Google's Matt Cutts, as well as many respected members of the SEO community, advise you to "focus on the user" rather than merely optimizing your Web site for the search engines.
This rang true for me, perhaps more than ever before, when I recently read a LinkedIn discussion thread.
A small business owner was asking for help finding a dependable SEO firm in the area. People were chiming in with "try this guy," or "SEO isn't that difficult...just get some content on the Web site and get some links."
On most days, I might have just smiled and gone about my day. Can't participate in every conversation, obviously. I've got work to do! But, on this day, I decided to step in.
Before I committed to "you might try this or that firm/person," I decided to check out this person's Web site.
No kidding. This site literally looked like a clown had thrown up on it. Every color of the rainbow, splashed all over the place. And, if you could get around this, and you managed to find the "contact us" link, you would find that this actually 302 redirects back to the home page.
This person is looking for SEO assistance?
Not only that, this person mentioned that, "all I want is to rank on the first page for these two keyword phrases." Again, he's setting himself up for disaster. You want to put all of your eggs in two keyword baskets?
So, I reached out to this person. I'm not really known for diplomacy. I'm known for being a little over-the-top honest, and this personality flaw can rub some people wrong.
First, I told this person to spend time learning about SEO (sage advice for anyone shopping firms; understand what you're shopping for before you buy), and even recommended some local groups/conferences this person could attend, and then said, "a lot of people get caught up in SEO, when they should consider usability, too."
I bit my tongue a bit and was able to (I think) politely tell this person that their Web site being every color of the rainbow probably wasn't a good idea. I summarized my comments by saying, "What you are really trying to do is get leads and grow the business, right?"
SEO is an important endeavor, no doubt. And, I'm a huge fan (it's how I make my living). But, if you have a Web site that looks like a clown threw up on it, and have 302 redirected the link to your "contact us" page to your home page, you have bigger fish to fry.
10 Steps to a More User-Friendly Web Site
So, how do you make sure that your Web site is user friendly?
David Cooper wrote a piece on WebProNews back in 2005 that laid out 10 steps to a more user-friendly Web site:
- Flash: While it's indexable, it still isn't optimal.
- Page loading time: This is becoming increasingly important in Google's algorithm.
- Reduce the size of your graphics: This goes to load time.
- Broken links: Obviously, a bad thing for SEO.
- HTML validation: Valid code has always been optimal for SEO.
- Browser compatibility: Google is a browser.
- Customer support: More on this in a bit.
- Navigation: Yeah, it's pretty important in SEO to have a crawlable navigation.
- Easy to read: Blogs are important to SEO because they use "human" language in posts, as opposed to the corporate speak that can exist on many corporate Web pages.
- Spellcheck: Yeah, well...that goes without saying.
I could have cited something more recent, but I selected this because it's interesting, especially in light of the fairly recent addition of page speed to the Google algorithm. This list of tips for building a more user-friendly Web site, written five years ago, could just as easily have been written today.
Getting Back to Customer Support...
Look what Cooper's article said, with regard to customer support:
"Easy access to customer support options and ways of contacting you are especially crucial for ecommerce businesses. If you are running a web store of any kind there is no way for your visitors to verify whether there is a legitimate company behind your site. You will need to gain their trust in order to get their business. Placing any contact information including toll-free number, live support, etc. on every page of your website is a great way of building the trust between you and your visitors."
Build trust. Create a user-friendly Web site. Then, perhaps, you'll be ready to entertain the idea of finding a trusted partner for SEO efforts.