Search Engine Optimisation: Increased Usability?

A simple question, does search engine optimisation (SEO) improve usability? [a later post with answers is now available]

The reason I ask is that I’ve just been hearing some arguments for restructuring a team to include the SEO guys in the initial content authoring stage to clear the blockage that occurs when content is written and then sent to SEO for amendment. My fear is that if this is taken too literally, that copy on pages resembles the most appropriate for SEO but doesn’t actually work as effectively for the user. Effectively the pages become a long list of keywords and we return, in part, to the days where everyone buried ‘Britney Spears’ in the footer of their pages to score more hits.

In Trenton Moss’ article he asserts that “write your site’s content using the keywords for which users search and you’ll literally be speaking the same language as your visitors”. Well, technically yes you will but most people’s search terms do not reflect good copy. It should be the case, should it not, that search engines reflect the content of the pages they index, not the other way round? Writing page content that engages the user and speaks their language should not be borne out of a need to fit within Google’s requirements but rather a need to fit the users’ requirements.

I accept that other elements of his article ring true, page sizes, CSS in place of tables, descriptive links (a real passion of mine and something which blogging and hypertext rich experiences such as Wikipedia has bought back to life).

However, his last point, ‘Provide Quality Content’ is exactly why I would not like to see the team structured around SEOs. Again we need not to satisfy the SEO drum-beaters but to satisfy the users. To my mind this can only be done by experienced copywriters and people with a genuine nose for what visitors want from a site, people who tested, questioned and researched the user community. So, by all means keep an SEO check at the end of the process but don’t consider it the foundation on which to build a page, right?

[this item has been shared with mailing list uk-usability]

No comments: