Whose Definition of Great User Experience?

Google’s SEO liaison and head spam cop Matt Cutts is repeating his mantra on user experience every chance he gets these days. But who’s to say what that great user experience consists of?

Search Engine Journal quoted Cutts at Inside Search:

“Google is trying to figure out what users want. And so rather than you as an SEO chasing after Google, and Google chasing after what users want, if you chase directly after what users want, then both you and Google are trying to get to the top of the same mountain in some sense.”

In principle, I agree. SEO changes frequently. Quick tricks that worked last year don’t work now. Stop looking for the easy way to game the engines and focus on what matters long term. But Cutts isn’t saying that SEO is dead (sigh). He’s saying that the kind of SEO that looks for loopholes to exploit is shortsighted and SEOs who rely on those loopholes are just asking to get smacked down by whatever the next Panda-esque update is.

But back to the focus on user experience focus rather than SEO. Put 10 people in a room and you’ll get 12 different opinions on what great user experience means for single site. I work with a lot of people who are certain that great user experience means AJAX-y navigation and personalization. As a user I tend to agree. However, if a site focuses solely on that lovely user experience and doesn’t provide a crawlable alternative, how exactly is that going to equate to great organic search visibility?

As with all SEO advice, the key is in moderation. You have to have both SEO and user experience. You can’t focus on one strategy, tactic, trick, fad, news item. SEO is a moderate blending of all the cool stuff you read in SEO blogs, filtered through your experience, webmaster guidelines, and analysis of your unique site’s data and business requirements.

So, abandon all SEO and read up on a bunch of UX books? I wouldn’t. Instead, think about what aspects of SEO might have a positive or negative impact on user experience and vice versa:

  • Keyword stuffing vs unique, engaging content
  • Shallow synopsis of other sites vs unique, engaging content
  • Link stuffing vs intuitive and relevant cross linking
  • Bait and switch tactics vs giving users what they expected when they came to your site
  • Spamming up forums and comments with irrelevant links vs thoughtful community participation

The core goals that SEO and search engines share still come down to valuing unique content, earned links and crawlable sites. These three values create a positive user experience. And that positive user experience increases the likelihood that you’ll earn more quality links. That’s what ethical SEO is all about.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.