User-Friendly SEO

Some web designers (and many web content writers) view on-page SEO as a necessary evil to an effective content strategy on the web. However, when properly executed, SEO can actually enhance a site visitor’s experience, rather than detract from it.

In this article, I’ll run through several examples of how SEO can be improved with the user in mind. Reviewing these examples should help site builders gain a solid understanding of SEO practices that work together to create highly effective sites.

Changing Your Perception About SEO

Misperceptions about SEO generally arise from outdated ideas about what SEO is all about; when people are still under the assumption that keyword stuffing, mammoth blocks of links and stilted wording are still valid SEO tactics.

Rightfully so, web designers and web content writers object to these practices because they interfere with a visitor’s ability to make sense of the site.

Google and SEO have come a long ways since those practices were in vogue. Today, the crucial thing to understand is this:

With that in mind, here is a brief review of seven tips  of on-page SEO that demonstrate how good SEO, good writing and good design work together to create an exceptional product. This is not an exhaustive list of content optimization techniques, but websites that get these issues right have an extremely strong foundation.

1. Insert Primary Keyword Phrases at the Beginning of Headlines

The primary keyword phrase on a web page should clearly and concisely describe the main topic of that page. For maximum effect, the phrase should be written at the beginning of the main page heading (<h1> tag).

The example illustrated below is taken from a site we recently did for our client Track Your Truck, a firm that sells GPS tracking systems.

The headline, "GPS Tracking Systems", is superior to, say, "Manage Your Fleet Productivity".

When people scan a web page, their attention is drawn to the headline. If they have to pause for even a few seconds to discern its meaning and relevance, they may just click away instead.

Using keywords in the headline helps readers, which is why search engines like Google reward the practice.

2. Use Bold Text for Keywords

Another way to tell search engines — and site users — that content is important is to put it in bold type. Restricting the use of bold text to keywords is a good discipline all the way around. Too much bold text, especially used in a haphazard fashion, confuses the reader. No bold styling creates a clump of undifferentiated text that turns the reader off.

What we want is to focus the reader’s attention on the main theme of the page, so again, SEO and user preference work hand in hand.

Placing text in italics also attracts the attention of search engines and readers, but I discourage its use because italics in body copy can sometimes be difficult to read.

3. Use Bulleted Lists

Search engines are attracted to bullet points because they think bulleted content has high importance (otherwise, why would someone bullet it?). Humans think the same way.

Any time content can be transformed from an undifferentiated block of text into a short (3 to 5) list of bullet points, the writer is helping visitors and search engines quickly and decisively grasp the meaning of that page.

As a general rule, extremely long lists are undesirable: they overwhelm the reader and, for that same reason, search engines probably devalue them.

4. Use Keywords in Call to Action Links

By conveying the content of the link using keywords, you alert the reader and search-engine to what the new page is all about.

Some will make the argument that "click here" is the better choice, because readers are more likely to follow a clear command. While I can accept this argument for landing pages and email blasts, I don’t think it applies very well to websites. If the "click here" approach is used globally, you wind up with a site where every link looks the same and thus all of the urgency of the command is lost. For obvious reasons, this situation is bad for both the user reading your site and for web spiders crawling your links for context.

5. Insert Primary Keywords at the Beginning of Meta Titles

A web page’s <title> tag is probably the most significant content on the page, as far as search engines are concerned.

Most designers and web copywriters are indifferent about meta data in general, because there is the perception that human readers don’t see it, even though what goes inside the <head> tag of an HTML document is important.

Site visitors do in fact view meta data. For instance, the <title> tag’s value appears in browser bars, browser tabs, and in a search engine’s results pages when people perform a search.  Also, they’re picked up automatically by tweets through most Twitter apps.

Insert Primary Keywords at the Beginning of Meta Titles

The browser view is quite important in my estimation. If a visitor has several tabs open, I want him or her to easily understand what page(s) of our client’s site is open. Ideally, the tab will display a perfectly constructed meta title, with keywords at the beginning and branding at the end, as you see in the example above.

Constructing great titles can contribute to better usability as well; Usability expert Jakob Nielsen suggests using the passive voice to front-load keywords in headings and page titles, even though the active voice is, overall, better for readability of web content.

