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The Benefits of Usability and SEO – Why You Should Care About Both

As a web site owner, there are many investments that should be made in order to ensure your web site is both attractive to search engines and easy for users to navigate. Making the web site attractive to search engines involves a process commonly called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In this process, there are numerous ways to enhance your site with respect to on-page factors (title, meta data, on-page linking structure), off-page factors (who is linking to you and where those links are coming from, directory submissions), and site wide factors (duplicate content, intra-linking of site). When SEO is implemented correctly, it should make your site rank higher on search engines, thus driving more traffic to your site. More traffic means more conversions, and more conversions means beating out your competitors for the same user market as well as the obvious, more ROI.


The First Benefit of Usability: More Potential for ROI

Now that you’ve got the users onto your site, you must convert them from faceless visitors to a lead, or better yet, a sale. But before your users convert, they must be able to find what they are looking for on your web site. This is a critical concept. Most businesses will invest primarily in the graphical design elements of a web site or new functionality, which isn’t necessarily a bad investment (you still want users to have a pleasurable visual experience). However, the truth is that it doesn’t matter how good your content is, nor how pretty your web site looks, or even how cool the new Flash functionality works. If users can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. If they can’t find it, they cannot convert.

When $25 billion in potential profit is lost every year due to web site usability issues (Zona Research, 2001), it seems practical to recommend that usability be a central component in every process of building or redesigning a web site.


What Exactly is Usability?

Usability is focused upon three simple concepts (among many others):

1. Discoverable – Can users find what they are looking for?

  • If so, how fast?
  • How efficiently? And can they do it again, but quicker the second time around?

2. Satisfaction- Are they satisfied?

  • Does your web site follow conventions that users have grown to expect?
  • Did they accomplish the goal they set out to satisfy?

3. Usefulness – How useful is the site?

  • Does it serve its purpose?
  • Will users want to revisit to obtain their objectives?

If your site is built with a customer centric focus versus a business centric focus, you will satisfy all of the above mentioned principles.


The Second Benefit of Usability: Reduced Training and Support Costs, Increased Productivity

If employed correctly, the usability process can reduce telephone and email support as well as user training. One case that comes to mind is that of a login feature which resides on an arbitrary page on your web site. The user then has to dig through many links, often with no success in finding what they’re searching for. Frustrated, they call up a sales representative. After waiting 10 minutes on the phone while listening to drab elevator music, the user’s frustration only increases. After jumping through what seems like a million hoops, the user is finally greeted by the account rep, who then has to guide the user through the sinuous forest of links until finally reaching the destination where the user can log in successfully. Sure, this exchange can be completed within 1 or 2 minutes of the rep’s time, but that time can be better utilized closing deals than supporting customers. In addition, these few minutes do not include the time it took to train the rep on the operating functions of the company’s site. If a web site (or any other product) is easy to use, it will require less training.

Another scenario that comes to mind is all too typical within any organization. Imagine that your company’s site has an intranet (which it probably does) that employees utilize to help them understand the policies and procedures associated with their work. Imagine how much productivity would be wasted if employees are busy trying to hunt down information due to a poorly planned information architecture. If the site was laid out with usability principles in mind, the employee would be able to find the information needed immediately and be able to do their work instead of wasting their time searching for information in order to perform their work tasks, or worse, disrupting a co-worker’s or manager’s valuable time to ask for that information.


The Third Benefit of Usability: Stronger Brand

Another reason to invest in usability is the increased positive brand image. Your brand extends the marketing materials disseminated to your end users; it is also the experience the user has with the people, products, and services of your company. Your web site is a facet of this engaged user experience. If the user has a negative experience with your web site, 58% will not return to the web site (Forrester Research). Moreover, any marketing materials (email campaigns, newsletters, brochures) later disseminated to the user will also be associated with the negative experience and will ultimately be rejected as spam. Not to mention the negative ‘word of mouth’ viral marketing that will be generated from just one negative experience.

Usability and SEO Go Hand In Hand

Now that both the positive and negative implications of Usability and SEO have been explored, you may be wondering: How and when should these two potential investments be implemented? As with all plans, timing and execution are essential components of any good campaign. Luckily, usability and SEO should be implemented in tandem with one another.

For example, let’s say you invest only in SEO. If you get more traffic to your site but your site is still a mess, it doesn’t matter how many visitors come to your site because your conversion rate will still be low. Now, let’s say you invest only in usability. Well, now you have a functional site, but not enough traffic is being driven to your site in order to convert users. Thus, the best way to improve your site is to invest in both these elements simultaneously. When done correctly, improving your site will ultimately improve your bottom line.

Take Aways

1. Usability benefits not only the users but the business- increased ROI, reduced training costs, stronger brand among many others.

2. To obtain the maximum results for your investment, an SEO and SEM strategy should be integrated with your Usability strategy.