Before search engine optimization can be successful in driving conversions, not just rankings, you first need to ensure that your site is usable and compelling. Sure, a good optimization campaign may improve your search engine rankings and drive more traffic. But those visitors are likely to leave as quickly as they came if the site is difficult to use.

Dynamic-Living.com has done a great job of creating a clean, simple, well-organized website. Their visitors will have little trouble finding the products they want and getting through the checkout process. With a website in good shape, their next step is to perform optimization so that they start ranking for relevant keywords.

The website offers products for individuals with disabilities that aid them in independent living at home. They don't stop at just offering products; each comes with extensive information and resources.

Elements of Good Usability and Design
Navigation
Dynamic-Living.com is very well-organized and offers several logical methods for accessing products. The site has three sets of navigation:
  1. top navigation - "housekeeping" links, or all information other than product pages
  2. left sidebar top - browse products by what you would use them for
  3. left sidebar bottom - browse products by where you would use them
All of the navigation links are named consistently and logically. They are also all text-based links, which ensures that search engines and screen readers will recognize and follow them easily.

It's often easy to overlook the search function as being part of the site's primary navigation tool. The search tool on Dynamic-Living is pretty effective; it doesn't return too few or too many results. You can search for specific product names and get them; you can search for a more general term and get a highly relevant list. While the search tool does not handle misspellings, it has a great error page that encourages visitors to check their spelling, try a broader term, use the links at the left to browse, or check out some of the most popular products. Customized error pages that drive visitors back into your content is a great way to cope with search or other problems; it keeps visitors on the site instead of assuming that you don't have what they're looking and leaving.

What to fix: one major problem with the navigation is the hover and active indicators. The links go from dark blue to black on roll over, which provides almost no contrast. It needs to go to a color with much more contrast. Also, you need to provide at least one other visual indicator that isn't color-based such as an underline, arrow, or other icon. Then, when a visitor clicks on a link and goes to a page or section, that piece of the navigation should stay "active" to visually show where you are in the site. It's typically effective to use the same effect for the roll over and active states.

Product Pages
The product pages on Dynamic-Living.com are well laid out and make it easy for visitors to get the information they need and then make the purchase. Key elements of an e-commerce shopping page are all present:
  • product name
  • large product image
  • product description
  • obvious call to action (select quantity and add to cart button)
  • additional product information and specifications
  • read or leave product reviews
  • related products.
A few nice "extras" include a section for related articles and shipping and return policy information.

Checkout Process
Links to checkout are obvious in the top right corner of the website, and you are also taken to your cart when you choose "buy" on any product page. Again, the page is well laid out; it's logical and makes it easy to continue through the checkout process while the necessary actions like "remove from cart" are obvious if you need them.

What to fix: I'm not a big fan of the way the intial checkout page doesn't have an obvious "continue" button. As it stands, there are two steps on this first page. The first is viewing and/or updating your cart. The second is inputting necessary information for shipping costs. There are three pieces of information collected here one at a time. At first, only "choose country" is visible. After you make your selection, a field in which to enter your zip code appears. You then have to click "calculate shipping costs." After you've done that, you get your shipping options. Only after you've chosen those does the "proceed to checkout button" appear.

I would much prefer to see all of the shipping fields available as well as the checkout button. If a visitor misses a field, they should remain on the page with an error message indicating which fields were forgotten. I'm a pretty savvy computer user, and at first I thought that I couldn't checkout from this cart page. I contemplated clicking checkout at the top of the page before I saw the small gray text explaining that to continue I needed to complete the next step on the page. If I was confused, the older portion of your target certainly will be. You don't want to lose sales because the path through your shopping cart isn't obvious!

Ramp Up Your SEO Campaign

With a few minor adjustments, the usability and design of the Dynamic-Living.com website will be in excellent shape. Now it's time to start driving more targeted traffic to the website.

Very little optimization has been done on Dynamic-Living.com. Title tags are automatically pulled from page content and generally include the site name and product name or page title. The meta descriptions (which don't matter in the search rankings but provide a compelling message to searchers and get them to click) are unique on some pages, but are pulling funky database info on others:

ShoppingCart. ShoppingCart. Cart: Empty Safe Shopping Check Out • Dynamic-Living.com Skip to main content. (888) 940-0605 Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm EST ...

There are also few links within content to key pages on the site (using keywords in the link text) and no general keyword phrases incorporated into headers or the first few sentences of copy on each page, which are also prime optimization locations.

Choosing and Implementing Relevant Keywords

The first step in any SEO campaign is determining relevant keywords. In this case, Dynamic-Living.com needs to target general phrases related to their audience as well as the more specific product terms. Some general terms to target would include keywords like:
  • assisted living
  • independent living
  • independent living aids
  • senior independent living
When optimizing for specific products, use a variety of terms in key locations. For example, use "amplified phone" and "amplified telephone." While the product names on the site are fairly descriptive using terms that people are searching for, many of them aren't ranking well even for less competitive terms. Be sure that the different terms for referring to a single product are included in the title tag, meta description, page title, section headers, first few sentences of copy, and any in-site links pointing to that page.

An SEO campaign targeting general audience phrases like independent living as well as a variety of phrases for each product will help the site to rank for more relevant phrases and draw traffic that is more likely to convert.


July 11, 2008





Jackie Baker is an internet marketing analyst with SiteLogic Marketing (http://www.sitelogicmarketing.com) where she focuses on auditing websites as well as SEO, social media, usability, and information architecture consulting. She comes to the industry from a marketing/PR and website development background. Jackie maintains an active presence online through her blog RegardingHorses.com (http://www.regardinghorses.com) where she shares her love all things equine, particularly therapeutic riding.






Comments(1)

What a refreshing read and what a refreshing comments. take care of usabilities issues before addressing SEO. This is how we approach SEO so it gives me much pleasure to read this article. As I like to say "Why bring traffic to a broken site?"

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Search Engine Guide > Jackie Baker > Site Clinic: You've Got Great Usability, Now Start Optimizing.