What SEO/SEM Professionals Should Know About Website Usability – Part 2

100% Organic - A Column From Search Engine Land In part 1 of What SEO/SEM Professionals Should Know About Website Usability, usability experts Peter Morville and Susan Weinschenk answered the question, “What should SEO professionals know about usability?” For this installment, website usability guru Jakob Nielsen and Kim Krause Berg share their observations and perspectives. Enjoy!

Jakob Nielsen’s formula for website success

“The main thing SEO professionals should remember about Web usability is the formula for website success,” said Jakob Nielsen, Principal at Nielsen Norman Group.

What’s the formula?

B = V x C x L


  • B = amount of business done by the site

  • V = unique visitors coming to the site
  • C = conversion rate (the percentage of visitors who become customers); note that the concept of conversion applies not only to ecommerce sites, but to any site where there is something you want users to do
  • L = loyalty rate (the degree to which customers return to conduct repeat business)

“Narrowly considered, SEO might be thought of as the goal to rank as highly in SERPs for important keywords,” Nielsen continued. “While important, these rankings are only half of the ‘V‘ element of site success. Besides ranking high, you also need users to click the listing, so clickthrough provides the other half of ‘V.’ Clickthrough is determined by usability considerations; more specifically content usability, in form of the guidelines for writing for the Web.”

“The page title is the most important: it must be written to provide strong information scent and to extrude usefulness,” he said. “The article summary and the URL are viewed less, but are still important to help users determine whether to click a top search hit or to proceed to the next one.”

“After V comes C: It does no good to drive traffic to the wrong page that doesn’t convert visitors into customers,” said Nielsen. “Conversion rate, of course, is determined by usability: do people understand the landing page, does it speak to their concerns, and can they find their way around the site to solve their problem and understand your product line?”

“Finally, I believe that L is the most important variable for long-term website strategy: It is imperative that websites liberate themselves from being overlydependent on search engines and regain the positioning as the place users turn for the type of problem they address,” he said. “Right now, the best loyalty mechanism is the email newsletter, so it’s important to balance the site design in such a way that it encourages newsletter sign-ups at the same time as it also drives conversions.”

“The key duty of an SEO should be to advise management on how to lower search-engine dependability. Don’t worry: this won’t put you out of your job, because there will always be a need for search-driven traffic,” he added.

“Returning to the narrow SEO job of high rankings, that’s of course highly dependent on knowing the vocabulary customers use when they think about the problem your site purports to solve,” Nielsen concluded. “You can get a lot of ideas for new keywords simply by listening to what people say during user testing, so that’s a last way in which SEO and usability intersect.”

SEO tunnel vision

“Being an SEO that switched over to 100% website usability, I feel that my work supports and fortifies the procedures and steps a search engine marketer takes for their client,” said Kim Krause Berg, owner and creator of Cre8pc.com and the popular Cre8asiteForums. “Most usability-oriented SEOs will say that SEO without usability is illogical. They’ll point out that the money value invested in SEO and online marketing is doubled when applied to a site that’s been designed properly for the user experience. This is correct.”

“However,” she continued, “a usable and accessible website will be remembered by site visitors whose needs were satisfied. Give them a pleasant online experience, from search result to whipping out their credit card, and they’ll refer the site to friends, return themselves, bookmark it, link to it, blog about it, submit user generated content to it, and more.”

“I find there’s a bit of tunnel vision toward usability by web designers and SEOs,” she said. “You’ll hear SEOs say, ‘Let’s make sure the navigation works,’ or ‘We need to be sure pages aren’t cluttered.’ How many SEO companies ask for user persona or demographic data to help with optimization and targeted marketing? Why are we not user testing during the design phase, especially for rebuilds? Where are specifications documents that include search engine optimization, accessibility and user experience requirements?

“SEOs have the skills to enable search engines, not manipulate search behavior. I think sometime they forget visitor expectations,” she explained. “For example, landing pages. How great and necessary to plant the seed in search engines, but is the page task based? Is there a value proposition? Call to action? Can someone using assistive software use the page? Or was the point just to be found, but not serve? An expert blend of SEO and usability elements can fine tune pages to rank and satisfy expectations. I wouldn’t invest in one without the other.

“I think if search engines didn’t exist, and we had to find websites based on word of mouth, print, newsletters, forums or blogs instead, the impact on user experience and usage would be more obvious,” she concluded. “We’d quickly learn that enabling search engines is not enough. We don’t remember sites because search engines rank them well. We remember and return to websites that work for us and give us what we want, when we want it.”


First, I want to thank Peter Morville, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, Dr. Jakob Nielsen, and Kim Krause Berg for sharing their knowledge. I always learn something new or how to improve client websites every time I talk to them or read their books, articles, and blogs.

Many SEO professionals might not agree with some of their observations and perspectives. Some of their viewpoints surprised me a bit, too, but I always listen, reflect upon, and then test their observations on actual client sites. Result? I almost always end up creating more effective web pages.

Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | SEO: Writing & Body Copy


About The Author: is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

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