The trade off between SEO and Website Usability

A site without serious Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is either for personal use or is so big that people use it by default (like Google and Facebook). Good SEO helps search engines to understand what your site and its pages are about and which elements are more important. But there is a snag because a site written purely for search engines will have poor usability. Search engines are not humans, they are simple beasts not needing structured sentences, navigation in the right place and images.

SEO is what every site needs before a user gets to a site; Usability is what is needed once the user has arrived. There is a fine balance with a trade off between SEO and usability. In the struggle SEO needs to win because is a user never gets to a website in the first place then it doesn’t matter how usable it is. On the other hand when the user arrives on a site we want them to easily find what they are looking for, stay and return. Search engines are now using popularity as a measure of ranking so the experience the user has on site bringing them back is important.

Other methods are available to get people to your website – social media, newsletters and link building – but not be fooled the vast majority of websites are found by using search engines and this is where most of your budget needs to be spent.

What does Google see on page?

To get an idea what a search engine like Google sees when it looks at your site take the following steps.

  1. Enter into the Google search box
  2. Hover to the right of a listing and you will see a double chevron which generates a preview of that page.
  3. At the top of the preview you will see the Cached click on it.
  4. This opens the cached version that Google is actually looking at and at the top it tells you when it cached it.
  5. In the top grey box to the top right you will see Text-only version click on it.

This is the text only version that Google is actually seeing – ignoring the layout and images – and showing tags as they are actually expressed ignoring style sheets. This can come as a big surprise and you will quickly see how well your pages are really constructed.

What are the common on page mistakes?

  1. Missing key header tags <h1> <h2> <h3>. Many modern sites use style sheets for everything, which is good but often at the expense of key search engine tags. Make sure your designer is using these header tags.
  2. Over use of <h1> <h2> <h3>. Some designers realise that header tags are needed but then over use them on the wrong parts of the site. Take control and make sure header tags are used sparingly on the right content.
  3. Repeated content. Poorly designed repeated page to page content can make every page on a site look the same. For example many sites now have a common navigation across all pages. This loads the page with large amounts of content that is the same across the site. It also pushes key content down the page reducing its significance. To solve this move common navigation in javascript blocks so they are loaded with the page but hidden from the search engine.
  4. Key content too far down the page. The higher up the page (as seen in text mode) key content is the better – it raises its significance.

As always there is more to just building a website and it is always worth considering how a search engines see your website balanced with how the user sees it.

Flash is dead as a web design tool

The war over Flash is over as more and more sites and web developers are moving away from Flash-only web solutions.

Flash still has its place in the world of fully interactive designs,  but for small businesses who have not interest in this sort of market using HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 instead of Flash just makes sense.

The issue is Mobile access to your website – on so many devices Flash will not work. Even those mobile devices that do support Flash it is usually not full support and is unreliable. There is no worse experience than visiting a website from a mobile to find that it can not be accessed if the core of the site is built in Flash.

Flash was the cool tool for websites around 2005 – if you are one of these site owners then it may be time to upgrade to something more accessible.

There are some very clever on-line tools on the market that will automatically detect mobile and switch to an automatic mobile version of your site. Possibly one of the cleverest is where a mobile version of your site can be set up in minutes.

For more advice on making your site more Mobile friendly and on how to find out if people are visiting your site from mobiles please contact Community Connections Cambridge

Make sure your headlines are right if you want people to read, not scan.

Researchers are discovering that smaller type encourages people to read the words where as larger type promotes scanning.

This was especially the case when we looked at headline size on homepages. Larger headlines encouraged scanning more than smaller ones – an  appropriate balance is important.

Users tend to view both the headline and blurb when the headline was bold and the same size as blurb text and immediately preceded the blurb on the same line.

With a headline larger than the blurb and on a separate line, people tended to view the headlines and skip the blurbs; they scanned the headlines throughout the page more than the group that looked at the smaller headlines. If  the headline is larger than the blurb text people appear to decide that viewing the headline is sufficient and they skip the blurb.

Underlined headlines also discourages users from viewing blurbs on the homepage visual breaks — like a line or rule — discouraged people from looking at the blurb below the break.

Users spend on average 50 seconds reading your newsletter.

On average, if you’re lucky, users spend 50 seconds reading your newsletter. So the layout, writing and usability have to be good to survive a crowded inbox.

  • Keep it brief – use the newsletter to direct the user to your website. The layout must be designed so that users can quickly grasp the content. Remember you are writing for the web so your word count will be much lower and sentences will be more concise.
  • Use good headlines – most users simply skim the headlines – and use bullet points.
  • Try to avoid underlining – this obscures words making them harder to read. Use fonts size and bolding to differentiate headings and subheading.
  • White Space – do not crowd the space.
  • Keep graphics to a minimum only using them where necessary. If your newsletter does not work without graphics then re-work it.
  • Keep colours simple and clean
  • Unsubscribe – needs to be clearly accessible and work. There is nothing worse for the user than a newsletter they can not unsubscribe to.

Users spend 80% of their time looking above the fold.

Make sure that anything truly important remains above the fold.

If you have a long article, it’s better to present it as one scrolling canvas than to split it across multiple pageviews. Scrolling beats paging because it’s easier for users to simply keep going down the page than it is to decide whether or not to click through for the next page of a fragmented article.
Research also shows that with long pages the bottom of the page is important.

This graphic shows user concentration on a web page (using eye movement tracking).

  • Above the fold: 80%
  • Below the fold: 20%

For more see