6. Build a Strong Internal Link Structure

When web pages within a site are linked together in a logical way, search engines perceive them as being logically connected; that they rely on each other to tell a story. This interconnection causes the search value of these pages — and the domain as a whole — to rise, because the content is seen as important not only on its own, but as part of a bigger picture.

A strong internal link structure is a major component of the overall information architecture of a site and, from the user experience perspective, crucial to a visitor’s ability to maneuver around the site.

Whether internal links manifest themselves as breadcrumbs, footer links, text links or a combination, if the links are easy for the reader to follow, they’ll be easy for search engines to follow as well.

Build a Strong Internal Link Structure

Internal links (and links in general) are strongest for SEO purposes when keywords for the target page are used in the anchor text. The footer links in the example above, part of a design scheme our company uses for many lead generation sites, are optimized for the most important site pages.

7. Optimize Site Images

Very few sites have well optimized images, which is unfortunate on many levels. Poorly optimized images cause sites to miss out on great search opportunities, detract from the user experience, and pass up excellent conversion opportunities.

There are three ways to optimize images for SEO that I want to focus on, because they’re also great for usability.

Fill in the alt attribute. The alt attribute describes the image in plain English. It’s extremely useful for infographics and images that convey complex ideas or valuable data. If a visitor is not able to view the image, he or she will be helpless without an alt attribute; it’s a fallback mechanism for users who have issues rendering images, have images turned off while they browse, and for readers who are unable to see their screen and must rely on screen-reading software.

Keyword-optimize the title attribute. The image title appears when hovering over an image. What impression do you want to make on your visitors? Will they see "IMG40481105.jpg" or "Business Grammar and Punctuation Tips"?

Add a keyword-optimized caption. In my view, a caption strengthens most any image, especially on interior product and service pages. A reader will quickly zero in on an image and is very likely to read any content around it. Here is a golden opportunity to highlight a key product benefit, a unique service capability — and give search engines more content to index and rank.

Optimize Site Images

Image search can be a superb source of highly qualified traffic. People search for images for many types of products, and since fewer sites are optimized for image search, there’s less competition.

How Many Words on a Page Are Too Many?

SEOs and designers furiously debate the issue of word count. SEOs want more words, because all other things being equal, Google will rank a page with more and richer content higher than a similar page with less and lacking content.

Designers, on the other hand, fight for fewer words for the sake of elegance and impact. Both sides can make a strong case, and as a content writer, I am often caught in the crossfire.

Here, then, is a web content writer’s take on this very important issue.

First, the issue isn’t how much content to have on a website, it’s where to put it. Although intuition tells us that too many words will put off the visitor, some visitors at some point become interested in detailed information. If we can agree on that statement, we can resolve most word count issues.

For a home page and overview-type interior pages, too much above the fold content will backfire. On pages such as these, visitors are looking for a quick impression. Design effectiveness is paramount.

One way we have tried to balance SEO and design considerations for content on home pages is to "layer" the content. Above the fold, we strive for strong design elements and concise content. Below the fold, we add more detailed copy that incorporates keywords.

Here is the home page for Track Your Truck that follows these practices:

This is not an ideal solution, because in a perfect world, our keywords would be concentrated toward the top of the page, where search engines value them more highly.

However, from an overall UX point of view, I like this approach. If the top part of the site is engaging, some visitors will scroll down and read because they have been inspired to learn more. Others will bypass the optimized content and proceed directly to an interior page or the contact page. Whichever happens, the site scores a win.

In contrast, product and service detail pages can be content heavy above the fold. When visitors get to these pages, they are no longer browsing, but searching for information. A lack of detail can actually detract from the site’s credibility.

Keep in mind that many people who hit interior pages come directly from a search for that product or service. Presumably, such visitors have clicked through because they want detailed information, and for many sites, these interior pages will generate the lion’s share of unbranded search traffic. As a result, high word counts on interior pages serve SEO and users well, and home page word counts become far less significant.

Designers, SEOs and Writers: Why We Can All Just Get Along

Successful web development requires a high level of teamwork. This is the conclusion professional designers, SEOs and writers always reach in the end. When designers disregard SEO, websites fail with search engines. When SEOs disregard design, websites fail with people. Either outcome will fall woefully short of client expectations, because virtually every e-commerce and lead generation site is in pursuit of more search traffic and more conversions.

