3 Keys to Balancing User Experience and SEO

I cover a variety of SEO topics on Return On Now, but it is often important to take a step back and consider the full realm of online marketing.

While SEO is most important for presenting your best game face to the search engines, it is not the only variable at play. You also have to keep a close eye on usability.

Usability: What is It?

Usability is a very intuitive concept. Essentially, it answers the question of how easy it is for the average web user to navigate around the website?

Usability includes:

  1. How easy or difficult it is to learn what the site is about on first entry
  2. How quickly it is to navigate to the most relevant content on the site (faster nav and fewer clicks is the goal)
  3. Whether buttons, navigation, and other interactive objects are placed where most users will be able to find them without undue frustration

Well managed usability provides the best possible experience for the readers. This is what we refer to a User Experience (UX).

Balancing User Experience with Search Engine Optimization

There are some common misconceptions about this topic among marketing types. The worst one is that you cannot balance UX and SEO without one of the two (or both) suffering in some way. This is simply not true.

The objective of building a site for both readers / users as well as the search engines is both reasonable and achievable. Sure, you may have to make some tradeoffs in how you architect your site or structure your content to accommodate both needs. But the key point is that minor tradeoffs between the two can result in major gains in user satisfaction, without causing undue negative impact to traffic volumes.

Here are the 3 keys to balancing SEO and UX:

  1. Design your site layout, templates, and architecture for the REAL users. If the site provides a stellar user experience, traffic will come back and grow over time via word of mouth, sharing, and other means. It will also grow via SEO, as one of the factors in Google’s algorithm measures the overall usability of the site.
  2. Structure the content – the title, headers, body content, and image alt-tags – in the best way possible for the search engines. I’m not saying to write a bunch of keyword-stuffed gobblety-goop either. Write to communicate clearly to the average reader, but also be sure you are speaking in the language that people use to search.
  3. Craft your overall site content strategy to provide high value, regularly updated material. Particularly with a newfound focus on timing via the Google Fresh update (October, 2011), you cannot build a site and never touch it again. If you want to move up in the rankings, you need to offer relevant, timely, and shareable materials. Did I mention that you need to write for the readers and not the search engines?

Summary

You may hear from various sources that it is difficult or even impossible to balance SEO and user experience / usability. Those sources are simply misinformed. If you follow the guidelines above, you should be able to deliver on both goals.

Have you found it challenging to balance the two? Let me know what your biggest frustrations are below and I’ll see if I can help.

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