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SEO and User Experience Don’t Go Together – the Myth

There is a myth that SEO and user experience don’t work together. Some would argue they are totally incompatible, and turn websites into Jekyll and Hyde horrors. The truth is, they are beautifully compatible.

Why this myth has happened

This is mostly due to digital dastardly deeds by Black Hat Wizard Miracle Workers and Pro Plonkers.

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Black Hat SEO

SEO has got a bad name from a lot of very bad practice. The fact is a lot of dubious people are out there trying to get a quick quid, and are using the Dark Arts of SEO Mysticism to con people out of a lot of money.This is  ‘Black Hat SEO’.

They promise you overnight mega results with cast-iron guarantees. But there doom lies. There’s no such thing as a short cut when Google has invested everything it has into making sure the content it offers its customers is the best quality. The February 2011 Panda release of Google is doing a great job of clearing out the rubbish from their search engine.

Black Hatters definitely do not consider your users and customers, and have demonstrated a complete lack of responsibility to delivering any quality online for users. They are after fast money. Then have a habit of disappearing into the sunset with that, and leaving you with the problems.

Before Google Panda there were a lot more of these sites doing more of these kinds of things, which created more of the myth about how user experience and SEO couldn’t go together.

What would you do if your website was banned from Google?

90% of UK Internet users use Google. The fact is, if you go over to the dark side, or employ someone who does, you risk your site being blacklisted by a search engine. Google is particularly effective at dealing with this. There was a very famous case in 2006 when BMW’s website was given the ‘Google Death Penalty’ – see BBC news article (opens in a new window)

Competitors are also becoming aware. Google actively encourage people and businesses to report on their Black Hat websites.

So if you have a website which is using Black Hat methods, chances are you’ll get shopped, or dropped, by Google and your customers.

If you have a website, it really pays to check it out now and ask a few questions.

Top 5 SEO Black Hat dark arts to avoid

1.   Keyword Stuffing

A large number of instances of the targeted keyword in the hope it will get found quicker by a search engine.

Impact on User Experience: Try reading the same word again and again and again and again and again. This is horrible. Hideous. It is difficult to read and really impacts readability and usability. It’s dull, irrelevant and dodgy. Naming and labelling in navigation can be meaningless, multiple menus repeating the same keywords can create noise and make the site less efficient to use. Some sites try to get around this by putting this at the bottom of a page, but you can still see this and users will get confused wondering which link to select.

2.   Hidden Text

Hidden text is text that is the same colour as the background or very close to it, so the human eye can’t read it – but a search engine can. At one time search engines were a bit more dense and seduced by sites which did this – but Google Panda will spot this – and the site will pay the price.

Impact on user experience: You may have something important your customer want to find, but the fact is if this happens the site will get penalised by search engines, so no users will ever find it anyway – so they and you lose out.

3.   Cloaking

Like Dracula, battleships or warplanes. Very sinister. This is showing different information to search engines than you would see with the human eye.

Impact on user experience: Users think they’ve found a site which is relevant to them – but it won’t be, so they are duped, tricked and so instantly disappointed with the website and the search engine. No one likes getting their hopes up then feeling like they’ve wasted their time.

4.   Doorway Pages

Extra pages stuffed into a site only there to promote a keyword.

Impact on user experience: irrelevance and annoyance, makes for a less efficient journey through a site, users are more likely to bounce away.

5.   Linkbuilding sites

This is building multiple (pointless for users) websites and linking them together to build the overall link popularity.

Impact on user experience: These are horrible sites and offer little value to users – but users select them thinking they’ve found something of relevance – and then feel tricked, not a nice feeling at all.

Pro Plonkers

The other reason why the myth of SEO and user experience being mutually incompatible is down to a lack of pragmatism, pride, lack of common sense and stubborn egos where UX people don’t consider SEO, and SEO people don’t consider UX. I’ve heard a lot of people who are very, very good at User Experience being dismissive of SEO, and too many SEO professionals not thinking about users. (Luckily today I don’t experience that, I’m very lucky.)

A lack of consideration of the different principles by each other just ends up being a lack of consideration about the full journey your users take online. Your user’s world is not your website. It is a journey which starts online probably on a search engine and bimbles, bumps, dwells, and browses around the Internet, from a search engine, hopefully to your website, to competitor websites (likely), to social sites like facebook and Twitter, shopping sites, and back again. Where your users are going online, thinking about their full journey, puts your website in the context of all the online places they go.

The Truth about SEO and user experience

Search engine optimisation gets your website found. User experience thinking influences all the SEO choices about keywords and optimisation on-page. SEO on-page choices can also, if done with UX principles in mind, aid usability and the overall User Experience. You can not divorce the two, they are together, forever, or for as long as people are searching online.

Beyond Google

Most people are searching on Google today. But more and more people are also searching on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. These are also key parts of your users’ journey on and from your website, possibly sharing content from your site, engaging more with your site, and natural places for them to go to in their online habits. The marriage of SEO and user experience don’t stop at your website, but goes hand-in-hand wherever your users go online, to ensure a consistently good, easy user journey wherever users may be in contact with your brand.

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