Blinded by the Flash – User Experience and SEO Have More in Common than You Think

- April 10, 2007

A basic rule of website design is that the site should provide a positive user experience to its visitors. While it’s true that a site that’s invisible to search engine robots might not get many visitors, it’s also true that a site that fails to consider humans is unlikely to keep those visitors – much less sell them anything. Search engine optimization and user experience are both crucial for a successful site and, much as I hate to say it, user experience, like content, is king. Unfortunately, traditional web design often misses the mark on both fronts.

It’s common knowledge that JavaScript and Flash aren’t SEO-friendly. However, I was surprised to learn in this article on ruining the user experience that it’s not just search engines that don’t like sites that depend too heavily on Flash and JavaScript. In fact, nothing can make a dial-up user push that stop loading button faster than the sight of the Flash loading bar, or worse, a site that won’t let you in unless you agree to spend the next three hours downloading software so you can see its menus.

It turns out that even “simple” drop-down menus can irritate the user. Usability research has found that users would much rather type state abbreviations directly into contact forms than fiddle with a drop-down menu. From an SEO standpoint, drop-down menus dilute keyword density which may even blur keyword relevance and make it harder to optimize the page for keyword search. In addition, badly implemented JavaScript menus can make a site almost impenetrable to anyone whose browser or operating system isn’t supported and most of the time, web designers are decidedly unsympathetic.

As a Mac user, I was highly amused when I heard the ironic tale of Apple Computer’s misfortunes with a page design. Apple once found itself presented with a page design that featured JavaScript menus that worked great on a PC but not on a Mac. It just goes to show that even obvious user requirements can be overlooked and designers need to beware of being blinded by the Flash (or in this case, JavaScript) at the expense of their clients, their customers and the search engines.

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