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Does SEO Help Or Hurt User Experience?

Are comments helping or hurting your site?

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Does SEO Help Or Hurt User Experience?
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Jeremy Schoemaker, who runs the popular Shoemoney blog, wrote a post about a year and a half ago called “Where My Hatred of SEO Comes From“. It’s basically about site owners who put more effort into pleasing the search algorithms than pleasing users. Given the impact Google’s Panda update has had on a lot of sites, the topic of discussion seems as relevant as ever.

Would you make a change to your site if you knew it would help you in search, but your users would hate? Let us know in the comments. And if you find this topic interesting, why not share it on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article belong to those who expressed them, and do not necessarily reflect those of WPN.

On the one hand, the update is aimed at getting sites that do provide a quality experience ranked better, but on the other hand, it’s sent sites into a frenzy trying to appease Google’s algorithms (though the smart ones have tried to find ways to become less dependent on Google for traffic).

We had a conversation with Schoemaker about search quality and site quality, as well as one with Atlas Web Service owner and President Michael Gray, whom Schoemaker referenced in his original article as having turned off the comments on his blog, as being an example of worrying more about search than users.

“I think its a big mistake to completely turn off blog comments,” Schoemaker tells WebProNews. “I recently switched ShoeMoney.com over to Facebook comments.  In doing so I lost a TON of user generated content.  Over 140,000 comments  in all and now they are down probably 80-90%.  The ones that are now are 100% real people and since their name is attached there are real conversations and discussions taking place.”

Facebook Comments

“It’s once again enjoyable for me to engage with our commentators,” he adds.

One factor to consider with comments might be how they impact a page’s quality in terms of how the Panda update looks at content.

As far as comments impacting a site, Schoemaker says he called a Google engineer friend and asked about that. He says he was told that if anything, it’s “diluting the quality score of my page” by possibly diluting overall keyword density. Another factor could be the few common comments that go through that are clearly spam send signals that the page is not being well maintained.

“So he said he did not see a positive to leaving indexable comments on my site,” Schoemaker says. That’s when the allusion to a Google+-based comments system we told you about recently came up.

Michael Gray turned off his comments in July of 2009, and even went so far as to completely delete all old comments in April 2010. “It was one of the best decisions I made, and regret not doing it sooner,” Gray tells us.

Michael Gray talks comments and SEO

“Lots of people hate it, especially the unicorn and rainbow crowd, who say it’s not a blog and has no sense of community,” he adds. “To be honest I’m not building a community, I’m not looking to hand out gold stars, trophies or make people feel better, special or that they belong. I’m a thought leader, I have my views, opinions, messages that I want to spread, and vision of where I want my blog to go. There’s a reason there’s only one captain on a ship. Are comments 100% useless? Obviously not, but they aren’t part of my vision. Actually they were an obstacle, and were holding me back.”

“Is my decision the right one for everyone? No, but there is no law, rule, or guideline that says you have to have comments or that you have to build a community or tribe,” he adds. “Sometimes you standout by doing what everyone else tells you is wrong or crazy. There are pros & cons no matter which way you go, any consultant or employee who tells you you have to ‘have’ them and doesn’t consider or acknowledge that there is a downside, should be promptly shown own the door.”

We asked Michael if he believes comments can have a significant impact on your time on site metric, and/or that this metric carries significant weight in Google rankings.

“Does Google take a look at factors like time on site and bounce rate? IMHO yes, but you should be looking to increase those with good information, and solid actionable content, not comments,” he says. “The biggest effect comments have is giving Google a date to show in the SERP’s. This is a huge factor who’s importance can’t be unstated. If I’m looking for how to fix the mouse on my computer, or what dress Angelina Jolie wore to an awards show, having the date show up in the SERP has a lot of value for the user. If I’m looking to learn how to structure a website, the date plays almost no role. The author’s expertise and understanding of information architecture trumps the date.”

“While I’m not living in the SEO world of 1999, things like keyword focus and density do play a role,” he adds. “If you’re doing your job as an SEO in 95% of the cases the keyword you are trying to rank for should be the most used word/phrase on your page. If you’ve gone to all the trouble to do that why would you now let and knucklehead with a keyboard and internet connection come by and screw that up with comments?”

We asked Schoemaker whether he thinks Google is beyond manipulation for most sites at this point. “No… and will never be,” he says. “Link selling companies like TLA are recording record profits. Link Wheels are popping up and giving great results.”

