A Zen SEO Moment for Text, White Space, Graphics

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Inhale, exhale. Find the center. Something as subjective as appearance plays a part in a Web site's optimization success or failure rate. Finding the formula to develop Web sites that strike a balance between text, white space and graphics can become difficult, but important, even for the most seasoned developer or SEO expert.

Google engineers spend many hours trying to find the magic that will lead people from a search to a click on paid ads. That balance of text, white space and graphics not only makes it easier for search engines to find and index content, but gives people browsing for information a reason to stick around or come back for more.

Several industries appear to struggle more than others when it comes to optimizing sites, according to Oneupweb's usability study. That struggle surfaces from not having the balance between test, white space and graphics. The Ecommerce group came in with 45% task failure rate and 8% task abandonment rate, Travel & Hospitality measured 31% and 20%, Higher Education came in at 28% and 10%, and B2B a mere 23% and 6%, respectively.

Although hotel Web sites are generally simple and filled with basic information like room rates and amenities, these types of sites were the more difficult to navigate. And although university sites required the greatest time to find information on the site, the task complete success rate was the second highest among the four categories.

Web sites, of course, get built on content, making the visual elements a result of the content structure that site owners must optimize. While failure rates are a direct result of poor site structure and optimization, the study suggests three constraints that should guide the design of Web sites: User behavior, Online environment, and content.

And when it comes to online shopping, consumers want the most direct route from the product to the checkout. The fewer page views required the better. The average shopping session on an ecommerce site lasts roughly six minutes, from start to finish, according to the study, which cites research from Dr. Gitte Lindgaard.

The study points to Oneupweb's "triangle" concept created by text, graphics and whitespace. Take Travel & Hospitality, for example. Although large graphics built in Flash don't single-handed harm your SEO strategy, using these elements in place of content does. Not all developers agree, but the study explains that Flash has been proven it doesn't take away from SEO, but if you implement it first, the site tends to lose the ability to index the content. Create the site and then add the visual elements.

When Winnetu and the James Hotel stuffed the content below the fold to get around the Flash dilemma it harmed the usability of the site, producing low Web site user ratings, and high abandonment and failure rates. The study suggests the James Hotel had a 53% failure and 25% abandon rate. The Winnetu had a 36% failure and 29% abandon rate.

Oneupweb inventoried and cataloged elements and raw data from 100 Web sites in ecommerce, B2B, higher education and travel and hospitality. For each industry, people were give tasks to complete, followed by survey questions. The measurement included time to complete tasks and page views such as finding content on the sites. Click streams were analyzed, user feedback collected and rated, and performance in each industry rated and measured.

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