Fusing website usability and on-page search engine optimisation elements.

Visser, E.B.

Published Online

Visser, E.B. 2012. Fusing website usability and on-page search engine optimisation elements. Unpublished doctoral thesis by article, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town. Online: http://web-visibility.co.za/website-visibility-digital-library-seo/

It was concluded in the literature review that small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMME) should prioritise utilising the websites on the Internet, as it provides a low cost infrastructure, unlocking opportunities and allowing small- to medium-sized enterprises to market to the international customer, promoting business activities in a low-risk environment. However, visitors do not know that they do not know, meaning a need for facilitation exists between the Internet user in terms of the information required and the information available on the Internet.

Search engines (governed by their organic ranking algorithms) were created for this very purpose, to facilitate users in finding relevant information on the Internet in the shortest time possible. Search engines interpret and evaluate any given indexed web page from a targeted keywords perspective, indicating that web pages must be optimised from a search engine perspective. However, the elements search engines perceive to be important may not always be aligned with what website visitors perceive to be important. Anything on the web page that may remotely impede the visitors' experience could be detrimental as alternative website options are but a click away. An example would be the excessive use of content on a given web page. The search engine may find the excessive content useful as it may provide contextual interpretation of the web page. However, the excessive content may impede a visitor's website interaction as it is estimated that the average visitors will often view a web page for 45-60 seconds and read a maximum of 200 words only.

During the process of identifying the contradictory search engine optimisation (SEO) elements and website usability (WU) attributes, three journal articles were written, with two journal articles following their own research methodologies and the third journal article utilising all the research results in order to create the fused SEO and WU model.

Journal Article 1:

Two websites were used as part of the experiment:
- Control Website (CW): http://www.copywriters.co.za
- Experimental Website (EW): http://www.copywriters.co.za/ppc/.

The CW is an existing website with no special emphasis applied to SEO and/or WU. The EW was developed by implementing the WU attributes and ignoring all contradictory SEO elements. In order to ensure integrity of the experiment, search engines were denied access to the EW. The traffic sources for the CW were search engines (organic) traffic, as well as direct and referrer traffic. The traffic source for the EW was purely PPC.

The two websites sold exactly the same products. Owing to the different traffic sources, performance was measured by considering the number of conversions obtained from the amount of website traffic obtained (conversion - traffic ratio) of each website over the same period of time, which were then compared (keeping the traffic source in mind). Additional factors, such as time spent on site, page views and Return on Investment (ROI) were also considered as measuring tools. Additional experiments (interviewing Internet users and directing the PPC traffic source to the CW for the same period of time) were conducted for triangulation purposes.

The statistical analysis was based on the Mann-Whitney U test. This analysis indicates that Visitors, Average Page Views per Visit and conversions are all significantly different when comparing the CW values with the EW values. Average time on site per Visitor and ROI were not considered as being significantly different. Accumulated results obtained from the triangulation experiment interview indicated the importance of security, minimising content and making the contact form as easy as possible to complete. The PPC triangulation experiment obtained five times more traffic (including PPC traffic) than the EW (primary experiment). However, the EW obtained approximately 50 percent more conversions as opposed to the number of conversions obtained during the triangulation experiment.

The primary objective of this research project was to determine the WU attributes which are in contradiction with SEO elements. The literature review clearly indicated that contradictions do exist between SEO and WU. The secondary objective of this research project was to determine whether or not the WU attributes identified do in fact have an effect on conversions. The primary experiment results combined with the results obtained from the triangulation experiments, provided evidence that WU attributes do have an effect on conversion. The journal article results contribute to the body of knowledge by evaluating the WU and SEO contradictions from a WU perspective, which has a direct impact on website conversions.

Journal Article 2:

The objective of the second journal article was to prove that implementing search engine optimisation elements that are in contradiction to website usability attributes is essential to improve rankings.

The primary experiment included two websites, which were utilised as part of the experiment, the CW: http://www.copywriters.co.za and the Experimental Website Two (EW2): http://www.translation-copywriters.co.za/. The CW is an existing website with no special emphasis applied to SEO and/or WU. The EW2 was developed by implementing all on-page SEO elements and ignoring all contradictory WU attributes. The EW: http://www.copywriters.co.za/ppc/ was utilised for triangulation purposes.

The purpose of the primary experiment was to monitor 130 predetermined keyword rankings across the three major search engines, over a period of four months, comparing the CW with the EW2 rankings. The primary experiment ranking results documented were the results obtained at the end of month four. During the four months a number of systematic changes were made to the EW2 for SEO purposes. However, no changes were made to the CW at all. For triangulation purposes, four additional experiments were conducted, of which two were the keyword rankings and organic traffic improvements documented each month, comparing the CW results with the EW2 results. The two additional experiments were the conversions obtained and interviews conducted, whereby the CW, EW and EW2 results were compared.

The statistical analysis for the primary experiment was based on the univariate analysis of variance test. The results indicated that the EW2 retained better search engine rankings than the CW. The triangulation ranking results documented each month indicated similar results to the primary experiment. The statistical analysis utilised for the triangulation organic traffic experiment was the linear regression analysis. Although the EW2 did not draw as many visitors as the CW, the experiment did provide evidence as to the EW2 experiencing significant traffic growth over time owing to the application of SEO. Conversely, the CW´s traffic growth was virtually zero over the same period of time. The results obtained from the triangulation conversion experiment were analysed utilising the Kruskal-Wallis test, indicating that the EW obtained significantly more conversion that the CW and the EW2. The interviews emphasised that SEO elements, as implemented on the EW2, were considered to be obstacles from a WU perspective. The unanimous choice of website was the EW.

The results obtained from all the experiments clearly indicate the importance of applying both WU attributes and SEO elements to ensure the success of a conversion orientated website. The results also indicate that some WU attributes (content, text and media) contradict certain SEO elements (content and keywords), which have a direct impact on the process of obtaining conversions. Although search engine algorithms constantly change, certain fundamental elements will remain the same, such as the artificial intelligence programs which have to crawl, index and arrange the search results through an organic ranking algorithm. The journal article results contribute to the body of knowledge by evaluating the WU and SEO contradictions from a SEO perspective, which has a direct impact on search engine rankings.

Based on the results obtained from the two journal articles, the author was able to construct a model, synergizing the SEO elements and WU attributes along with the contradictions and solutions in an attempt to provide guidance to industry (SMME).

The primary objective of this research project was to determine whether on-page search engine optimisation elements and website usability variables can be applied to a single website simultaneously, without resulting in degradation of service to either of the two concepts.The fused SEO and WU model addresses the visitor's concerns by removing or isolating any obstacles that may impede visitor interaction, without compromising the on-page SEO elements, thus successfully fusing SEO and WU. The author is thus of the opinion that the research problem and questions have been resolved and answered.
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