Without Usability, You’re Not Doing Advanced SEO

My article covering how Google’s fixation with Usability reveals local search ranking factors published yesterday on Search Engine Land. In it, I described a number of common website elements which few-to-no marketers have ever cited as ranking signals. Some of these elements, such as whether or not a site may have employee profile pages, or whether a site displays prices for products and services offered, might be controversial in search engine marketing circles.

CNNs homepage checked with Google Site Speed

CNN's homepage checked with Google Page Speed - Google introduced Site Speed as a new ranking factor in 2010, and provided tools like this Page Speed extension in FireFox to assist webmasters with Usability improvements.

Other elements I described have been cited by other experts as beneficial for search marketing, even though they may’ve recommended them for reasons other than those I outlined. Inclusion of images, maps and locations pages make sense for multiple reasons in local business websites.

The thought and methodology behind coming up with these factors is sound, and has allowed me to successfully predict present and future search engine optimization factors where others have not. It makes logical sense that while Google is interested in Usability, they will seek ways to quantify and measure it on websites, just as they have done with Site Speed. And some very easy usability elements to quantify include common website elements such as the About Us, Contact Us, and Locations pages.

Back in 2006, I began predicting that the practice of Search Engine Optimization might become replaced by Usability. Unquestionably, this change is occuring to some degree right now.

I’ve known a lot of top corporations which are involved in very sophisticated paid search marketing and search engine optimization, but few of them are also including usability testing and user-centered design considerations when performing a site redesign. Google has tried to make the importance of user-experience abundantly clear by actually going public with their adoption of page load times in determining search result rankings, but many companies are still not connecting the dots.

Here at KeyRelevance, we have long prioritized usability in our assessments of web sites’ design. When companies contract with us to audit their websites, we offer both a Technical Website Review as well as a Usability Review. However, many companies eschew our Usability Reviews or dismiss them as less-important.

For some reason, people often react to usability recommendations from experts in an emotional way, rather like how a portion of the population avoids going to their doctors for a yearly physical. For some companies, there are already so many dependencies and requirements going into web design projects that they can’t include more without losing impetus. For others, individuals with authority over projects have egos which do not want to lose discretionary control over project decisions which could be altered if usability research ran counter to what they desire to do.

Usability testing can be the difference between a design that becomes highly popular versus one which is rapidly forgotten. Google itself is an example of how user-centered design will translate into success. More design options can be scientifically decided, honing down to interfaces which will maximize ease-of-use and enjoyment-of-use. Instead of being avoided, usability testing should be embraced — after all, in the business world we’re looking to increase the potential for success in our company projects, right?

Knowing Google’s heavy focus upon usability factors, consider that if you’re not doing iterative Usability testing and adjustment for User-Experience, you really may not be doing “Advanced SEO”.

If you’d like a thorough Usability Audit of your site, contact Key Relevance today to schedule our review and get a report of items to consider before your next sitewide redesign is completed.

Also, check out some of the free tools that Google has been providing to help you with portions of usability analysis. Try out Google Browser Size, Google Page Speed, and look at the Site Speed reports in Google Webmaster Tools for your website.

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10 thoughts on “Without Usability, You’re Not Doing Advanced SEO

  1. Very fine points – and thank for sharing those local ranking factors yesterday. Advanced SEO is truly being able to enter the mindset of WWGD (that should be a Tshirt) and it appears that the big G is pretty focused on usability these days.

  2. Pingback: SearchCap: The Day In Search, April 27, 2010

  3. Yes truly agree, without Usability there is nothing called advanced SEO, now page speed is one of the major factor.

  4. Good point, Andrew! Obviously, small-to-medium businesses need help with this. As with other stuff that’s not their core competancy, they really should hire an expert to do it, rather than merely try to use a cheap option, such as a whiz-kid nephew in high school.

    Alternatively, many of these basic website items, such as an “about us” page, or a “contact us” page which includes address and phone number, are so simple that they could refer to a checklist when setting up their sites.

  5. I’ve been telling my company for three years now that Google’s attempt at making the world’d information accessible to all, by nature will benefit those sites who focus on usability. For all the numbers of times I have been laughed at or dismissed in conference calls and board meetings, I thank you for making this point clear.

  6. Chris,

    I would love to review a suggestion from you of a great small business website example with proper website usability. I assume it will not only have components and content such as disclaimers, privacy policies, forms, pricing, contact info on each page, well thought out navigation and much more…..

    Considering that small business sites are less complex than “corporate” or “enterprise level” websites, what kind of usability factors do you consider most important for SMBs?



  7. All my sites are Australian facing and hosted. What concerns me about the speed factor and Google is the number of hops. I mean, Google accessing a site and in the USA as apposed to Australia. The site in Australia is always going to be slower.

    Would it make better sense to find a USA host who would host .au domains?



  8. AussieDave, Google has data centers distributed across the globe, so distance from the U.S. should not pose a problem:


    Also, thus far, they appear to base speed assessment primarily upon network-independent metrics, such as size of images, compression, amount of code, efficiency of scripts, etc. I have thought that they might eventually offer webmasters some sort of content delivery network services, after which it would make more sense for them to begin measuring network latency issues as well.

    Until they obviously begin assessing network time in the calculations, I don’t think it would be worth your while to relocate your hosting. Even if they move in that direction, they might offer the CDN service, obviating need to switch hosts.

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