I’m currently reading Don’t Make Me Think (A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability) by Steven Krug. If I wasn’t already sold on the word-of-mouth references, the simple fact that I’m flying through the easy-to-read format is enough to remind me that this guy knows a thing or two about the field of usability. Krug certainly made a conscious decision to make this book an easy read, with tons of great reminders that will help improve the user experience on any website.
As I’m reading however, I can’t help but be reminded that usability and search engine optimization truly do go hand in hand. Many unfamiliar to the field of SEO maintain an outdated myth that having a search friendly site means jeopardizing the look, feel and credibility of the site. This couldn’t be more off base. Google states that if your site is user friendly then it’s most likely search engine friendly. While this is a bit simplistic and there are a few exceptions, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.
- Are the URLs descriptive and intuitive? If so, they are probably pretty decent from an optimization perspective.
- Do you speak the same language that your site visitors and prospective customers use? Then you are probably on the right track.
- Can you find all the important pages on your site by following links? There’s a good chance Google probably can too.
A few elements that Krug specifically outlined in his book are especially beneficial to SEO. Let’s revisit.
- Clear Visual Hierarchy
- User: helps to identify important pages on the site and important content on a page.
- Search Engine: serves the same purpose as with the user. Top tier pages and content placed prominently on a given page is an indicator of importance and relevance. It can be assumed that content found buried in the site without obvious links from main pages is not as important as the content linked prominently from the home page, for example.
- User: helps to drill down to other important pages.
- Search Engine: Krug mainly talks about this in terms of ensuring that hyperlinks actually look like such with the classic blue font and underline, or at least maintaining a consistent appearance. For SEO purposes, the same concept applies if taken one step further to ensure that those hyperlinks are intuitive. In other words, the user will have a good idea of what type of page they will be taken to “pre-click”. And part of that process means using descriptive keywords in the anchor text that search engines love so much.
- User: facilitates page scanning.
- Search Engine: while getting rid of unnecessary words we cut jargon, non-relevant or unimportant information and are more likely to be straightforward with descriptive keywords. For example, B2B companies are notorious for describing their products using vague terminology like “solutions” and “systems”. Potential customers are not using these keywords, they are searching on more descriptive keywords and keywords surrounding a specific issue they need help with.
- User: describes the content on a given page and so long as they accurately describe the page content in relation to the user’s search query, ensures the user will not bounce as soon as they land on your site.
- Search Engine: one of the most important areas of keyword placement and indicator of page relevance.
There are plenty more usability best practices that Krug covered and with much more depth than I’ve managed to squeeze in above. The point here is to remember that SEO is much more than making a site visible and website usability can also be a great exercise in your optimization efforts.
Rachel Andersen works for the Portland based SEM agency Anvil Media, Inc. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO for large sites. Andersen has been responsible for the development and execution of dozens of search and social marketing campaigns over her time spent with Anvil.