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Usability Guidelines and SEO for the technically minded

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There are a lot of websites which rank in the top spots on Google or any search engine but are not user friendly. You can optimise your website for search engines without ignoring the usability. Remember even if you are ranked #1 of Google for a keyword, Google does not buy from you; you need to appeal to the user.

These are my 7 usability tips, which search engines love.

1. Clean HTML code

It’s better to code the website with standards. Do you know there is a specification which all the browsers (old & new) support? It is HTML 4.0 and XHTML 1.1 with CSS2.1. There are a lot of things you can achieve in styles with this specification. You can choose HTML5 but not all browsers support HTML5, and you need to put lot of extra code (fall-back code or unnecessary JavaScript) which can reduce your page load time and performance.

Why it is good for SEO? Search engines are still in a progress of supporting modern standards, but are not there yet. So a page with clean structure and valid tags are always recommended, in fact Google guidelines clearly states and recommends XHTML & HTML4.


2. Specifying Role Attributes:

Role attributes allow the semantics to be applied to any element assuming it will be part of the metadata attribute, which can apply to any element in XHTML. Search Engines identify your pages with the help of Meta data. Having role attributes for sections such as; header, navigation, logo and content, you are specifying these sections as content objects for search engines to crawl and navigate through.

More information on Role Attributes

3. User focused navigation with skip to content links

Navigation is an important aspect for any website. Composing the navigation with the user in mind is always useful. A navigation element on your website should be able to guide them to find exactly what they are after within 3 clicks.

Organising the navigation for a user rather than for search engines is always beneficial not just for search engines but also users with difficulties in viewing your site.

Including skip to content links helps people who view the website with keyboards or screen readers.


4. Anchor Links

Avoid using anchor texts, as “click here” or something very generic. Make a habit of using what exactly the link does, or what information it provides. For example if your linking to your services page, avoid using our services, instead you can use as “our keyword services” or “more information on keyword services and products”.

Here is an example..Click here for organic skincare products compared to Click to find more about our organic skincare products

What’s more including a title attribute further helps in identifying the link for screen readers and also search bots, which can identify the link and crawl through it.

Further reading on links for SEO purposes

5. Images & Multimedia

Providing alternate texts to your images is beneficial and compulsory. Search Engines do not read images; they are unable to see what the image is about so we need to tell them. The only way to specify is to have an alt tag with a description of what exactly the image is. Try to avoid stuffing the alt tags with keywords, because it is not only for search engines but also screen readers.

Image Optimisation Guidelines from Google

6. Fonts & Default Font Sizes

Try to avoid using fixed font sizes, because of the mobile and smart-phone evolution; your website is viewed on different screen sizes. Using relative font-sizes like em’s can improve usability across several devices. It also helps people to change the font-sizes through their browser and still access your website.

7. Semantic Structure

Always follow a semantic structure on your webpage; like header, left content, sidebar and footer. Specifying or identifying sections with unique and semantic names can help you in building semantic websites.

Search Engines do not appreciate your styles, the bots simply crawls the page without seeing the styles, so organising your content semantically helps the bots crawl the website easier and identify the content on your website appropriately.

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