Writers, too, cannot afford to be purists or operate in a vacuum. The emphasis Google places on quality content is undeniable: Recently, Google announced a new algorithm to combat content spam, a clear signal that it means to punish manipulative SEO techniques and reward high quality, relevant web copy.

Nevertheless, writers who consider themselves "above" the SEO fray are arguing for a strategy of "build it and they shall come." Unfortunately, this strategy almost never wins: Apple and McDonalds may be able to ignore Google — can you?

The strategy that is likely to win is one that balances design, SEO and writing through every step of the development process. This post attempts to describe some common ground, but still, getting all team members on the same page (so to speak) is not always easy. I hope you will share your experiences about this challenge in the comments.

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About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing firm. Follow him on Twitter @bradshorr.

This was published on Feb 22, 2011


Roseli A. Bakar Feb 22 2011

Very good post Brad. Never knew that bullet lists will have some impact on SEO. Will use them more often now..:)

Amazing Tips going to use this as a check-list on all future sites.

publo Feb 22 2011

great write up Brad
Will be referring to this when designing my next site

A Sitting Duck Feb 22 2011

Some great tips!, what would your recommendation be for targeting a single keyword to rank on page 1?…


David Edwards

Matthew Adams Feb 22 2011

Great article with some easy to follow tips. We find many of our clients ignore the impact a simple title tag change can make. Got to get the basics correct!

James Feb 22 2011

Some very resourceful tips here. I like how you’ve written the content in layman’s terms.

Writing for the reader is more important than ever.

Richard Bate Feb 22 2011

Very good article to pass on to clients to give them an understanding of what SEO is all about.

Diogo Feb 22 2011

Good post! Thanks for sharing these tips.

Antonio Feb 22 2011

Nothing really new in this post, but good to reminds this.

David Radovanovic Feb 22 2011


4. Links in “Call to Action”: How does SE know what is a call-to-action?

Thanks for sharing.

David Radovanovic Feb 22 2011

Oh, also “Bulleted” lists opposed to numbered links: any difference in regard to SE?

Brad Shorr Feb 22 2011

Glad you’re finding these tips useful. David, as far as targeting a single keyword to rank on page 1, first thing to consider is that rankings depend on many factors – age of the domain, inbound links, site architecture, etc. Generally it’s hard to optimize a page for more than two or three keyword phrases. We usually try to mention the targeted phrase 2 or 3 times, preferably above the fold.

Pascal Feb 22 2011

Hi Brad, many thanks for a great read – very interesting. I’m curious about your views on long single page sites for relatively simple apps where you just link to anchors. Are anchors respected by Google’s spiders? It’s nice for a user to be able to navigate up and down the page grabbing the info they need instantly but does offering this damage our SEO effectiveness?

Good article. I wish my Ning site had more SEO capability to actually implement all above points of attention.

Brilliant article, the best example that I use to explain to clients as to how link text works and the importance of it is that if you search “click here” in Google, Adobe Reader is the first result. This is despite the page never having the words “Click here” in it or even the source code. Its because so many websites use that text to link to download Adobe Reader.

Vladan Mitevski Feb 22 2011

Great post Brad. Thanks for sharing.
One question for you. I heard that title tag on link is also useful?

TimMH Feb 22 2011

An all round good article for refreshing the memory, although most is very much common sense nowadays, the reminder is always helpful. Cheers Brad.

Brad Shorr Feb 22 2011

Hi David, SEs don’t know it’s a call to action, but they are thought to weight anchor text in links more heavily than plain text. If the anchor text is optimized and serves as the CTA, you’ve got all the bases covered. Bulleted and numbered lists are both SE friendly.

Syed Balkhi Feb 22 2011

Another great article at SR. People try to optimize their content for SEO and pay ridiculous amount for 3rd party softwares. But if you just write natural content semantically, you can do hell of a job as this article shows.

Kristoffer Feb 22 2011

Great tips. I like to outsource this kind of stuff to SEO plugins like SEOPressor though.


frankj Feb 22 2011

A very new perspective when it comes to SEO. But what you might want to avoid is using BlackHat SEO. Wherein you have the same results as SEO done manually, but the difference is that, BlackHat is an automated SEO programmed to do just the same.