“Here is the thing,” he says. “When you have a branded, quality site you can feel pretty safe in buying links to it, which is ironic because these people are the least likely to feel safe doing so. But as you have seen in the past even when sites get busted for grossly violating Google’s rules they are only out for a couple days.”

“It makes Google look bad when users can’t find what they are looking for,” he adds. “Plain and simple.”

“Everyday, people type in ShoeMoney in Google to get to my site,” he says. “If Google were to take me out then people would go to all these scraper sites that may or may not contain my content. This gives the user a bad experience and makes Google look incompetent.”

“So again, build a good site that people enjoy using,” he says. ”The rest will sort itself out.”

“I just focus on building sites and services that people want to use,” he says. “They tend to rank well because people link to them.  I know it’s not a juicy quote but I have made a lot of money and ranked #1 for every competitive term I have gone for.  It’s not rocket science.”

While there have been some interesting points made here about the value of comments, we’d still like your feedback. Your comments are welcome.

Does SEO Help Or Hurt User Experience?


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  • http://www.virtal.pl Bart

    I sometimes ask myself similar question “Does User Experience Help Or Hurt SEO?” in my opinion its all about synergy of those two

  • http://parisvega.com/blog Paris Vega

    I agree, using SEO to help your site rank for terms relevant to your content improves the overall user experience of your website and the internet in general. An example of using SEO destructively would be foolishly going after unrelated terms just for the sake of having traffic to get more eyeballs on your ads.

  • http://mosthostserver.com/ Darren

    Eliminating all comments to please Google. Definitely had to be an ‘SEO’ who came up with that :)

  • http://www.essexportal.co.uk/ Jon

    I think that if you are “doing” SEO in such a way that user experience may be harmed then you are doing something very wrong indeed.

  • http://www.blackberryexpressions.com wes

    The option to comment adds a lot to the user experience. Sometimes you can learn more from comments than the actual article. Not to mention they can be very entertaining on some blogs (BGR is a great example). If I’m reading compelling content, I like to be able to express my questions or comments. Great content willl always trump SEO anyway.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      I agree that comments can add value to content. Sometimes great points are made in the comments that were not brought up in the article. This is one of the reasons we like to encourage comments at WebProNews.

  • http://www.johntheseoexpert.com John

    Often times I find that optimizing a site actually helps the user experience. Especially when I look at clients sites and get rid of all of the flash crap and make the navigation easy to find.

  • http://www.godotmedia.com/ Godot

    Enabling the comment option definitely adds to the user experience but in the end its upto the writer, whether he wants to start a conversation or simply provide an expert’s opinion.

  • http://parttimeted.com Ted

    Everyone would have comments enabled and probably would also let juice flow if comment moderation didn’t suck so much. The problem is that most comments don’t actually add value to the original post. And blog owners are too nice to people who leave poor quality comments just to get their name on the page or just to get a little link link. Comment moderation sucks because it is way too time consuming for too little benefit for the blog owner. The one exception to that I can think of is when your blog is brand new. Then it is probably worth spending the time moderating and approving so that you can get in the good graces of other bloggers.

    And leaving this comment probably effed up the keyword density you wanted for this post too.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      Comment moderation is a pain sometimes, but sometimes the valuable comments outweigh the spammy ones, in terms of good content. Maybe not so much in SEO.

  • http://www.morpethnet.co.uk Dave Pope

    A client of mine let a SEO company loose on his website. Several times, they have actually broken it, so some pages come up as 404 errors. This in spite of my insistence that it is more important for the visitor to have a smooth and satisfying experience that it is for their metrics to work properly. Frankly, I’m sick of mending it after them.

  • http://www.helpful-ideas.com Anna

    I agree with the earlier comment that running a blog and making it seod correctly has to strike a balance. I allow comments as that is what my blog is about. If I didn’t want the comments then I’d run a staight forward seod website for google ads which is what I do alongside my blog. The website makes a lot more money than the blog……

  • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez

    There is a very delicate balance between key word relevancy in the title area, body text, word count, tags, link text, hyperlink URL etc. and key word stuffing. However, if you apply yourself and use creative and RELEVANT writing skills; you can satisfy both the spider as well as the reader. If your websites are compelling, relevant, and engaging you will get the conversions.

