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. 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.

  2. Excellent article Joe. I’ve blurred the terms many times myself, but I guess after reading this, I don’t really “optimize? my sites, but rather just enhance or optimize that “friendliness? so as to get the biggest SEO bang from the buck from my standard production and use of accessible sites. I try to make my sites user-friendly and accessible — - which is my first priority — and knowing certain things such as using good titles and headings, I guess I felt I was providing optimization as a result. In a way I have been of course, but not “optimizing? to the level you’re describing. Of course most of my knowledge in this realm is the result of happy accidents. In other words I did something for accessibility and/or usability, then later realized a nice side benefit.

  3. A content management system is the best option for most websites. There are CMSs available that have been developed to be SEO-friendly or have components that make them SEO-friendly. So, if you choose a good CMS for your website development is basically a given anyway. Any company that claims to offer SEO with their website development ought to have one or more dedicated SEO.
    ———————————-
    nancypricella

  4. The key term in “SEO” is “optimization.” Like I say above, optimization can only be established and demonstrated through testing — there is no definitive document on optimization.

    Best practices, on the other hand, are pretty hard to pin down. Good web site usability and accessibility are part of it, and cover the user end pretty well, and the technical aspects of best practices for search engines are also very good.

    I’m not readily aware of a single document which will cover what you need — but Google’s webmaster guidelines in combination with the WCAG guidelines (version 2, preferably) and a healthy dose of user testing should get you where you need to go.

    Maybe I’ll need to write something on this…

  5. Sébastien Richer; August 14, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Hughh….

    Finally…

    I’ve gone through a whole lot of pages now to know that I am now looking to make my sites “search engine friendly” and I’m not looking into “search engine optimization”…

    But really, do you all realize that this is not using the correct words to represent stuff? Should’nt “SEO” really be called “SEM” (search engine marketing) and “friendliness” be called “SEO”. What is there under SEM that is not SEO? Some advertising stuff, ok, but that’s about it?

    If we look at what Wikipedia says (even though it’s not “official”, I guess it reflects even more what common knowledge is): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_marketing

    If you think about it, advertising in a search engine really belongs more in the “advertising” category than in the SEM category. Something like “advertising – search engines”. Programming is not marketing. Maybe marketing has tips and tricks for how to organise and present information but if we are not carefull we’ll get everything mixed up no ?

    It’s as if “good web site building techniques” are simply not interesting to anyone and simply not to be found. When Joe points out the 5 differences up top, it really shows the difference. But I’m not into marketing and other than suggesting to my boss that we look into that, it simply does’nt interest me that much.

    Yes yes, I’ve managed to find some information like information on titles, meta descriptions, alt tags on images, title tags on links, how to make a link for a search engine and a user and I AM making a list. But that’s not all there is to it I mean, I’ve been looking at meta descriptions for a couple of sites and what they use, it’s either nothing, the post’s title, the 156 first characters of a post or some generic stuff that appears on all the site’s pages. Keyword –> of a post……….. not everything on the web is a post from a blog…

    So, I ask, what are the “best practices” when making websites? Where can I find stuff like that?

    Anyone knows?

  6. So, as I understood from your post, my site is friendly, not optimized. But can we combine features of optimed and friendly website in one project?

  7. Of course not — “friendly” is just the first step. They aren’t mutually exclusive; they just shouldn’t be conflated.

  8. Do you think that it’s impossible to combine an optimised site and a friendly site in one?

    This comment has been edited to remove keywords in name field, as per the comment policies.

  9. Funny how these things can overlap… Cool site!

  10. Hehe cool, I’m the other way around 🙂 I own css3.info, yet am a fulltime SEO 🙂

  11. Thanks, Joost! I’ve done a fair amount of work in the search realm, as well – so it’s important for me to make the distinction.

  12. Excellent stuff Joe, and as an SEO, I’m glad to see an accessible web designer grasping the difference 🙂

  13. Thanks, Adam! I guess my thinking on the “vs.” question was about pitting the definitions against each other: taking apart the two terms and demonstrating where they differ.

    Definitely do agree that putting the two activities against each other would be rather strange. I’ll try and avoid giving that impression again!

  14. I just wanted to say thanks for this. I’m in the middle of a series of blog posts that offer a basic introduction to organic SEO, and the latest one is about the importance of clean code.

    I wanted readers to understand that lean and semantic code is just part of the equation, but I didn’t want to bog down in details that I already planned to get to later. A link to this post did the trick nicely, and you’ve probably explained it better than I could. 🙂

    Personally, I think of search engine friendliness as part of an overall optimization strategy. You can’t have one without the other, so pitting them “vs.” each other seems kind of odd. Aside from that minor quibble, this is a great piece of educational blogging!

  15. Whoops – and thanks, Jermayn, also!

  16. Thanks, Armen! It makes sense to separate the two ideas — but figuring out exactly where to draw the line can be rather tricky…

  17. I found this article very informative Joe. I was aware of the difference, but this clarified some points which I may have merged together. Top job!

  18. Yes very good article indeed.

    It is very interesting and en lighting to read what you wrote and explained as I am sure most of us did not fully know the difference before, I know I did not.

    I also agree that you should FIRST get the website friendly and then optimised.

    Thanks again

  19. Thanks, Mike. In some ways, it’s quibbling over terminology. But on the other hand, the word “optimize” is pretty strong language. It’s not really fair to call something “optimized” when you haven’t really done the work to make sure it’s really the case.

    I thought it was an interesting point.

  20. Excellent article Joe. I’ve blurred the terms many times myself, but I guess after reading this, I don’t really “optimize” my sites, but rather just enhance or optimize that “friendliness” so as to get the biggest SEO bang from the buck from my standard production and use of accessible sites. I try to make my sites user-friendly and accessible — which is my first priority — and knowing certain things such as using good titles and headings, I guess I felt I was providing optimization as a result. In a way I have been of course, but not “optimizing” to the level you’re describing. Of course most of my knowledge in this realm is the result of happy accidents. In other words I did something for accessibility and/or usability, then later realized a nice side benefit.