Michael Byers Feb 22 2011

Really great SEO tips. It’s good to get a reminder of these tips. I also didn’t know that bulleted lists were of high importance to SEs. Thanks for sharing.

Richard Feb 22 2011

Great article – some really useful tips here, thanks!

David Wiles Feb 22 2011

Very good article, and well played out.

Also I would like to point out that Google seems to love WordPress integration, wheather for a blog or to build an entire site.

Great article and some good tips.

Young Feb 22 2011

Great article touching some really important points of “correct” SEO. I also didn’t know about bullet points – but does CSS stylings matter? Are spiders looking for UL tags, or disc-style lists?

Also, I’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of using h1, h2, h3 etc correctly for SEO. Maybe SR can host an article about those other subtle aspects of SEO.

The most important thing was in the last paragraph. In order for your site to be successful, you need the design, visibility (SEO/SEM), and content approach. You need all three. Your site won’t be successful with just two of the three.

Great article, great advice.

Leon Cullens Feb 22 2011

The part about the bold tags is incorrect… Only tags are given higher priority; tags are not!

Leon Cullens Feb 22 2011

Wowwow, why can I just insert HTML in this page…?

What I meant to say is that strong tags are given a higher priority, b tags aren’t. Somehow just renders my HTML?

Parth Feb 22 2011

Great article! Some of the tips will be very helpful.

Dave Harrison Feb 22 2011

Great insight Brad. I concur with everything you have written here. Just wanted to add another pattern emerging in the world of SEO. Create you pages to be people friendly as the robots are being programmed to emulate people not to mention the site is ultimately for people. Anyone who keeps this in mind will not go far wrong. Universal web design principles everyone, google it!

Very good article.

I hope people start to understand that gaining more visitors should be secondary to providing a positive experience when they get to your site.

Fantastic article. Well organized and dead on.

Ary Wibowo Feb 22 2011

thanks for the article, very useful for me to learn more about SEO :D

CIPPO Feb 22 2011

Indeed a helpful article because there are some things ( few ) that I didn’t know.

Thanks for sharing it with us!

Barry Feb 22 2011

Fantastic points made. Excellent article. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Aaron Bradley Feb 22 2011

Nice article Brad. Oddly enough, I was just thinking about something along these lines today (or rather along the lines of “user-hostile SEO”) – the appalling “SEO block” of content that appears at the bottom of so many pages.

There’s nothing wrong with what you call content layering: indeed, logically not all of the important keywords – er, sorry, content – can fall within the top region of a page. There’s only so much top to go around.

My complaint is that this block appears so often solely for SEO purposes, and is so often complete, keyword-stuffed rubbish (your GPS example is a good one, because the copy there actually appears to be useful). It’s unfortunate that this actually works, which is why this is such a ubiquitous feature of websites, and in particular of ecommerce category pages. I’m rooting for Google’s algorithm to take the wind out of these particular sails, if for no other reason that I don’t have to write (or arrange to have written) these particular paragraphs ever again in my life.

Not that it necessarily needs to be this way. I think an acid test of keyword-rich but user-friendly content blocks is usefulness. And if the answer is no, it’s not useful, then I think with some creative thought one can usually come up with content that has at least nominal value, rather than having to scrap the block altogether.

But please, my fellow SEOs, I don’t need to know that a recliner chair is a type of chair on which you recline, and that that recliner chairs are great for relaxing or even reclining. Or maybe my plea shouldn’t be to my colleagues but to the search engines: please save us from the unnecessary creation of this drivel. :)

Diane Feb 22 2011

A very well written article. Thank you!

David Pasieka Feb 22 2011

It’s interesting to note that a lot of the points about setting up good SEO are the very same things that need to be considered when creating good content. While relevant, well-written content may not be the only consideration for effective SEO, it gets you a good part of the way towards it.

Maitreya Feb 23 2011

Great article..

Ionut Chirica Feb 23 2011

Very useful tricks, thanks a lot for sharing.

You have just produced an article which contains every thought that floats around in my head when thinking of SEO but that I never seem to be able to get down on paper. Now you’ve done the hard work for me I can just come back here as a reference. Ta.

