Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

SEO and Usability: Be That Stallion and Round Up The Herd

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.

horse bow


  1. iamlost's Gravatar iamlost
    February 7, 2008    

    Ignore the bugling strutting stallion – that’s just a search marketer shouting ‘look at me’ and ‘look how many SM sites I’ve covered, ain’t I popular?’ or ‘look how I beat up on that SE, ain’t I tough?’

    It’s the old grey mare that actually leads the domain year in and year out. The one who’s successfully been there and back with a proven ability to adapt as necesaary.

    Both are necessary to continued existance: one is quiet knowledge and competence, the other is all noise and lather and neck biting.

  2. February 7, 2008    

    the other is all noise and lather and neck biting.

    Maybe THAT’s why I haven’t signed up for Twitter yet.

    (evil laugh)


  3. February 7, 2008    

    Wow Kim,

    Nice Friesian stallion! That’s my favorite horse breed.

    Oh, and your article was nice too. :-)


  4. February 7, 2008    

    They both are…as soon as I saw them, I knew I just had to put them up there for you Chris! :)

    I could stare at that face all day…

  5. February 8, 2008    

    This means considering the user experience from the moment they fire up their favorite search engine

    Well said, Kim (and I always love seeing you write about SEO and usability). I think that’s what got me to rediscover the value of SEO in the last couple of years after dismissing it circa 1999. The user experience starts when a person opens a browser and thinks “how do I find X?” If we ignore the journey they’ve taken to reach our sites and the expectations that journey has established, we’re ignoring a huge aspect of usability.

  6. February 8, 2008    

    I could not agree more. But I would also suggest that with all of that, a web site is the path into a company, unless it is purely an e-commerce site. We, as web specialists, may deliver visitors to a client’s site and to their Contact Us page, but then it is up to the client’s sales team turn a visitor into a sale. And client’s can really drop the ball at that point by not responding to emails with vivacity, failing to return phone calls quickly or at all, have a chewing gum splashing receptionist in the sales department etc.

    We have to also get the client to understand that to get the most out of a web site, they have to prepare their own real world infrastructure to maximize their ROI in their web site.


  7. February 8, 2008    

    i believe that SEO and a good web design is needed to be successful in online business. They should really go hand-in-hand to stay longer

  8. Sofa's Gravatar Sofa
    February 8, 2008    

    Too much emphasis on SEO is merely a poor man’s marketing. Paid advertising works wonders. You build a website to make money. Don’t get cheap. I’ve seen good websites go down because no one wanted to pay for traditional advertising. SEO should be at the bottom of the list in any marketing plan.

  9. February 8, 2008    

    Great article, thanks.

1 Trackback

  1. Search Engine Land: News About Search Engines & Search Marketing on February 7, 2008 at 4:16 pm
  2. SEO and Usability: Don’t Beat a Dead Horse on February 18, 2008 at 3:37 pm
  3. The SEO World According to Carlos on February 19, 2008 at 8:23 pm

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