    In summation my favorite saying is “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody saw it; did it really fall?” I know, stupid saying; but at least you are reading it!

  • http://www.fwdmarketingblog.com Steve Bookspan

    It is my opinion that you need to think about both. If you have great ranking but when people get to your site they bounce right off because the site is not user friendly, what was the point of doing SEO. On the other hand, if the site is great, but none can find it, you will not last long like that either.
    If you want to do it correctly, get a good writer and let him write. Explain that he needs to serve both entities, the Spiders from search engines and his potential clients

  • http://Www.seogo.co.uk SEO Go

    The simple fact is, if done correctly, the user will not notice either way. I feel lots of people/companies are confusing SEO with Internet marketing.SEO doesn’t help the customer journey!! A website needs to be aimed at the surfer not the seaRch engines and a good SEO company will do this. this is marketing advice not SEO.

  • http:/www.goodcontentwebsites.com/blog Paul

    What an eye opener. So…should I turn off comments to my own blog? Is this the answer every online business blog owner is looking for? There’s gotta be more to it than that.
    Paul

    • Frank

      The old saying goes, don’t believe everything you read, or hear.

  • http://www.rudraayurveda.com/ Roy

    Nice article.
    As per my own personal experience, it really helps but this is true, ita all depend on a quality site where you know that your site is unique in the market and on the Google at all times.

  • John007

    Author (Chris),

    Have you ever heard of something called spell-checking?

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      Yes, it’s actually the bane of my existence. It often changes words that shouldn’t be changed, and underlines words that have existed on the Internet for years, but fails to recognize.

  • Frank

    “If I’m looking for how to fix the mouse on my computer, or what dress Angelina Jolie wore to an awards show, having the date show up in the SERP has a lot of value for the user. If I’m looking to learn how to structure a website, the date plays almost no role. The author’s expertise and understanding of information architecture trumps the date.”

    Really, so the structuring of a website is no different know than it was 10 years ago? That’s like saying no is never any need to change or improve anything, we should all be driving model T’s. So testing for 10 years would be a waste of time? I would much rather have the latest information that is pertinent to my needs! Search for css styling, do you want the code that 5, 7, 10 years old or the latest information you can find? Yes, i did this recently, if the dates of publish had been displayed, i could have save a hour or so by not looking through outdated material.

  • http://www.romanceexpressions.com Jay Hall

    Interesting! In my opinion, I think some SEO helps the users in an indirect way by requiring the website owners to use some type of guidelines on who and how information is found.

  • http://www.realitist.com Robert

    It is almost impossible to make sense of what g does after you’ve been doing what is supposed to be mild seo for years. You buy your domain for multiple years, the domain is in the title, proper meta, quality content growing and yet your page rank drops one while totally crap sites you wouldn’t want linking to you are PR3,4,5 and not because they bought a high PR domain yesterday, they’ve been that way for years.

  • http://www.italkmoney.com/ sinip

    Often, I’d use to search for a solution of some problem, and more often than not I’d found it on some website/blog. But in many cases the solution was not well explained, or it was simply not clear enough for my comprehension. Then I’d go through user comments. Yep, it can be big PITA to go through most of the useless stuff, bit more often than not, someone would clarify the whole thing/procedure or whatever. So, IMHO; disabling comments will actually hurt other users, and decrease User Experience.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

      Regardless of what I wrote above, I found solutions to my questions/searches more often in user comments than in the original articles themselves.

      But, I found the original articles BECAUSE of the comments being indexed and it being the comment text that showed up in search instead of the article’s content itself.

  • http://www.south-africa-services.com/ Services in South Africa

    Thanks firstly for this great site, it has taught me quiet a bit.

    If comments made money I would have made a bit, my site has received thousands of comments since I started it at the beginning of the year. If one was to look at my site and see all the comments, you would think that I was making a fortune. Bit comments don’t mean sales and this does not convert into money. I get very excited when I see all the comments, but these are only people trying to get links pointing to their sites, as the site has had no sales. So are comments doing anything for me ?

    Regards,

    Gary

  • http://www.cars-10.com/ sports cars

    Web site owners need visitors so even if the experience is not so great they will employ SEO techniques to bring them there.
    It is better to have visitor with questionable experience than not having visitor at all.

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

    People do a lot of crazy things chasing the ever elusive ‘SEO’ cutting off their nose to spite search engines’ collective face.

