Just like with anything else, Web design and development (and content creation) is a balancing act and there is a lot of compromise between user experience and Google results. If SEO is a big part of your marketing strategy, then it should win out most arguments about user experience.
Good SEO strategy is building a solid foundation for getting you noticed – one that can survive a storm. If that storm never comes, well, you haven’t really lost anything. But, when it inevitably does, you’ll be glad you put the work into building a strong, stable foundation. So instead of opting for a fancy visual-driven site, you may opt for a blog approach in order to get attention.
Bold, Italic, Headings, Font-size, Spacing
When you write a paper for school there are clear rules as to what fonts you should in what sizes. Google and the other search engines are less clear, but once again function wins out over form. Neat and clean may seem like the way to go, but uniformity can sometimes be an SEO negative.
Using a combination of formats seems to have some real benefit to the way information is processed by the search engines. That means using bolds, italics, headings, varying font sizes and spacing to stand out to Google and the others.
Here’s an issue you can’t really control (unless you have a time machine and we’re guessing you don’t)… longevity. A big part of search engine algorithms is understanding how long a site has been useful to people. If a site has been a trusted source for car repair since 1999, then why would Google give your new car repair site placement above it?
An older site does not always trump a newer one, but an older, credible site with a long history of what Google sees as satisfied customers, almost always does.
You can’t control how long your site has been around nor can you control how long other sites or pages seeking the same customers have existed. You can however know how long it takes until Google sees you as having achieved an age where just being around and being good may tip things in your favor over an upstart competitor.
Bounce Rate, Site Experience
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth endlessly repeating. The Google search engine is smart. It knows if a user had a good experience with a website. How?
Well, it has nothing to do with Google Analytics. There has been no direct correlation found between Analytics and Search, and Google executives have made this clear in the past. It doesn’t mean that they don’t tie page rankings in some fashion to whether a site uses Analytics, but since not every site uses Google’s page-tracking code, it would be pretty unfair to link the two. (That said, Google has long been rumored to tip the scales in favor of companies which embed its products in their sites, so it’s never a bad idea to do so).
Of course, search engines like Yahoo and Bing certainly wouldn’t have access to your Google Analytics results, so it’s clear those search engines can’t base results on information recorded in Google Analytics. What all search engines know is how long a user spends on your site before directly bouncing back to the search engine.
If a user clicks on a link delivered from a search query and heads right back to the search page in a few seconds, it’s likely that what you provided wasn’t what the searcher was looking for. That can happen and some quick bounces are to be expected, but if it happens too much Google and the other search engines start to see your article or content as not being a good match for that specific keyword combination.
Synonyms, Plurals, Acronyms and Like Keywords
Search engines are getting better and better understanding the subtle nature of communication. So if you are debating whether or not to add an ‘s’ to the word ‘concert’, relax. Most of the time, Google knows that both mean essentially the same thing. The big difference would be words like ‘boot’ or ‘boots’ which could mean radically different things… one being kicking some out or the other a footwear product.
Google and the other search engines are also getting smarter about words that mean the same thing. So, for instance, the word “teacher” would be interpreted in a very similar way to the word “educator.” It’s important to focus on which keyword you use, but try not to get hung up on too much nuance.
Avoid Simple Content
It used to be that answering simple questions simply was a good SEO strategy. For instance, a high ranking for “What is the area of a circle” could be the difference between no traffic and millions of hits. The story would, in those good old days, just answer the question and Google would send a steady stream of traffic to it.
Those days are over however as Google now providers answers to simple queries in a widget at the top of its search results. It may even choose your page for the widget, but it pulls the actual answer out leaving people no reason to actually clickthrough and visit your site.
If you're looking for some serious preparation for your interviews, I'd recommend this book written by a lead Google interviewer. It has 189 programming questions and solutions: