Monday, June 17, 2013

SEO versus User Experience: The Problem and Solution

For any small business looking to get involved in online marketing, this is the age-old dilemma. User experience and SEO should, ideally, work hand-in-hand, but that never seems to be the case. Company owners and Webmasters have to make changes to their websites in order to please the search engines, but this doesn’t always coincide with what readers want to read. So why not just write for the readers? You should, but how will they ever find you if you can’t make it to the top of search engines?
As time continues, this catch 22 only seems to get stronger and more annoying. Businesses have to ask the inevitable question: How can I find that balance between SEO and user experience?
Why SEO and User Experience Don’t Always Work Together
It’s first important to understand why the two have a hard time working together in the first place. There are a few different reasons many Webmasters have found:
  • Visuals. The Google algorithm bots cannot see visuals the way that humans can, and this poses a problem. Humans like to see graphics more than they like to see text, and many time graphics take some interpretation. This is something that a Google bot cannot do, and therefore websites are torn between creating an awesome graphic versus awesome keyword-rich text. For this reason, both are necessary to succeed in most cases.
  • Choppy Text. Readers like to read choppy text online. In other words, they like to read text that is broken up into bullet points and subheadings so that they can skim across the page. This is fine for Google bots to understand, but Google bots need a lot of content to be able to really get a feel for the page and how the page should rank. With many choppy online texts, there isn’t as much content to work with (of course this doesn’t have to be true, but it’s something many writers need to learn, which can take quite a bit of time and training). In other words, writing for both is really a developed talent.
  • Keywords. Google says that you can write naturally and your keyword should naturally appear, and while this might be true, we all know that a little bit of extra help can’t hurt. Webmasters and content writers are always going through and adding keywords into headings and titles to give it that extra push whether readers like it or not.
Still, don’t forget that SEO and user experience CAN, for the most part, work together. It’s not easy, and there are going to be these certain situations (discussed above) where you’re going to have to lean one way or the other, but overall it’s not impossible.
How to Bridge the Gap Between SEO and User Experience
When it comes time to think about how to solve this age-old dilemma for your business website, I like to think of three different situations:
The best solution: The best way to bridge the gap is to think about your readers first and SEO second. This doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring one completely, but you’re putting your readers first, which is the most important thing. A few things to keep in mind:
-       You don’t want to have doorway pages, or pages just for search engines, so the only thing you can do is create great content for every page. If that means a lot of graphics, try to couple it with a lot of great content.
-       Teach your content writers how to be thorough without being overbearing
-       Do some keyword research so you know that what you’re writing about (for your readers) is something that has a good chance of ranking on a SERP (usually based on search volume and competition).
When SEO should come first: This is the real question that many Webmasters have to ask. Is there ever a time when SEO should come before your readers? Not really. Google hates this and readers hate this. Although doing so may put you to page one, it isn’t going to mean much if the content isn’t engaging.
A case study: Ian Wortley of Webshed recently wrote about his decision to use javascript to make his homepage a slideshow. He explained that “users get movement and interaction (which are plusses) while having the information broken down in such a way that they are more likely to read more of that text.” It’s the perfect medium between pleasing readers while still allowing for a lot of content for the bots.

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