, and it also helps users. If you have a similar products that might also be of interest to a user who is on another related product page, write within the product description that they might also like the alternative product and describe its similarity. Then link to it with optimised anchor text.
This way, if the user is not sure about the product they are looking at currently, they can be encouraged to look at all their options. Internal linking also helps pass the value of one page to another to improve their value in the eyes of search engines. This works particularly well if you link from a well established page to a deeper page.
If you know of a site with an ‘all-singing-all-dancing’ navigation as mentioned above, there is a good chance it was built using Flash. Search engines can’t read Flash, so it’s important to remember that any information contained within that part of your site won’t be counted towards determining what your site should rank for. It’s not just search engines that have an issue with Flash, many devices don’t support Flash, for example some Apple products.
Even if your user’s device does support Flash, there is always the chance that they do not have the most recent version of Flash to run your content. If you’re lucky they’ll download it but if you haven’t already got their attention, they may leave your site and you could be isolating a significant part of your audience.
Title tags might not be the first thing a user looks at on your website, but you can bet that it is one of the first things they look at on SERPs. By making your page title descriptive and accurate, you not only tell the search engines what your site is about, but also the user. Now they can make an informed decision about whether to click and whether your site has the potential to fulfil their informational need. This also helps avoid the ‘wide shot’ approach of getting as many users to your site as possible by appearing relevant to as many search queries as possible, because if you go that your bounce rate will ultimately soar.
The same principle described above can be applied to rationalise why you should use descriptive and accurate headings and sub headings (with H1 and H2 tags of course). This helps the user see what the page is about and the sub headings break down the information for them. This also gives the search engines an additional indication of what your site is about and what it should be ranked for.
Anchor Text in Back-Links
Building links to your site in relevant locations is great for search engines and it also builds awareness with consumers. By using optimised anchor text (rather than the classic ‘click here’) you can give the user more of an indication of what they are clicking through to, as well as telling search engines what the site that is being linked to is about.
Producing content which is optimised for search engines and also reads well to a user has a fine line. Yes, it’s important to use the targeted keywords within the copy, but it’s also important to make sure the content reads like it is talking to a person, not a robot. You will not engage a user with content that does not sound natural or provide genuinely useful information.
If your content is too optimised you are likely to see users leave your site and not reading on or look at other pages. You can use formatting optimisation, such as bolding to make the most of the keywords you do incorporate, to tell the search engines and user what you would like to draw emphasis to in the content.
So, there you have it! SEO and usability can work hand in hand in most cases even if a compromise is sometimes needed to achieve the best results.