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Exploring two possible strategies for my site, one seems better for user experience, one seems better for SEO. Looking for insight to help choose one or the other.

My initial concept was a single page website - index.htm contains ALL content, but presents it in a clean, intuitive layout. The user is presented with a 100%x100% screen that shows five subtopic summaries. No scrolling is ever needed. Click a summary, a detail panel opens over top of the summaries, taking over the whole viewing area until the user closes it. All the detail panels are on the one page, but hidden from view until requested. I feel this is the optimal user experience.

Reading up on SEO, this technique presents some problems. According to most sources I've found, content tucked away in on-demand panels is either not indexed, or completely indexed, or partially indexed with a credibility hit. Even if it is completely indexed, what happens when a Google user searches for a keyword contained in one of my hidden sections? My only url is index.htm... if search results can only link back to that, the user still has to click the appropriate summary to get what they came for.

SEO and general searchability concerns lead in the direction of a separate htm file for each panel, and traditional (1990s) 'a href' links. It's just so much less slick than the nice panel transitions I can get with Plan A.

Is there some way to construct my original site concept that avoids the search issues? Or should I give up on what I believe is best for the user in favor of making Google happy? Visitors that can't find me don't help me.

Thanks

  • You're on a UX Q&A site and you're asking whether we think the UX solution or the SEO solution is preferable? – JonW Nov 7 '14 at 15:17
  • No, I'm asking if anyone can suggest a strategy that caters to both concerns, or if anyone with more experience can confirm or contradict any of my assumptions. It seems wrong that SEO and UX should be in conflict, so I'm looking for missing puzzle pieces. – GKanes Nov 7 '14 at 15:20
  • I asked in a few SEO-focused forums. Despite what people say, no one really seems to know how Google works. Everyone told me, "you're probably ok whatever you do." I was hoping that by asking the UX crowd that I might get some more useful opinions or ideas. – GKanes Nov 7 '14 at 15:22
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    I don't think your suggested technique is better for UX either! Not only do people expect webpages to work the way they do on every other site so you are springing something new and unexpected on them, have you considered how this will break the back button or linking to a specific topic? Looking 'slick' != usable. – JamesRyan Nov 7 '14 at 15:22
  • Yes, I have considered that. Click More to get more detail. Click Close when you're done reading it. That's not a mystifying new concept. It wouldn't be a great strategy on Wikipedia or this site with thousands of pages, but I'm talking about fewer than 20 detail panels that flow logically from 5 summaries. Simple seemed the way to go. – GKanes Nov 7 '14 at 15:26
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This is a False Dichotomy

The mildly ironic thing about this is that for the past couple of years Google, through their Web Spam Lead and SEO spokesperson Matt Cutts, have done nothing but bang on about UX, UX, UX!

This article title sums nicely sums up what I've come to think from reading SEO blogs and practicing SEO in the wild - Matt Cuts - Don't Micromanage SEO at the Expense of UX

In this article about small sites outdoing large sites, he says:

"[small sites] do a better job of focusing on user experience; they return something that adds more value.

And in this video, he explains how it's a mistake to focus too much on crawling and linkbuilding and site owners should focus more on design on User Experience.

Googlebot is Scarily Smart

I'd like to see the data behind your statement that content hidden behind a click is "either not indexed, or completely indexed, or partially indexed with a credibility hit".

This makes little sense to me. Googlebot has been parsing and indexing JS heavy sites for years. In late 2014, practically the only thing Googlebot can't do is get past login screens.

The Real Question

Is your site delivering delightful user experiences? It's more important for the overall health and strength of your domain that your site loads quickly, and that visitors engage with it. If people get confused by your one page layout and bounce off, it won't matter how optimized your content is to specific keywords.

Your Due Diligence

While the message here is don't sweat the small stuff, you should, at the same time, at least have your house in order.

There's a ton of information out there on optimizing single pages site. Your biggest concern is going to be the creating of distinct content areas - these articles and more deal with this topic:

Listen to the Source

If you're browsing SEO sites looking for the "right way" to approach this problem, you're going to be disappointed. As you say, no one really knows.

I suggest that that's a perfect reason to pay attention to the source, and the word from Google is:

  • Make a site that's fast and engaging
  • Make it generally accessible to Google's crawlers (monitor and maintain this accessibility via Google Webmaster Tools)
  • Fill the site with valuable unique content
  • If relevant, utilize social platforms to generate interest and traffic
  • Avoid putting too much time and effort into hyper-optimization and linkbuilding - with each new algorithm update that comes out, your work will be undone and your gains will be short term (some practices may even end up harming you in the long term).

The Bottom Line

This may all sound like a perfect example of a bullshit Matt Cutts-esque answer. You're wanting "make this link do exactly this and you will win the game", and you're hearing "just make great experiences and everything will work out."

The fortunate thing about SEO is that it's a slow moving beast. As long as you don't do anything grievously harmful to your domain, you can always tweak and retest.

As an experienced practitioner however, I genuinely think it's mistake to be focused in on linking strategy before you've assured that your site meets it's primary objectives, UX or otherwise.

  • Thank you for that detailed and specific answer. "I'd like to see the data behind your statement that content hidden behind a click is 'either not indexed, or completely indexed, or partially indexed with a credibility hit'." - so would I... I was pointing out that I've been given wildly varying opinions on that and none of them seemed authoritative. – GKanes Nov 8 '14 at 18:56
  • I am moving forward for now with my single-page design, because it's what I feel provides the best user experience. The crux of the SEO vs UI conflict I see lies in the combination of single-page, and hidden content. If you search for a topic that's covered in a pop-up div – GKanes Nov 8 '14 at 19:50

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