Brad Shorr Feb 23 2011

Hi Aaron, You make great points. We agree that top results come from copy that appeals to search engines AND humans – which is why our agency staffs writers who know how to write. Machine- generated content may “work” in terms of getting people to the site, but I don’t think it’s helpful at all in getting people to convert. Speaking of conversion, one trend I like on e-commerce sites is user-generated content. It’s a great way to add useful content and help rankings. Amazon has been doing it for years and it’s obviously been hugely successful.

Jennier R Feb 23 2011

Thanks for this nice article, Brad.

JoakimBertil Feb 23 2011

Great tips! I will definately be using these on the rewamp of my current project.

Lollipop Feb 23 2011

Thanks for a great resource! It’s easy to forget about optimizing images. We’ll be sharing this link.

Michael Clark Feb 23 2011

Nice. I wasn’t aware that lists were a positive for SEO.


Santana Feb 23 2011

Great article. Liked the part about using keywords for your call to action links.

Costi Feb 24 2011

Very simple to understand and trustful article, thanks.

Kavya Hari Feb 24 2011

Hi brad, it’s one of the great tips and useful information to the SEO. Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas on here.

Shannon Lowe Feb 24 2011

One of the best posts I have seen lately on the important elements of optimizing a page and a website for users and search engines. Nice work.

I’ve got to say that I am impressed. Track Your Truck is a dream site for an SEO. It is attractive, easy to navigate, has clear calls to action. The content is laid out very attractively and is easy to either skim or read. Plus, it is loaded with keyword rich content in a way that is actually beneficial to the reader. Great work!

Thanks for this article.

Once properly optimized, how can one know that it is in fact properly optimized? Is there some kind of test that can be done?

Thank you.

Young Feb 24 2011

isn’t keyword-stuffed blocks technically considered blackhat SEO?

Eldar Gaziev Feb 24 2011

Great post, especially for those just starting to learn the fundamentals of SEO. thank you for the tips!

Brad Shorr Feb 24 2011

Jeff, Thank you – we try; we have a great team.

Marc, I don’t think there’s an exact formula, although many companies sell SEO analyzers that supposedly tell you whether the page is optimized. I’ve not found them to be especially accurate or helpful. From a pure content standpoint, following these principles is a great start. It’s also important to look at your analytics and see what’s working.

Young, Yes, keyword stuffing is an outdated, bad practice. Google will penalize it.

Thanks again for all the supportive comments – much appreciated.

steve Feb 24 2011


I definitely agree with most points in the article and I also think image optimization is something more people should do to gain extra visits. I pull a vast amount of organic via image search channels.

Great article!!

Chiho Feb 24 2011

Your article is worth reading!!!
As a designer, I always struggle between SEO and clients’ needs… Never found out the best solution yet! I’ll keep this in mind for the coming projects!

Goood stuff!! The web would be a better place if this was implemented everywhere..

Nice blog!

Claudio Feb 25 2011

Hi Brad,
thank for this very well written post.
It summarize many of the best SEO practices in a nice and useful way.

Young Feb 25 2011

Yeah sorry, I read Aaron’s comment a little too fast – and thought he was talking about keyword stuffing as a viable option haha…bah.

Thanks for the great article, you bring up a many good points.
I do though have to take issue with point #5, and more specifically with the example you used there. That title “Vehicle Tracking Systems, Vehicle GPS Tracking Devices & Software” seems like it’s trying too hard, and is actually also a bit confusing when read. Seems like “Vehicle GPS Tracking Systems, Devices & Software” would be a cleaner way to say the same thing while keeping pretty much the same “search engine score”.

Chris W Feb 26 2011

As a web designer with a strong understanding of SEO I enjoyed this well written post.

Adrian Feb 26 2011

Some great points highlighted hear in a concise and understandable way. Bookmarked for future reference, thanks :o)

nathan Feb 26 2011

I really found this article helpful, nicely written and easy to digest. The visuals also helped a lot.

Thanks for this!

Rajesh Namase Feb 27 2011

Great article, I was looking for this certain info for a long time. Thank you very much.

