May 22, 2008

Avoid over optimisation: users first, search engines second

by Brian Turner

Whenever people first start to learn about SEO, the big temptation is to “over-optimise” a site.

Symptoms of over-optimisation are obvious – and terrible:

1. Usability

The site becomes unusable and badly presented – there’s so much focus on delivering keywords and internal links, that the webmaster completely forgets about the actual visitor experience.

So when the users visit the site, they find something brilliantly written for search engines, but almost unsuable for human users.

Simple examples would include a left hand navigation containing over 100 links, another 100 keyword links in the body copy, and such an aversion to machine-unreadable graphics, Flash, and javascript, that the site ends up looking like a badly cramped and malformated piece of text.

2. Readability

Body copy no longer reads like English, but instead as a machine generated series of synonyms based entirely around a keyword, ie:

Welcome to blue widgets website, a website about blue widgets for people who are interested in blue widgets. We provide all sorts of blue widgets, from cheap blue widgets to blue widget sets and all kinds of blue widgets for anyone looking for blue widgets…

Unnatural text won’t convert visitors so easily.

3. Linkability

URLs are no longer URLs, but essays in themselves. I have to confess I’ve done this myself in my early days, so that an interesting page in subsection y in section x reads as:

You know, while keywords in URLs may offer some potential ranking benefits, sometimes brevity for the human user experience can work even better, as concise URLs may look more attractive for people to link to.

SEO properly

The really important thing to remember – and always remember – about SEO is that there is no point trying to attract visitors to your website if you are completely unable to engage them.

In other words, there’s no point of ranking for keywords if you cannot exploit the positions you’ve gained via conversions.

If you do, there’s always the danger that Google will perceive the ranking as a bad user experience and take action – after all, Google want a good user experience.

I’ve seen this too many times before, especially from those looking to save money on short-cuts.

So here’s what I think you should do instead:

1. Usability

Focus on what you want the visitor to do when they reach your website. Ensure the Call To Action (CTA) is clearly visible without scrolling, and that the main sections of the site are clearly visible, accessible, and usuable to help the visitor achieve the purpose you have designed to cater for.

2. Readability

Tell your reader what you think their problem is, offer to solve it, and if not applicable, offer useful alternatives to cater for less targeted visitors who may yet find your website useful and informative.

3. Linkability

Make URLs easy to use, reference, and remember. Some use of keywords can be useful of course. But when in doubt, look for the shortest solution possible, such as a short series of numbers – less than 6 can be memorised without too much difficulty by most people.

Discuss this in the Internet Business forums

Story link: Avoid over optimisation: users first, search engines second


2 Responses to “Avoid over optimisation: users first, search engines second”

  1. Gregor Spowart on June 2nd, 2008 7:19 am

    Too true. It’s vital that when you actually get people coming to your site that they can achieve their goal as easily as possible.

  2. Pete on June 13th, 2008 4:15 am

    Hi Brian,

    Nice changes to the site

    A good article

    I like to simply things as much as possible, with so many opinions in the world of SEO and so many cards played very close to the chest, who can you trust? In my opinion there are only 2 opinions that matter.

    1. Googles, SEPRS will tell you how good your SEO campaign has been

    2. Conversion ratios, will tell you how good your product/services or designer are.

    All the rest is just hot air and piss.

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