Stoney deGeyter recently wrote a great post on when usability is more important than SEO. Stoney ends by stating “By fixing usability issues you can sell more while without having to spend a lot of money always trying to bring in a lot of new traffic. A little goes a long way. Once you are able to increase your conversion rates, every dollar you spend on marketing and SEO will be more effective and have a much bigger impact on your profit margins.” Stoney is absolutely right. Rather than spending more money or efforts for the #1 position, try improving the usability, accessibility, and marketing communication of your current site. Exponential growth is derived from such improvements and will equate to higher conversion.

With this article in mind I got into a conversation with a great and well-respected Flash developer, Dan Decort, about Flash and the caveats it places on usability and search engine optimization. My problem with Flash is that the increased load times make for larger file sizes, longer waiting periods, inaccessible content, inability to bookmark, print or deep link, no screen reader and mobile device support, uncrawlable architecture, and overall problems with accessibility, usability, and SEO.

Sure, Google can crawl a limited amount of Flash now, but that’s just Google. Other search engines don’t have that technology implemented yet. I’m sure Google places less weight on Flash content due to the inaccessibility of it to other users. We started talking about technologies like SWFAddress and SEFFS that almost serve as a cloaking mechanism for Flash. SWFAddress does “address” some of these usability and accessibility issues but I’d still choose static/dynamic pages over Flash pages any day. Yes, if you’re serving the exact same content to search engines as embedded in your Flash movie then you should have the green light to go ahead and do so, but you might be looking at running the site through a spam filter with Google to check your site with a fine-toothed comb.

Aside from SEO, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this discussion. After my ranting and raving about Flash, Dan made the comment that user-experience is more important than usability, although he didn’t discredit usability. To define the difference for you:

  • Usability – a property of websites (and other systems and products) that relates to ease of use. Usability is commonly defined as having three core components: effectiveness (how well a task can be completed), efficiency (how easy or quick it is to complete the task), and satisfaction (the user’s perception or opinion of the system).
  • User-Experience – a concept that places the end-user at the focal point of design and development efforts, as opposed to the system, its applications or its aesthetic value alone

It’s important to note that usability and accessibility both DO contribute to the overall user-experience as well, but while user-experience is an important element of information design it really should be the icing on the cake not the foundation of the skyscraper. Usability is what drives conversion on a Website due to the efficiency in of usage, findability of desired content, and ability to navigate through site architecture with ease. Flash user-experience provides bells and whistles to be admired by people like myself and Dan, but your average user isn’t going to care about the feedback of the site (animation, graphics, sounds, actions) as much as he or she is going to care about information retrieval and timely satisfaction.

I invite you to join the oratory of our discussions and leave your feedback.