As more and more people jump on the SEO and Usability bandwagon and write about it, a few different arguments are presented. In some, one set of skills is more important than the other, or “first”. For others, one can’t live without the other.

Still others think they have a purpose together and create new terms for practicing it.

horse head I’ve written extensively over the years on the relationship between SEO and web site usability. Five years ago I felt that SEO efforts were helpful up to a certain point before a well designed web site takes over. Sort of the “You can lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink” theory.

This viewpoint is also expressed in more and more blog posts and articles. It’s a start but nowhere near the true value of combining SEO with web site usability design and testing.

While more companies grasp that usable web sites bolster their marketing investment, they have a limited understanding of exactly what this means. They’ve figured out that the horse can be lead to water, and they’ve managed to get it to drink, but they haven’t worked out the importance of that horse telling the entire herd about that water source and leading all of them there to drink as well.

Web site usability goes far beyond the user interface. It’s wonderful to hire a search engine marketer who knows how to design web pages that appear high in search results and are smoothly indexed. Even better is the marketer who designs expert landing pages and researches your target customer. They’ve done their job when someone has no problem finding the web site they seek and wants to click into it.

The expected results go from being located in search engines to being visited.

And then the logic seems to stop.

Visiting a web site is one step in the overall user experience, but there are many other steps to consider and build for such as browsing the homepage and conducting a task or two. However, the moment the web site misses a beat somewhere, such as a functional defect, dead-end navigation, loopy information architecture, sleepy content or invasive form requests, the moment of bliss is over.

People know their search engine has other web sites to show them.

SEO and usability is not an either/or decision. It’s a concentrated and blended effort to go above and beyond basic expectations to reach for goals like great customer service, findability, word of mouth advertising or brand building.

Marketing a poorly built web site can be a waste of money, but truthfully, a lot of people will use a web site they dislike because they have time constraints, there aren’t many options, they’re patient, it has the right price, they have no desire to look at competitors or all the sites in that niche are also clunky to use.

You can most certainly hire an SEO and ignore the investment in the web site design. You can go the other way and build a gorgeous web site and ignore SEO, but good luck with that. It’s not a mountain I’d want to climb.

What really counts is bringing both skill sets together for the unified goal of creating a kick-ass user experience.

This means considering the user experience from the moment they fire up their favorite search engine, to the moment they click into a web site from SERPS, to every second they spend on the site and, of equal importance, what they do after they leave.

Could they use it? If they use assistive technology like screen readers, could they move about the web site and understand what it offered? They’ll tell their friends if you made your site accessible.

Was the value proposition presented well? Did they really believe your claims? Could they find your phone number for customer service? Did they stick some sale items into a shopping cart and then have to go make dinner and if so, will your cart remember them if they come back? IF they come back? Does your site let them go or was there a function to remind them to return and finish shopping and oh by the way, here’s a coupon as incentive.

You can just hear the herd of horses stampeding now, can’t you?

Bottom line?

If you don’t show passion for your web site, it will perform that way.

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Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

My Online Course: Web Site Usability 101


American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)

Information Architecture Institute

Usability Professionals Association (UPA)