    If one doesn’t want visitor comments crawlable, make them non-crawlable just like any other content they don’t want indexed, serve it via iFrames or Javascript.

    One can have one’s community cake and eat their SEO pie at the same time.

  • http://www.propdata.net Robert

    “Does SEO help or hurt user experience?” That’s a bit of an open question. After all, how big is a ball of string.

    Truth is SEO is so much more than simply generating “hits” on a website. Fact is today an SEO’s job is to generate quality vistiors to a website that will ultimately convert. An all round crappy user experience will prevent that second part happening.

    To ruin a users experience would go against the aim of making it a successful website, so no. I wouldn’t add anything in that would be harmful to the end user’s experience – unless it would be to better serve the end goal of both user and website. Ultimately it’s too open ended to give a solid answer on.

  • http://www.exabytes.sg/ Jerrick

    I been comment in shoemoney blog.
    It doesn’t bring me any quality link back but i like to study his blog because he would have his own blog skill which quite interesting.
    I believe that if he do not study those feedback in the comment, you won’t be that success today.

    If i have to choose, i rather to choose low SERP with high conversion bec that make me more money and that show the traffic i gain is quality. Rather than just to be top of the SERP and ignore the purpose of blogging.

  • http://omnimedicalmarketing.com/ Omni Medical Marketing

    SEO should not hurt your user experience if done correctly. People get carried WAY overboard with keyword density and end up writing crappy content that their end users would never read. If you can’t rank a site without stuffing your page content for the SE’s, you should skip your SEO efforts altogether and focus on promoting your site through more traditional methods. After all, once people land on your page, do you want them to bounce or actually read your content?

  • http://www.canadaupdates.com CanadaUpdates

    Promoting site naturally through Blog Commenting can be good. However, promoting the site on irrelevant blogs and forums does not help

    • TO

      Yeah, but all this “auto-blog-posting” software crap is eventually going to drive everyone so insane that they all turn off comments to prevent it!

      • http://www.blackuggboot.com black ugg boot

        I think the article is very good.

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Daniel

    Nice article.

    Considering Google put out around 500 Algorithm changes in the past year, it would seem futile to continually make changes to your site to conform to this. Apart from the standard optimization(SEO) changes, Duplicate content, content relevance, quality links, etc, etc.

    I have also noticed some sites have comments disabled, and the first thought I had was ” Does this have any positive benefit for the site”?

    On the other hand, I seen a quite successful site allow all sorts of comments, including a ton of full on spam(One or two word comments, or a whole row of dodgy links crammed into the comment box.

  • PayneFanny88307986

    sdfsdfdf

  • http://www.modeltrainhobbyist.com/christmas.html Lionel Bachmann | Christmas Trains

    I think when it comes to comments, it all depends on what your goal is for that site. If you want people to have conversations and input on your post, then have comments. If all you want to do is have a place where you can post your opinion about things and have people come and read them, then turn commenting off. No matter what, you should try to provide a good user experience, and not worry about trying to game Google. As you pointed out, many sites get lots of traffic from other places besides Google. Being ranked #1 is not the end game.

  • http://lollipoplocal.co.uk Jo Shaer

    In my view, the whole idea of having a blog is to encourage conversation about relevant subjects. If I’ve written a post about something and I’ve got part of it wrong – or just misunderstood, I’d like to be educated. Sure, there are going to be times when I might disagree but I’ll certainly be happy to chew the fat about why.

    Just as I hate Tweeters who just shout their status updates at me all day, blogs should be about dialogue.

    The thing about SEO is that you have to effectively build two websites – one for the spiders and one for the humans. They are both equally as important and sometimes there may have be to be a compromise. If you do make a change, you then need to monitor the effects to see if it offends the human readers sufficiently to be counter-productive in terms of traffic numbers. No point in gaining additional traffic only for it to stomp off in a frustrated huff never to return…

  • http://manlyelectronics.com.au DimitriAus

    The answer is NO on the question above:
    Would you make a change to your site if you knew it would help you in search, but your users would hate.

    No. I do not like to multiply crap. Every time you post rubbish converts world around you in to a garbage tip.

    Do you like leaving in a trash can ?

  • http://www.intergy.com.au Intergy Consulting Australia

    Using SEO as eminent in a proper way would reap from duo users as wells Search engines

  • Frank

    Thanks for the spam!

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