I just read another “SEO is on its death-bed – long live usability” article. This one claims that the SEO caterpillar is about to evolve into a beautiful user experience design butterfly and live in the magical land of happy search engines forever after.
One popular reason for impending doom for practitioners of the “dark art” of search engine optimization is that they are bullies, cheats, con artists, greedy fools and money hungry link grabbing liars. And drunks.
I’ve never understood the logic of the anti-SEO movement. For starters, every summer, the giant search engine Google itself holds a HUGE party for SEO’s attending the annual San Jose Search Engine Strategies conference. Google invites SEO’s inside to chat with their people. Google feeds them, lets them get drunk, brings in a stage, music and colorful lights and sends bus after bus to transport all the SEO’s for free to this big party.
Without SEO, there would be no search engine. SEO’s will die over Google’s dead body.
Common reason number two is that “black-hat” SEO is evil and those bad people who use these practices will go to hell. Black-hat SEO’s aren’t afraid to take on the topics many marketers won’t touch. If not for the dedication of cloning and comment spam, some people would have to rely on the drug dealer on the street for pain killers and risk being arrested or seen by nosy Mrs. Davis. Or, the man who can’t bear to go to the doctor for ED has access to 3 billion Viagra sites and can find rescue before his hot date this coming Friday. To those folks, creepy SEO’s are the good guys. As long as desperate people rely on search engines to solve problems, there will be a need for competitive marketing practices and con jobs.
It is said that search engines and Internet marketers are working towards the same goals. I teetered on believing this too. However, the way I’ve come to understand the big picture is that search engines want to provide information to users and marketers want to persuade users towards certain information. These are close but different goals. And, they conflict as house mates under the same roof. (Which is why Google tries to set SEO guidelines.)
Some view the end of SEO as the birth of an interest in usability or user experience. So let’s look at this for a minute.
Say, for example, you have a web site in a competitive niche such as call centers or vitamin sales or wedding gifts. When you sit down with developers to discuss site requirements, quite often one of the prevailing concerns will be building a usable web site. It’s certainly possible that the criteria for this “usable” site contains things like:
easy to read font sizes and color contrasts
task driven click paths
but will not contain
customer service oriented
All of the above are usability heuristics. The second section is also part of Search Engine Marketing. For example, sometimes a title tag notes whether or not a site is the “original” version. The meta description and introductory content on the homepage will address credibility, authenticity and the value proposition. This is organic SEO and even today, an under-used skill.
Marketers will want to get user generated content, feedback and testimonials to communicate great customer service. This content comes up in search engines and is necessary for persuasive design.
SEO’s and Usability or User Experience practitioners are interested in creating momentum. They want readers to find the pill that stops the pain, or book that provokes them to consider ideas and try new things or the product that saves time and energy. Search engines could care less what you find. They just want you to find it in their search engine and be happy with the search result experience.
All search engine marketing efforts benefit from solid usability oriented design and constant user testing. This includes so-called shady SEO. One of the tricks for black-hat marketing is to create the exact same web site, but it is called different names because it’s called up by different domains selected to match certain keywords and search phrases. Someone searching for prescription-free medications may think they found the answer to their prayers by AcmeFreeMeds.com until they do more searching and see the exact same web design, links and content on 4 other domains. This reduces credibility in an instant.
Sure, some folks will dive into the first site but other potential customers will catch on to the scam and not place their order because they suspect a rip-off. This is marketing without usability. However, just one version of the pills by email site that’s user friendly may not see the light of day unless someone is hired to make it competitive in search engines. Even beautiful famous people have agents promoting them.
There’s always going to be a need for competitive marketing and always a need for pleasant user experiences. SEO doesn’t NEED usability and usability doesn’t NEED SEO.
They do balance each other, protect each other, cover each other’s back and increase the chances for conversions and word of mouth marketing. Simple organic SEO techniques enhance accessibility and mobile design. Those skills aren’t going away and, if anything, are in high demand.
Searchers want to know what web sites will work on their cell phone. What applications will work with their cell phone provider? Will the FLASH site permit them to order online via their hand held device?
Somebody has to market this information and search engines are waiting for credible, skilled marketers to step up to the challenge and for designers to build the usable stuff searchers want to find.