Does SEO Help Or Hurt User Experience?

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 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.

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