Thursday, February 1, 2007

Search Engine Optimization Starts with Good User-Centered Design

When businesses invest a lot of time and money on usability testing and analysis for their website, only later to find it's not generating the traffic or accomplishing the goals they were expecting, they often turn to search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to boost their ranking in search engine results pages. Unfortunately, some of the techniques learned fall into the black-hat category and end up doing more harm than good.

SEO is more than building reciprocal links, keyword choice and quality content. It has as much to do with those techniques as it does good information architecture, a facet of user-centered design. It also has much to do with a sense of place (end-users understanding where they are in a given website) and the scent of the information (the accuracy of the information queried).

Let's examine this further as it relates to information architecture and a sense of place.

Information architecture is what I like to call the framework, or structure, of a website or web application. It supports a sense of place in the mind of the end-user by providing organization and labeling of content. Your website will be user-centered provided the organization and the labeling match your intended audience's mental model.

One way to provide a sense of place is through breadcrumbs - textual links that demonstrate the strucutre of the content.

Remember, in the end it's all about the user experience - making it easier for your users to seek out information, retrieve that information and be able to use it right away. When developers of websites and web applications begin with information architecture over visual design, generally accepted practices of SEO should come easy. Logical sitemaps, labeling of content and keyword choice will fall into place.

Searches conducted by end-users on search engines will generally take them directly to the page with the content they are looking for (or as close a match as possible). If your end-users are landing on a page deep within your website, wouldn't it make sense to give them a "you are here" sign before they start looking for the nearest exit?

No comments: