Web usability and SEO

I was lucky enough to attend the Nielsen Norman Group’s Usability Week session on Fundamentals of Web Usability in Melbourne last week. Although the content was very US focused there were some good takeaways from the day from a SEO perspective for those of us managing Australian websites. Here are mine:

1. The first page visitors go to after search:

  • 25% home page
  • 75% visit deep links within a site

So make sure your pages deep within your site stand alone and are not dependent on visitors entering via your home page for context.

2. Links – think of them as a promise – the visitor has an expectation they are going to get something so make your link text as descriptive and meaningful as possible so they are not disappointed.

3. Search engine results pages (SERPs):

  • 52% of people will scroll SERPs
  • only 5% of people will view past the first page of SERPs
  • 31% of people do not click on any listing in a SERPs
  • 47% only visited one result on a SERP
  • 13% visited two results
  • 4% visited three results
  • 5% visited more than four results

What does this mean? You need to be the first, second or third organic result on the first page of SERPs if you want to get a visitor

4. Query strings – In 2008 people were searching

  • 1 word 20%
  • 2 words 26%
  • 3 words 20%
  • 4 words 16%
  • 5+ words 18%

So 54% of searchers are searching for 3+ words in their search strings and 80% of searchers are looking for 2+ words. Searchers are getting very specific about what they want to find. OneStat provides additional supporting evidence that most people use 2 word phrases in search engines.

5. Focus your site on the user not the organization. Searchers don’t always want to navigate the site they way you do so present them with a good site search facility. 82% of searches are covered by a 30 character search box, so make sure your site search box is at least this wide.

6. Different literacy levels – People with high literacy levels scan headlines, bolded words and links and like summaries. People with low literacy levels can’t scan so they skip. US stats (National Assessment of Adult Literacy 2003; 19,000 Americans) reveal:

  • High literacy people (graduate degree level) comprise 13% of the population
  • Mainstream (high school reading level) comprise 44%
  • Low (High school dropout) comprise 29%
  • Very low literacy comprise 14%

Australia in comparison varies approximately -2% – so does not differ that much. Know your audience – find out what their literacy levels are. Write at a level your audience can understand. Jakob Nielsen has some additional information in his Alert Box column entitled: How Little Do Users Read?

7. Tag Lines – On your home page have a tag line about who you are and what you do – helpful for your visitors and for search engine spiders.

8. Less is more. Follow the rule of twos! Put the important information first. ie

  • first two words of a headline, page title, list item link
  • first two lines of a paragraph
  • first 2 paragraphs of a page
  • first 2 search results on a SERP

are the most important.

There were no real surprises but its good to get the evidence you need to reinforce why you should be making changes to your website to enhance its usability.

PS: If you want to read more about search usability – Shari Thurow has written an article entitled Understanding Search Usability which you might find interesting.

4 responses to “Web usability and SEO

  1. Useful information..!!! thanks

  2. Thank you for this great summary about “Web Usability and SEO”.


  3. Long Tail Keywords are more prevalent than 1 word or 2 word phrases. People type into their search queries the same way they think which is usually not a short blip. Sometimes, the search query is random and long. It is about that person finding closest to what they were thinking of. Web relevance and usability are truly at the high end of importance. Thanks for your article as it defines many of the cores of this.

  4. Great blog! The information you provide is quiet helpful, why I was not able to find it earlier. Anyways I’ve subscribed to your feeds, keep the good work up
    Long Island Web Design</a
    Long Island Web Design</a

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