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Just before Christmas, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia announced he was going to create a new search engine for the web – Wikiasari. This piece of news might have slipped under the radar for many people, but people working in the search engine optimisation industry probably didn't sleep well that night.
The end of search engine optimisation?
Wikiasari is a search engine with a twist. It plans to display results based on what humans think are the most important. Yes, that's right, real people!
At the moment, search results are based on complex algorithms. These formulae are closely guarded secrets (or they'd soon be copied) – a bit like the recipe for Coca-Cola. Over the past decade a whole SEO industry has spawned out of the need to skim the tiniest advantage to allow businesses to appear higher up the search results than their competitors. More people finding your website means increased leads and hopefully increased sales. As the saying goes, "If they can't find you on Google, then you might as well not exist".
The way to get to the top of the search rankings has been to optimise your content around keywords (the phrases users type into the Google box to find you) to ensure the 'machines' associate your site with those words.
But if Wikiasari are proposing that humans and not algorithms will decide, then does the whole SEO strategy become moot? After all, why bother optimising your site if ultimately a real person will decide your web ranking? Hmmm… Images of tumbleweeds blowing across a deserted SEO industry…
But SEO already incorporates usability and users' opinions!
So is this the end of SEO? Well, probably not. For years now search engines have understood the importance of getting users' opinions factored in and Wikiasari is just a natural progression of this. Search engines have basically always tried to mimic what users want. For example:
- The number of inbound links a site has plays a major part in its search engine ranking. Every link to your site essentially represents a vote for your website – the more votes (especially from quality sites) the higher in the rankings your site will appear.
- All other things being equal, search engines rank sites with good spelling and grammar higher than those without. This holds true in the real world too – who wouldn't prefer a well written site!?
- Google has its free analytics package, which allows them to take an inside peek to see which sites have the most conversions. It could figure that sites with more conversions are effectively votes for that site by users and should be ranked higher.
- Bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg) are all about user powered content. The community votes for the best sites, with the best ones being promoted to the front page.
Good usability is the key to SEO
Perhaps the search engine algorithms will die a death, perhaps not. Either way, usability is becoming more and more important in sending your site to the top of the search results page. Users' opinions have always been important so the new Wikiasari search engine is just further acknowledgment and Darwinistic evolution.
Ultimately, usability is key to ensuring a good ranking. Concentrate on delivering good usability, employ some basic SEO tactics (such as placing keywords in the page title, headings and links) and the rest will follow naturally. Usability and SEO go hand in hand.
This article was written by Lisa Halabi. She's crazy about web usability and accessibility – so crazy that she's head of usability at usability and accessibility consultancy, Webcredible. She's extremely good at conducting usability website evaluations and carrying out card sorting sessions.