Review: Where Search Meets Web Usability

Where Search Meets Web Usability is a practical guide to building  sites which are both search-engine friendly and easy to navigate around. Its selling point over other search engine optimisation books is its combination of SEO advice with tips and testing methods drawn from the discipline of web usability.

The book uses the concept of the ‘scent of information’ to put forward a unified theory of web-searching behaviour, which also draws heavily on a categorisation of query types into navigational, informational and transactional – categories which search engines use to anticipate the intent of a user’s search. These different query types are fully explored and there is also detailed coverage of how to estimate the benefits of search usability and how different types of web professional can work together to improve it. The final chapter contains a set of easy-to-employ usability tests for search usability which should be of real practical benefit when developing sites.

The authors are at their most interesting when looking at the limitations of the SEO and usability mindsets and advising how the two can learn from each other. Usability professionals are told to look more at how people get to web sites rather than just what they do when they get there. Stereotypical SEOers, on the other hand,  should spend more time considering whether users are satisfied when they get to a site rather than just concentrating on getting as many eyes on the page as possible. Usability types could take advantage of SEO keyword tools as a way of getting to understand the language employed by users, while SEO practitioners can benefit from speaking to actual users and employing usability testing to understand why their interaction with search engines and sites works out like it does.

Out of this clash of viewpoints, there’s some nice common-sense points made which you may not have seen argued before. For example, it’s explained why a high bounce rate could be a good thing in some circumstances – if people are getting what they want on the first page they visit. Equally, we see why a number one SERP rating can be a bad thing if it results in brand devaluation due to visitors not getting what they want out of the site when they find it.

So overall, its an interesting read and a refreshingly holistic view on a topic which feels like it’s been done to death recently.

When Search Meets Web Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica is published by New Riders.

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Building Findable Websites by Aarron Walter is another very good book on SEO which also takes a wide view of the subject.

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