Is SEO Hampering Your Site’s Usability?

One of the biggest mistakes I run across is website owners getting so obsessed with SEO they completely ignore the usability of their site. They get so crazed with the idea of ranking well in the search engines that it’s all they focus on. In their pursuit of search engine rankings, they diminish the other aspects of their site, thus ruining their chances for conversion.

Here are some of the most common situations where SEO gets in the way of a site’s usability:

Long Pages of Text – Admit it– you’ve stretched your content out a little longer than it needed to be so you could hit that “magic” 400-500 word count for SEO. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. What could have easily been said in less than 200 words is drawn out into a 400 or 500 word repetitive, keyword stuffed page. Too much text hampers the usability of your site. Even if it’s easy-to-scan, it can still be intimidating to land on a page filled with nothing but text.

Lack of Pictures – This is another prime example of SEO out of control. Some people get so caught up in the idea of optimizing their site, they leave out anything that isn’t contributing higher search engine rankings. Websites without pictures are boring, period. Well placed pictures make your site more welcoming and more usable (especially if the picture is of a product.) Never sacrifice an attractive website for the sake of SEO. There’s no point in ranking well if no one stays on your site.

Keyword Stuffed Title Tags – Anyone with even a passing knowledge of SEO knows the importance of the title tag. It’s one of the most important places for including your site’s relevant keywords. Of course, this too has been taken to the extreme. Some sites include nothing but a long list of keywords in their title tags. This is terrible for usability. Ideally, your company name should be first (for better bookmarking) followed by a brief description of the page. In this brief description, you can certainly include a key phrase. Just don’t stuff the title so full of them that it makes your site look spammy.

Too Many Internal Links – Keyword-rich internal links are another technique used by SEOs to improve a page’s relevance for certain phrases. When done properly, they can actually enhance the usability of your site by guiding the visitors in a logical path from page to page. But these too can easily get out of hand. If I land on a page and all I see are tons of links, I immediately leave that page. It reeks of spam, and more importantly, it’s just annoying. Use internal linking sparingly and only when it makes sense. As a general rule of thumb, two or three links per page is an acceptable number.

No Contact Information – This goes back to the notion that everything on a page should be contributing to getting higher search engine placement. If your contact information is difficult to find, you’ll lose potential customers. People don’t want to spend time trying to figure out how to get in touch with you. They want answers now. Have your contact information and contact forms in easy to find places on each page. Not only will this improve conversion, but it also helps your site look more trustworthy.

If your site is suffering from any of these usability mistakes, develop a plan for correcting them immediately. The more usable your site is, the likelier it is to achieve the results you desire.

About Eric Brantner

You can follow Eric on Twitter at @Eric_Brantner.

10 Responses to Is SEO Hampering Your Site’s Usability?

  1. Gerald Weber says:

    Some very good points Eric.

    Especially the contact information. You don't know how many times I have seen a very professional looking site that ranks well and I can't find contact information and end up hitting the back arrow.

  2. @Gerald–

    I'm with you on the contact thing. I'm not going to go out of my way to figure out how to get in touch with your company. How hard is it to understand that you need to make things as easy as possible for your potential customers?

  3. its always important for every internet department to work together 🙂

    It's interesting to look at it the other way, how is seo helping your site usability? On way it can help is providing input on what kind of content people are searching online to help build the sitemap

  4. @Jean-Francois-

    I totally agree that SEO done properly will help your site's usability. The only time it hurts is when people take SEO too far.

  5. Evan says:

    Nice post. I agree, it should be a nice balance, but conversion rates should be the focus IMO…

  6. @Evan-

    You're right–at the end of the day, conversion is what really matters. And the more usable your website is, the better chances you have of converting your visitors.

    Also, keep an eye out on ReveNews as I have a post coming soon about improving landing page conversion rates.

  7. And its so easy with the contact information page.

    Link to a contact page with NO FOLLOW and if you want to, exclude the page via Robots.txt or Robots Meta Tags.

    Although I'd not recommend doing that, because if you don't mention your physical location anywhere, but on your contact page and exclude that one, nobody will find you in local search results.

    I am always writing a lot, but that has nothing to do with SEO really.. it's just what I do hehe.

    I was guilty of the lack of images part, but are updating page by page to add some relevant and descriptive images that help the user finding things when they skim over a page.

  8. Mike Hyland says:

    I must be an expert in proper SEO text/pictures/link techniques because every buying keyword combination magically shows up in multiple Google page one results … with a meaningful landing page at the end of a click.

    Might be because I never consciously write the product descriptions, page titles or limit product photos because of wanting to hand feed the search engines as a SERP listing. I write strickly to honestly present the product being sold on that landing page for potential buyer because it is the best destination page for the specific keyword search I can come up with…. Amazing how a image rich and product text pre-sell bloated page gets #1 billing at all the major SE's year after year after year.

    NAVIGATION AWAY from this natural SERP landing page is a secondary concern. Contact info link is there but the "add to cart button gets hit more then the contact page if your product landing pages breed trust. Lazy marketers with no respect for shoppers post one liner descriptions and a quick load product photo and expect conversion results from some minimalist piece of art demanding further site exploration to instill confidence.

    My clients always have better conversion ratios then any of their competition bewcause the SEO/SERP landing page tells the entire story of why this product is just wjhat your looking for…

  9. Going forward, usability will actually be a key factor in search engine rankings, so it will become part of SEO. That's the idea behind "sticky SEO".

  10. Ajay says:

    Can you guide me about LINK EXCHANGE, will it hamper my website promotion if I give some other website link on it.