Search Engine Friendly vs. Search Engine Optimized

May 14, 2007

Topics: Accessibility.

The links between accessibility and search marketing are frequently explored: creating a universally accessible website has a number of significant benefits for search marketing. After all, many of the features which make a website accessible (using text instead of images, ensuring the ability of non-visual tools to fully access content, etc.) are also characteristics of a website which has been optimized for search.

However, there’s a huge difference between search engine optimization and search engine friendly. What most accessible developers create are search engine friendly sites, not optimized sites.

Stoney de Geyter wrote on this issue from a search marketing perspective at Search Engine Guide today, commenting that:

A good developer can do that job well, but mostly they do it to function for the user, not perform for the search engines.

This is very true, and it absolutely describes the kind of development I focus on. I do have a pretty extensive knowledge of search engine optimization, and absolutely incorporate aspects of optimization when I develop a website. However, what I’m actually creating is a search friendly document.

5 Differences between Optimized and Friendly

1. An Optimized page has carefully researched and tested page titles and descriptions which perform well in search engines. A Friendly page has well-written unique page titles and descriptions which explain the page simply and accurately.

2. An Optimized page has content carefully written to incorporate key phrases which, on the basis of research, will help the site convert search visitors better. A Friendly page has content which has been carefully written to be clear and understandable to the widest possible range of people.

3. An Optimized page is designed to influence visitors to follow navigation paths which drive them to accomplish conversion tasks: sales, registrations, or sales queries. A Friendly page has made certain that all navigation paths are followable by a search engine to make certain that all important pages can be indexed.

4. An Optimized site is the product of months or years of research into what provides the best results for search visits and conversions combined. A Friendly site is the product of a development process which has taken all the technological issues which could reduce search relevance into consideration: robots.txt, correctly formatted redirects, etc.

5. An Optimized site is the result of extensive research. It requires a statistical basis which keeps track of user behavior. A Friendly site is the result of technical expertise which takes into careful consideration the many issues which can get in the way of optimization.

These are crucial distinguishing points. As an accessible web designer, I make a point to prepare a website which is search engine friendly. It is not part of the process to optimize the site, however. That is a separate, long-term task which, although it depends on “friendly” web construction, is ultimately based on statistics. Accessible or search-friendly design, while influenced by existing knowledge of what helps optimize a website, is based on criteria concerning the ability of users (or devices) to access the site.

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37 Comments to “Search Engine Friendly vs. Search Engine Optimized”

  1. Before we get into the difference between a mobile and responsive website, along with the benefits of a “Responsive Website” I would like you to take note of the device you are reading this blog on. Most of you are likely on your computer.

  2. This is a very nice article. I definitely agree with #5 5. An Optimized site is the result of extensive research. It requires a statistical basis which keeps track of user behavior. A Friendly site is the result of technical expertise which takes into careful consideration the many issues which can get in the way of optimization. You couldn’t have said it any better. Keep it up.

    Stacey Renee

  3. Very cool, I am just starting to learn about search engine optimization, so I am reading every article I can find, thank you very much for yours. I will definitely be back to read more

    Stacy Renee

  4. From this post, one can say that it is very thin line between optimization and freindlyness. One has to use both these things to get best rankings in google. One should write keyword rich content without compromising natural flow or language. Even the comment section is content rich in this part of blog.

  5. Honestly I think there some semantic hair splitting going on here, if most designers produced SEO friendly sites as an SEO guy id be a very happy man.

    Many of the difference you identified are become less imporrtant as the engines start to use more usability stats in there ranking algorythms.

  6. Getting unfriendly (and duplicated) url’s indexed can sometimes be a difficult task. This is why making sure there is no duplicate content, and that the URL (Uniform Resource Locator)’s of the website are search engine friendly.

  7. Yes, Shari, it is an arrogant response. I certainly understand that it’s honest; but my first impression is definitely that your response is arrogant.

    I don’t think that I, at any point, indicated the search engine ‘friendliness’ and search engine optimization are separate. I stated, very clearly, that they are different. If you are attempting to argue that these are in fact the same thing, then I heartily disagree with you. That’s a gross simplification of how the web works and how projects are developed.

    Being search engine friendly is an aspect of search engine optimization, but it is not inclusive of all aspects of optimization.

  8. I must say that I am thoroughly (pun unintentional) disappointed with this article. I do not agree with your or Stoney’s perception of “optimization” vs. “friendly”. And I am the person who originated this topic/field and wrote the first book about it.

    Search-engine friendly design follows the principles of search engine optimization (text, links, popularity/validation, searcher behavior). To separate the two? Ridiculous.

    Search engine optimization is optimizing (which includes writing, coding, scripting, programming, designing, etc.) documents for people who use search engines, both the commercial web search engines and site search engines. Search engine optimization accommodates the wide variety of searcher behaviors, not only querying behavior.

    IMHO, it requires knowledge of searchers and search engines.

    Most SEOs, I believe, have a somewhat reasonable understanding of search engines. However, I think the general knowledge of searcher behaviors in the SEO arena, overall, is abysmal.

    That is my first impression of the article. It may seem like a somewhat arrogant response, but it is an honest one.

  9. I enjoyed the article very much.

    It is definitely true that a lot of people out there don’t really understand what search engine optimization is all about. There are a lot of details that go into keyword research and such, but everything has to flow naturally.


  10. Great content.
    I had really wondered b/w these two terms(Optimized and Friendly). This post cleared my doubts.

  11. Thanks, Daniel – your article sums up the major issues fairly well. Glad you appreciated my article, as well!


  12. I just came across this after searching for an article I wrote. You’ve got some great points and there is a massive line between friendly and optimised. I wrote Search Engine Friendly and Search Engine Optimisation: The Difference which is a more basic guideline based on what I had learnt back then.

    I don’t think a lot of people realise how comprehensive and specific SEO can be and it’s difficult to make designers understand. Great stuff though and spot on!

  13. Hi! Joe, It is a great idea to wish to make our web site search engine friendly, till I had concentrated for my web site on only optimization part, But, after reading your blog, I came to know that not only the good title or content will make your site good, We need to concentrate on other facts of search engine also…Thank you

  14. I don’t really think that’s a particularly accurate description — “optimized to be search engine friendly” implies that being search engine friendly is a goal-oriented state for your web site, which I don’t really think is true.

    Search engine friendly is a state in which the search engine can gain a complete understanding of your web site, regardless of content or business goals; search engine optimized is a state in which the search engine will, in effect, participate in your business goals because the information contained in your site clearly communicates your needs to the search engine.

  15. Search engine friendlyness is a basis that needs to be taught to all site builders. Search engine optimization is and should remain the field of us experts.
    Actually optimization is really about paying details to things like these… those HTML (HyperText Markup Language) headers, making sure that you have proper meta descriptions, alternate tags for images etc.

    I’ve not seen a discussion between “search engine friendly” and “search engine optimized” though – I always thought we “Optimize a page to make it search engine friendly”

  16. There is a big difference in the 2, search friendly is nice but its all about optimization!

  17. Good article. I agree with the way in which you have contrasted between SEO and SEF. As a web designer myself, I must find ways which will benefit our sites the most, incorporating SEO as much as possible. The content is particularly important. Keywords, headings and meta tags all contribute to getting better page ranks with Google.