Build Sites For Users, Noscript For Search Engines

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Should you built sites for users, not search engines? Or is there a middle ground?…

Inspired by theĀ  Montreal PPC experts at Bloom Search Marketing, I came across the following excellent bit of navigation. It’s great for users … and can also tie in nicely with SEO, which I’ll get to after explaining the beauty from a conversion perspective.

The Conversion Angle

Navigation dropdown menus listing options to shop by price, color, material, occasion and designer.

I’d venture a bet that this navigation is probably doing wonders for the site’s conversion rate. Why? Because it allows people to penetrate more deeply into the site by browsing according to criteria that matters to them.

For those of you familiar with sales closing tactics, this is the “either-or” close. You don’t ask whether or not people want to buy – you ask them to pick an attribute of the product that they care about.

It’s win-win: the buyer narrows down the field of potential candidates and makes his choice easier, while the seller gets an increased level of commitment to the sale. In conversion rate optimization terms, this navigation drives people further into the website off the homepage, which is exactly what the homepage’s purpose exists for.

Hence this recent screen cap of a mobile site developed for Carnival Cruise Lines:

Carnival Cruise Lines Mobile Site

(via SEL’s mobile friendly vs mobile SEO article)

Notice that the key navigation there is to select what kind of cruise you’re interested in? Excellent.

The SEO approach to category navigation

If you’ve ever browsed ecommerce sites with an eye towards SEO, you’ll often notice long, scrolling sidebars full of category links. They often look something like this:

Shop for wines by:


Wines from France

Wines from Israel

Wines from Germany

Wines from USA

Wines from Canada

Wines from Australia


Sauvignon Blanc Wines

Sauvignon Roughe Wines

Merlot Wines

Pinot Grigiot Wines

Pinot Noir Wines

etc. etc.

You can see how these lists quickly grow into massive monstrosities whose sole purpose is to direct search engines deeper into the site – not humans. Humans scan, and lists this long repulse the scanning eye. (Not to mention the annoying keyword stuffing. Just say, “Shop for wines from:” and list the countries…)

That may be acceptable if your strategy is centered on driving search traffic to your category pages and converting visitors from there.

But that strategy neglects the home page… the strongest page on your site from an SEO perspective! Why not try to rank the homepage for some core terms? And if you rank, obviously you need to convert too – which means that you want your navigation to lead people further into the site! (See above regarding the conversion side of things.)

To summarize: The problem is that your SEO strategy here – if you use normal text links instead of SEO unfriendly Javascript dropdowns – is that you’re hurting conversion. And if you use Javascript here to present conversion friendly menus that don’t repulse the eye, you compromise your SEO.

So what’s the solution?


Noscript is to Javascript as alt text is to images.

Noscript replaces the content of the Javascript for users who have it turned off or don’t execute it – like Googlebot (OK, Googlebot is beginning to execute JS, but that’s still unreliable).

You code the Javascript menu, and show it to everyone with Javascript turned on. You put your long, ugly list of links within the Noscript tags and tell Googlebot what your Javascript is presenting to humans.

Liked this simple but effective tactic to balance SEO and conversion? Get more of the same with my advanced SEO book, which features a number of chapters on the very topic.

Sidebar Story


  1. Hey Gab, great concept here. I think that there is another benefit to using javascript menus, and not making them SEO friendly via noscript. And that is the ability to link to important internal pages from within the copy off of the homepage as opposed to menus that have way too many internal links (contact, about, privacy, etc). Most sites have MAYBE 2-5 important internal pages. This is a very reasonable number of contextual links to have in homepage copy and will suffice SEO needs, actually my argument is that this will enhance your SEO! :-)

    Comment by Miguel - March 29, 2011 @ 3:29pm
  2. So you want to put the key pages in the internal copy, and the rest in JS, or the other way around? It's not fully clear which you mean. Good to see you around btw!

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 30, 2011 @ 9:29am
  3. Very clever deduction Gab on a conversion point of view. I think of adding this to some of my clients :).

    Comment by Jeremy - Index Web Marketing - March 30, 2011 @ 10:15am

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