SEO and Usability: A Dynamic Duo

- Maureen Dillon 03.18.2015


Both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and usability are important for attaining desired user experience. The role of SEO is to rank your website higher in search engine listings and thereby encourage people to visit your website. The role of usability is to keep visitors on the website by generating enough interest. If one is less than ideal, it can affect your business negatively.

Perfect Balance of SEO and Usability

Both SEO and usability can seem like two different topics, but they are interdependent. Both are important factors that make a website impressive and successful. Both help in lead generation, in spite of belonging to two distinct areas. If SEO is not effective, your perfect website may be worthless in a way. When your website ranks low on search engines, people won’t find their way to it. However, if the usability is less than perfect, visitors are unlikely to spend much time there or even to visit your website again.

In most cases, usability always helps SEO. However, certain keyword placements can affect SEO to some extent. When more than one keyword is used on a page, it can affect the ranking on one keyword over another. It is often remedied with additional content to give the keywords their due. Text cluttered with keywords can also result in a bad user experience.

Better Usability for Improved SEO

Usability helps SEO as search engines also consider user experience to establish rankings for the websites. Depending upon the type of website (news sites, B2B, blogs, ecommerce, personal websites or social platforms) the usability factors can be different. These can be content, design and number of visitors.

Content: Website content means text, videos and images. A website can be text-heavy with minimal use of images or vice-versa. Images play a prominent role in websites related to movies, games and e-stores. Text must contain the right keywords in the most natural way possible. Text on websites is used to describe businesses and products. A website cluttered with text is not a good example of usability. Optimizing content can help both usability and SEO.

Design: Good website design means smooth navigation and ease of use for the visitors. The efficient the navigation of a website, the better it ranks on search engines. An intuitive website with effective hierarchical structure leads to better usability. The pages that attract the most web traffic generate a heat map, which is then used by search engines for ranking  websites. Here usability can help SEO by using certain design elements.

One example can be to place most important information at the top and the least important at the bottom. Other examples include the option to add products to carts on every page, phone numbers and contact information; basically any design element that can be a call to action. Another design practice that helps usability and SEO is to use a layout with sections and give it a relevant heading.

Visitors: Visitors to a website can be differentiated according to their demographics, number of visits, reason for visiting and so on. Here SEO helps visitors find the website they are looking for and usability leads to the experience they have upon their visit. A successful pairing of SEO and usability can be when visitors find a relevant website through search engines and have a great user experience. If it is an ecommerce website, success rate can be gathered from factors such as the visit translating into sales, a returning visitor tracking orders and so on.

Usability vs. SEO

Is usability more important than SEO? Both are important factors for a successful website. However, it is important to remember that SEO factors can’t adversely impact usability. After all a website is for the users and for them to stay there long enough to lead to sales or encourage more visits. SEO is important, but not at the cost of user experience.

So it is best to stick to design features that help both and do away with things that don’t work in favor of users. One such example can be the use of sliders on your pages especially the home page. It hurts SEO due to many H1 tags or excessive flash usage. Unnecessary design elements like sliders can result in slow-loading pages. Another design factor that affects usability and in some cases SEO, is poor labeling. If the title tag doesn’t match the URL path then it is not a good SEO practice. Poor labeling also leads to confusing navigation and hence a bad user experience. 

Best Practices for SEO and Usability

It is best to follow practices that don’t clash with either SEO or the usability. So whether it is navigation, content, HTML tags, content density or any other website feature, it is important to consider guidelines that don’t compromise with search engine rankings or user experience.

Keyword density, placement and relevance can affect both SEO and usability. Write for users first, so use keywords that don’t clutter your pages. Keep readability in mind. Use of subheadings, proper linking and adding bullets points are some best content practices for both SEO and usability. On example of HTML best practices for SEO and usability is the title tag. It should be in sync with the content of your website for SEO and the title tags help users to check if it is worth a visit. Using the right captions for images is among the best practices for using image for both SEO and usability. Search engines use captions to find more information about a site. Good image captions also make a site look neater and make for better user experience.

The bottom line is both SEO and usability are important factors for a website. One can’t overpower the other. It is possible with the use of best practices for each aspect of a website design that benefits both SEO and usability. These two are ever-changing aspects for any website and a website must be updated to reflect these changes.

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