Usability Principles that Help SEO with Joe Williams @joetheseo #VCBuzz

Usability Principles that Help SEO with Joe Williams @joetheseo #VCBuzz

Usability has always been marketing unloved child. Clients don’t want to pay for usability analysis and optimizations, and marketing agencies don’t feel it is important enough to include it into the plan.

Yet, usability is fundamental to online visibility and conversions. You can invest in generating traffic all you want but what good does it make if your site visitors are lost and cannot figure out what they are supposed to be doing there.

Usability is important on many levels, from conversion optimization to SEO, and when it comes to the latter there are a few important usability principles that help SEO. Let’s discuss those

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About @joetheseo

Joe Williams @joetheseo is the founder, MD and Chief SEO Trainer for Tribe SEO. He has a degree in Computing Informatics from Plymouth University.

He entered the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) back in 2004. Since then, Joe has provided SEO consultancy for Qantas Airlines, EasyCruise, Maxim Magazine, PC Pro, Auto Express and many more companies both large and small.

Questions we discussed

Q1 How did you become a digital marketer? Please share your career story!

Back in 2006, it was hard to find the opening hours of large retail stores on their websites or on Google. So, I decided to collate all the UK’s largest retails stores’ opening hours and share them online.

I created a website called, added affiliate links to drive revenue and then realised the site needed to be SEO’d too!

I’m not ashamed to say that I bought the SEO for dummies book and started from there. Small tweaks like changing the alt text of an image made a noticeable difference in 2006 🙂 and first page rankings soon followed. I was hooked!

So, I decided to move from Wales to London to learn SEO in an agency. Working with lots of clients massively improved my SEO knowledge. And I sold a couple of years later.

Q2 Fundamentally, what is usability and why is it important? Are there resources to read for those who are new to the concept?

“Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug (@skrug) is the book that got me into usability.

Here’s Steve’s definition “Usability is when a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth.”

So, many of your visitors will be preoccupied. They’re not entirely focused on your site: they’re thinking about what to cook for dinner, or about the next task on their to-do list.

You need to make it really easy for them to take the action they want to take: don’t make them hunt through a menu or sidebar to find the relevant link.

Q3 What are key usability principles that help SEO (and how)?

@google’s mantra has always been the same ‘focus on the user, and all else will follow.’ – that’s search engine user, and it starts by understanding the user intent of a keyword and delivering the best results for the intent.

Jakob Neilsen’s: “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page.” – so for SEO, a visitor needs to know that the intent of their search can be satisfied within five seconds of scanning your pages.

The K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Stupid Simple) – this ties in with the Don’t Make Me Think book: make your webpages self-explanatory and evident in what action(s) to take next.

Q4 Are there areas in which usability can hinder SEO efforts and how to deal in those cases?

Not really. If it feels like a battle between SEO and usability, then you’re probably too rigid in your approach. Yes, you need to think about keyword placement, but it can be done in a balanced way that adds to the user experience.

That said, people often confuse web usability with conversion rate optimisation. In Google eyes, usability starts in its search results, and Google wants to serve the best results possible to satisfy the intent of the searcher.

Smart SEOs know that the secret to SEO is serving first (satisfying the keyword intent) and selling second.

I hear you and you’re probably right about many SEOs. Although a more cultured SEO will be thinking more holistically. 

Q5 What are your favorite SEO and usability tools?

Right now, I’m a fan of both @SERanking and @SEMRush for SEO. SE Ranking offers similar features to SEMRush like keyword rankings, competitor keyword research and backlink analysis but at a more affordable price.

But @SEMRush goes deeper in some aspects such as providing historical rankings for keywords which is excellent when auditing a new client or prospecting a potential client.

I’m a big fan of @ahrefs too. I flutter back and forth from @SEMRush to them.

For usability, I’m fond of @usabilityhub for things like design surveys and five-second tests.

Our previous SEO and usability chats:


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