Posted by randfish
User experience and SEO: friends or enemies? They've had a rocky past, but it's time we all realized that they live better in harmony. Dispelling the negative myths about how UX and SEO interact is the first step in improving both the look and search results of your website.
In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand talks about some persistent UX myths that we should probably ignore.
Have anything to add that we didn't cover? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
"Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I wanted to talk a little about user experience, UX, and the impact that it has on SEO.
Now, the problem historically has been that these two worlds have had a lot of conflict, especially like late '90s, early 2000s, and that conflict has stayed a little bit longer than I think it should have. I believe the two are much more combined today. But there are a few things that many people, including those who invest in user experience, believe to be true about how people use the web and the problems that certain user experience, types of functionality, certain design types of things cause impact SEO, and they impact SEO negatively. So I want to dispel some of those myths and give you things that you can focus on and fix in your own websites and in your projects so that you can help not only your SEO, but also your UX.
So let's start with number one here. Which of these is better or worse? Let's say you've got a bunch of form fields that you need a user to fill out to complete some sort of a registration step. Maybe they need to register for a website. Maybe they're checking out of an e-commerce cart. Maybe they're signing up for an event. Maybe they're downloading something.
Whatever it is, is this better, putting all of the requests on one page so that they don't have to click through many steps? Or is it better to break them up into multiple steps? What research has generally shown and user experience testing has often shown is that a lot of the time, not all of the time certainly, but a lot of the time this multi-step process, perhaps unintuitively, is the better choice.
You can see this in a lot of e-commerce carts that do things very well. Having a single, simple, direct, one step thing that, oh yes, of course I can fill out my email address and give you a password. Then, oh yeah, sure I can enter my three preferences. Then, yes, I'll put in my credit card number. Those three things actually are more likely to carry users through a process because they're so simple and easy to do, rather than putting it all together on one page.
I think the psychology behind this is that this just feels very overwhelming, very daunting. It makes us sort of frustrated, like, "Oh, do I really have to go through that?"
I'm not saying you should immediately switch to one of these, but I would fight against this whole, "Oh, we're not capturing as many registrations. Our conversion rate is lower. Our SEO leads aren't coming in as well, because we have a multi-step process, and it should be single step." The real key is to usability test to get data and metrics on what works better and to choose the right path. Probably if you have something small, splitting it up into a bunch of steps doesn't matter as much. If you have something longer, this might actually get more users through your funnel.
Number two. Is it true that if we give people lots of choice, then they'll choose the best path for them, versus if we only give people a couple options that they might not go and take the action that they would have, had we given them those greater choices? One of my favorite examples from this, from the inbound marketing world, the SEO world, the sharing world, the social world is with social sharing buttons themselves. You'll see tons of websites, blogs, content sites, where they offer just an overwhelming quantity of tweet this, share this on Facebook, like this on Facebook, like us on Facebook, like our company page on Facebook, plus one this on Google+, follow us on Google+, embed this on your own webpage, link to this page, Pinterest this.
Okay. Yes, those are all social networks. Some of them may be indeed popular with many of your users. The question is: Are you overwhelming them and creating what psychologists have often called the "paradox of choice," which is that we as human beings, when we look at a long list of items and have to make a decision, we're often worse at making that decision than we would be if we looked at a smaller list of options? This is true whether it's a restaurant menu or shopping for shoes or crafting something on the Internet. Etsy has this problem constantly with an overwhelming mass of choice and people spending lots of time on the site, but then not choosing to buy something because of that paradox of choice.
What I would urge you to do is not necessarily to completely get rid of this, but maybe to alter your philosophy slightly to the three or four or if you want to be a little religious about it, even the one social network or item that you think is going to have the very most impact. You can test this and bear it out across the data of your users and say, "Hey, you know what? 80% of our users are on Facebook. That's the network where most of the people take the action even when we offer them this choice. Let's see if by slimming it down to just one option, Twitter or Facebook or just the two, we can get a lot more engagement and actions going." This is often the case. I've seen it many, many times.
Number three. Is it true that it's absolutely terrible to have a page like this that is kind of text only? It's just text and spacing, maybe some bullet points, and there are no images, no graphics, no visual elements. Or should we bias to, hey let's have a crappy stock photo of some guy holding up a box or of a team smiling with each other?
In my experience, and a lot of the tests that I've seen around UX and visual design stuff, this is actually a worse idea than just going with a basic text layout. If for some reason you can't break up your blog post, your piece of content, and you just don't have the right visuals for it, I'd urge you to break it up by having different sections, by having good typography and good visual design around your text, and I'd urge you to use headlines and sub-headlines. I wouldn't necessarily urge you to go out and find crappy stock photos, or if you're no good at creating graphics, to go and make a no good graphic. This bias has created a lot of content on the web that in my opinion is less credible, and I think some other folks have experienced that through testing. We've seen it a little bit with SEOmoz itself too.
Number four. Is it true that people never scroll, that all the content that you want anyone to see must be above the fold on a standard web page, no matter what device you think someone might be looking at it on? Is that absolutely critical?
The research reveals this is actually a complete myth. Research tells us that people do scroll, that over the past decade, people have been trained to scroll and scroll very frequently. So content that is below the fold can be equally accessible. For you SEO folks and you folks who are working on conversion rate optimization and lead tracking, all that kind of stuff, lead optimization, funnel optimization, this can be a huge relief because you can put fewer items with more space up at the top, create a better visual layout, and draw the eye down. You don't have to go ahead and throw all of the content and all of the elements that you need and sacrifice some of the items that you wanted to put on the page. You can just allow for that scroll. Visual design here is obviously still critically important, but don't get boxed into this myth that the only thing people see is the above the fold stuff.
Last one. This myth is one of the ones that hurts SEOs the most, and I see lots of times, especially when consultants and agencies, or designers, developers are fighting with people on an SEO team, on a marketing team about, "Hey, we are aiming for great UX, not great SEO." I strongly disagree with this premise. This is a false dichotomy. These two, in fact, I think are so tied and interrelated that you cannot separate them. The findability, the discover bility, the ability for a page to perform well in search engines, which remains the primary way that we find new information on the Internet, that is absolutely as critically important as it is to have that great user experience on the website itself and through the website's pages.
If you're not tying these two together, or if you're like this guy and you think this is a fight or a competition, you are almost certainly doing one of these two wrong. Oftentimes it's SEO, right? People believe, hey we have to put this keyword in here this many times, and the page title has to be this big on the page. Or, oh we can't have this graphic here. It has to be this type of graphic, and it has to have these words on it.
Usually that stuff is not nearly important as it was, say, a decade ago. You can have fantastic UX and fantastic SEO working together. In fact, there almost always married.
If you're coming up with problems like these, please leave them in the comments. Reach out to me, tweet to me and let me know. I guarantee you almost all of them have a creative solution where the two can be brought together.
All right, gang, love to hear from you, and we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care."
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