Michael LaRocca Feb 27 2011

Since I wear all the website hats at my little company, if I had a major argument, I’d probably have bigger problems than my search engine ranking. HOWEVER, I do like a thorough yet concise reminder of the basics from time to time, and this is definitely one of those. Thanks!

Scott D Feb 27 2011

I’m conflicted about the strong tag advice. I have content heavy-sites, and I find that strong-tagging keywords looks forced after the first paragraph or so. Is there such a thing as “strong-tag spamming?”

Dmitriy Feb 27 2011

Fhanks a lot for this article. I didn’t know about Bulleted Lists.
It’s helpfully.

The bullet list is news to me, and I will try this out on my wabe page thanks a buch for this post.

Vekta Feb 28 2011

I really enjoyed reading this article. All good SEO methods enhance user experience and navigation. Take search engines out of the equation, plan and create quality content based around the subject for the end user. The search engines want to provide quality content in their search results about a given subject so focus on that first, and then implement the above techniques.

seo 101, nice one ;)

gbsquared Mar 01 2011

This was a really great post.

I have been stressing soooo much about my SEO. I am on about the 35th page in Google right now, granted I just recently launched.

Finally some really useful tips for SEO. I never knew that about the bullet points.

I am bookmarking this and will be implementing as much as I can in my new posts.

Graham Mar 01 2011

Great post Brad, some really useful tips.

Ted Goas Mar 01 2011

I’d advise everyone (including the author) to read or re-read SEOMoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

#2, #3, #4, and “How Many Words on a Page Are Too Many?” are all pretty outdated or otherwise inaccurate.

e11world Mar 01 2011

The bulleted list was something new to me but I’m glad that I already follow the rest of these tips. I’m not sure if you missed this by accident by title tags and the domain name itself are probably #1 for SEO still. Good and useful post!

Well…what can I say…Brad is dead-on…I should know…I own and the results are undeniable. Thanks again to Straight North for a well-designed site where content and design meld beautifully!

Ritwik Mar 03 2011

Nice tips. I would like to add, after you accomplish a good on page SEO stuff, it is then important to see how can you engage your users in a page. Good content of course plays the key role in this. But then, you have be creative. One or two common tricks which are used – (i)A search option so that people can at least try to find what they are looking for (ii)Include some relevant see also links at the bottom of the main content. I would love to see some good discussion about this.

akidh Mar 05 2011

Thanks for the explanation. There are some points that I still not apply in my web.

Malcolm Gibb Mar 08 2011

Very nice article, some good tips. Another idea for images is to use keywords in the file names like gps-tracking-systems.jpg this will not only add more on page keyword prominence, but will enable the image to show up in google image search if you don’t block your images from being crawled.

Brad Davis Mar 09 2011

Great article. Some great points to take away and test for sure.

Learn something new today. Thank for sharing your seo tips.

DRoss Mar 20 2011

#7. Optimize Site Images

Always name your image what it is – not some random number. Surprised you didn’t to mention or know?

Great Tips, will make sure to use these on all future websites

Ferry T.H. Apr 20 2011

In WordPress, the SEO things can be improved by installing bunch of plugins, like: All in One SEO Pack, Broken Link Checker, No Self Pings, SEO Friendly Images, Google XML Sitemaps Generator.

Good ideas. SEO plays important role to get up the site top in search engines

Have a nice day

TheStephConcept May 11 2011

Wonderful article! I had to share it on my site =) hope that’s fine!!

Prince Zermic May 23 2011

If you are well versed with the nature of search engines, you need not be stated that they often change their algorithms and their course of action is pretty unpredictable. If and when the search engines decide to take into account the Meta Title tags, you cannot risk doing them all over again. Using readable content and avoiding keyword stuffing is the key to successful Meta description and Meta Title tagging.

Chandra Jul 01 2011

What a great post. Thank you so much for a great resource!

Rajesh Namase Jul 22 2011

Nice tips, really good article, i like this site.

Adding good quality captions/transcripts to videos/audio/podcasts made by humans also increase SEO results.

Brad, just the article I wanted to read. We are about to redesign our website, including the layout and content. One question, which is more of a chicken and egg question… Should the content be structured on the new layout or should it be vice-versa?

Shalini Nov 26 2011

Awesome Article!! Very innovative and useful tips specially for SEO. Thanks

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