It’s a web designer’s dilemma. Should you base your website’s structure and page content on what search engines want, or what website visitors want? The answer is that they are one in the same. Search engines want to give their users the best match to what they are searching for, so creating user centric web design makes sense for SEO (search engine optimization).
Designing a user centric (sometimes called user centered or life stage) website is different than making your website user friendly. All websites should be user friendly, ie. easy to navigate and browse-able. In this article, I’m using the term user centric to mean creating pages for specific visitor types.
As an example, I’ll show you the structure of a simple 5-page website for Gloria’s Bakery.
Traditional Website Structure
Traditional websites are organized using familiar categories. These categories are used on millions of websites and can make it easy for the visitor to find things on your site once they get there. However, the categories aren’t compelling, nor do they give enough specific information about your company to engage a visitor or to allow a search engine to confirm a search match.
Traditional Home Pages
The home page is like an advertisement, enticing visitors with offers in order to drive traffic inside the website. It is flashy with a lot of images, and brief so that the offers are “above the fold.” Most of the key information about products and services is not on the home page, but deeper into the website.
Traditional Inside Pages
Once inside the website, the visitor can see the different product and service types. Pages are arranged from general to specific. Example, you might have to click on Products, then click on Cakes, to see information about various cakes for birthdays, weddings, events, etc. The specific product that the visitor is searching for may be hidden at the third level or deeper.
User Centric Website Structure
Organizing a user centric website starts with determining who is searching online to find your products and what keywords they are using to do the search. There are ”landing pages” personalized for each type of website visitor.
User Centric Landing Pages
The landing pages are at the second level of the website to let search engines know of their importance. They are optimized with keywords for each type of visitor and include an action item such as “Make an appointment for a wedding cake tasting” or “Download our wholesale baked goods menu.” These action items are used by the website owner to measure the success of marketing to each visitor type. Landing pages may also contain offers that are for the specific visitor type, unlike traditional website design where offers are most often only on the home page or temporary promotional pages.
User Centric Home Page
The home page is the magic page since they are 80 to 90% of search results. Images at the top of the page are used to appeal to humans, but the home page should also be loaded with content to feed the search engines. A main heading (h1 tag) should contain your main, general keywords, not your company name or a advertising slogan. Secondary headings (h2 tags) should contain keywords for each visitor type and be supported with paragraph text and links to the landing pages.
Product Centric Website Structure
If your website only has one or two visitor types but many products, it might be advantageous to use a product centric structure instead. The same principles apply to product landing pages.
Helping Search Engines Help People
The key idea behind SEO is not about computers indexing data, it’s about helping people find the information they are looking for. User centric web design merely makes this match easier.