Peter VanRysdam / Digital Marketing / July 18th, 2007

A Great Debate: SEO vs Usability

There is some really good discussion taking place out there about the balancing act developers must play between a site that ranks highly in searches and yet is easy for the customer to use.  Kim Krause Berg is heavy on the side of usability in her blog, and I tend to agree.  Her post centers around a new site, Sphinn, that is clearly going after the search engines in a digg style.  Sphinn itself has pretty good content targeted towards SEO’s, but Kim is right that there isn’t much about usability.

So while I agree that usability needs to come first (what is the point of bringing traffic to your site if it goes nowhere once they arrive?), I can see one argument for the alternative.  Just look at link farms (and sites like Sphinn and Digg for that matter).  The entire point is to bring in traffic to profit based around a per-impression advertising model.  The problem there is the advertising, though it may look good on paper, is basically worthless.  But i’m coming at this from the perspective of the advertiser, and I know I wouldn’t spend a dime for an impression on a page where the user is going to back right out.  I don’t care if there are a million impressions in a month…they’re not quality impressions. 

If you’re at all interested in repeat traffic, usability has to come first.  The two really don’t need to be mutually exclusive.  Link text doesn’t need to look like plain text, and good fresh content can easily be dressed up.  But there’s no point inviting everyone to your place if there is no party when they get there.

And it looks like Kim’s ranting paid off, as Danny Sullivan, the creator of Sphinn, had this to say in a recent post:

It’s not really about having a place for Kim. It’s about having a category devoted to usability. Good idea — I’ll add it to the list. We have one for web analytics, which is somewhat related but not the same thing. I’m sure we can add this along with other topics related to online marketing (someone else suggested domaining, which I think is a good idea).

 In Danny’s defense, the site is only a beta, so the lack of a usability category may have been an oversight in…er…usability?  Regardless, it looks like ranting and raving can actually get things done!