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Can your website usability influence your search engine rankings?

Do search engines care about the usability of your web pages? Does it make a difference whether your web pages are easy to navigate or not?

A recent patent application from Yahoo indicates that search engines might take a look at your web page design. The document includes a long list of factors that search engines can consider to determine the usability of a web page.

Why can usability be important to search engines?

The patent application contains a short paragraph that explains why search engines might consider the usability of web pages:

"It can be important to make web pages easy and pleasing to use, which can be particularly important for web pages it is desired to monetize. [...].

If such web pages are not easy and pleasing to use, the money-making potential of those web pages can be jeopardized. One conventional indication of whether a web page is easy and pleasing to use is called 'clutter.'"

Web pages with good usability usually have a higher conversion rate than cluttered web pages. Web pages with good usability often have a higher quality than other web pages and search engines try to return high quality web pages in their search results.

Which factors can search engines analyze to determine the clutter of your pages?

Yahoo's patent applications provides a list of 51 web page elements that can be analyzed to determine the clutter of a web page:

  • Total number of links
  • Total number of words
  • Total number of images (non-ad images)
  • Image area above the fold (non-ad images)
  • Dimensions of page
  • Page area (total)
  • Page length
  • Total number of tables
  • Maximum table columns (per table)
  • Maximum table rows (per table)
  • Total rows
  • Total columns
  • Total cells
  • Average cell padding (per table)
  • Average cell spacing (per table)
  • Dimensions of fold
  • Fold area
  • Location of center of fold relative to center of page
  • Total number of font sizes used for links
  • Total number of font sizes used for headings
  • Total number of font sizes used for body text
  • Total number of font sizes
  • Presence of “tiny” text
  • Total number of colors (excluding ads)
  • Alignment of page elements
  • Average page luminosity
  • Fixed vs. relative page width
  • Page weight (proxy for load time)
  • Total number of ads
  • Total ad area
  • Area of individual ads
  • Area of largest ad above the fold
  • Largest ad area
  • Total area of ads above the fold
  • Page space allocated to ads
  • Total number of external ads above the fold
  • Total number of external ads below the fold
  • Total number of external ads
  • Total number of internal ads above the fold
  • Total number of internal ads below the fold
  • Total number of internal ads
  • Number of sponsored link ads above the fold
  • Number of sponsored link ads below the fold
  • Total number of sponsored link ads
  • Number of image ads above the fold
  • Number of image ads below the fold
  • Total number of image ads
  • Number of text ads above the fold
  • Number of text ads below the fold
  • Total number of text ads
  • Position of ads on page

According to the patent application, Yahoo might also consider the presence of animated and flashing ads and the average ad luminosity.

What does this mean to your web pages?

Good website usability can greatly improve the conversion rate of your website. If your website gets many visitors but only a few sales then it might be that your web pages are too cluttered and that you have to improve your website design.

Google has a similar patent application with the name "Detecting and rejecting annoying documents" so it seems that good website design becomes more and more important if you want to get high search engine rankings.

The HTML code of your web pages must make a good impression to search engines. If search engines find that your web pages don't have the right content then these pages cannot get high search engine rankings.

Analyze your web pages with IBP's Top 10 Optimizer to find out how search engines see the contents of your web pages and what you can do to improve your pages so that they get top 10 rankings on Google and Yahoo.

Analyze your website now

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April 2008 search engine articles