Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Usability share common traits, including 7 ways search engines are very like humans as demonstrated with the SEO & Usability Matrix
SEO is an important way for you to make your web site as friendly as possible to search engines. This is important because being friendly to search engines (and the spiders – aka automated programs used to find & index your content) ensures the content of your web site is discovered and indexed correctly.
This makes it easier for your content to be ranked appropriately in search engine results, making it easier for your potential web site visitors to find your site in the natural search engine rankings.
This of course means more web site visitors, and the really good news is those visitors are all “free” (in the sense that you didn’t use paid advertising to get them to your site).
Usability is also important for your web site. Once SEO has done its job and your web site visitors have found your site, if you place confusing content or navigation or functionality in their way, they’ll leave, usually never to return.
The interesting thing is generally what’s good for SEO and search engines is also good for usability and the humans who use your site (and buy your products). There have been several good articles posted about good SEO equaling good usability.
A few that come immediately to my mind are:
“Why Usability and SEO Go Hand-in-Hand” by the indomitable Jill Whalen
“The Biggest Web Site Usability Mistakes You Can Make” by the incredible Kim Krause Berg
“Hey Usability Professionals: Get With The SEO Program” by the inspirational Shari Thurow
Now I don’t profess to being an SEO guru (although I think I’m slightly taller than Bruce Clay), nor do I profess to being a usability guru (although I think I have slightly more hair than Jakob Nielsen). I know enough to be dangerous, and have been working with SEO and usability since 1996. So please understand this is not a detailed nor comprehensive overview of the similarities, but rather a working definition I’ve created that helps me from time to time in my dealings with conducting SEO and usability for companies – I hope you’ll find them helpful as well.
So with no further ado, (drum-roll please) I present to you the “SEO & Usability Matrix.”
SEO & Usability Matrix
The SEO and usability matrix is designed as a quick visual learning tool, to compare the similarities between search engines and humans when trying to use a web site.
I’ve also created this matrix in a format you can use as a print out to check off each of the web site core shared elements – to ensure you’ve identified that they are indeed optimized for search engines and humans.
#1 – Information architecture
Search engines find it easier to classify content when it is organized into cohesive and logical buckets of information, following a defined pattern and flow.
Humans find it easier to use web sites when the content is organized into groupings or buckets of information that fit their “mental map” of how the content should be organized.
#2 – Labeling
Search engines rely on labels to help classify content and sort it with other similar content groupings.
Humans rely on labels to help classify the content, and just like in a store they use those labels to determine if they are in the right place, or not.
#3 – Linking
Using hypertext links that search engines can follow from content areas to other pages enables search engines to easily explore and index your site plus provides additional classification information based on context.
Using hypertext links from content enables humans to visually identify where your content is, how it is structured, and enables them to easily explore your site and find the content they are looking for.
#4 – Navigation
Simple but effective navigation techniques enable search engines to find all the pages of your site.
Simple but effective navigation techniques enable humans to find the pages of the site they are interested in with minimal errors and maximum efficiency.
#5 – Siloing
A sub-set of information architecture, Siloing, ala Bruce Clay, is the concept of grouping related information into distinct sections and sub-sections within a web site, all of which define and support the central theme of the site. Search engines will define the theme and thus web site keyword rankings based on how appropriately the silos of content match the theme of the web site.
Siloing is to a certain extent a sub-set of information architecture, but for humans also relates to the relevance of various sub pages underneath higher-level pages, helping them find the “scent” as it’s been sometimes termed of their desired content. For example, this siloing hierarchy probably makes more sense to humans: Cars > Sports Cars > Corvette and this less: Cars > Corvette > Sports Cars
#6 – Site Map
A site map placed at the root level of a site ensures search engines have an additional and easy way to find and classify the content of your site.
A site map placed in an easy to find area of your web site ensures humans have another method they can use to easily find the content of interest to them, especially if they are lost or confused.
#7 – Technology
Using flash, bleeding-edge technology or many multiple-levels of dynamic pages can cause search engines to have difficulty finding and indexing your content.
Using flash, bleeding edge technology or many multiple-levels of dynamic pages can cause humans to have difficulty in finding the content they seek, especially if they are unable or unwilling to have the latest version of a required technology to access the site. The appropriate use of technology to help accomplish user goals can be a motivator and reason to visit the site – or it can cause users to flee and thus eliminate visits.
Conclusion – SEO & Usability Share 7 Common Traits
As I’ve demonstrated, SEO and Usability have many shared common traits, including the 7 I’ve highlighted above. There are other ways SEO and usability are the same, and this list is not comprehensive nor detailed. But hopefully it’ll be of help to you the next time you have to evaluate your web site for SEO and/or usability purposes.