Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

Search Engine Marketing is Bogus for Sites That Simply Don’t Function

While there are bugs in the Beta version of Sphinn, that doesn’t seem to be stopping search engine marketers from racing over to try Danny Sullivan’s Sphinn.com I visited twice and haven’t joined because I’m disappointed there’s no place for me there.

The focus is strictly on search engines, search optimization and marketing, and social media. There is no welcome mat for people in the industry, such as myself, who support SEO/M efforts by taking web sites and Internet applications to the next step. The emphasis at Sphinn is on search results, not customer results.

There’s an “Other” category, but I refuse to be an Other. There are those few of us tied to the SEO industry whose skills work user centered design, usability, persuasive design (i.e marketing), accessibility and site functionality (software testing) into web sites that are optimized for search engines. Our goal is to not only make web sites that are found and rank well, but when visitors click into them, they don’t run screaming, feeling betrayed by pages that aren’t designed to work for people.

This is the reason I don’t attend, or plan to attend, the new SMX Expos. The focus is limited to search marketing, but the human factors side of web and persuasive site architecture and how these are married to marketing have not been included in the covered topics (so far).

By contrast, Search Engine Strategies has included this arm of marketing and continues to teach attendees how to code, plan and design web pages that work for search engines and people. (As noted below in the comments, I neglected to say that Danny Sullivan handled programming for SES and now the new SMX. Some SES conferences had at least 3 usability related sessions, approved by him.)

I’ve never understood a disconnect between search engine marketing and usability when so many companies and government agencies are clamoring for usability and persuasive design help. Thank heavens there are some leading search marketing companies and even smaller local ones that reach out for usability assistance because their clients need it and there’s a strong, growing demand for usable web sites that convert visitors to customers, accounts, readers, community, etc.

With the growing number of “in-house” SEO/M’s, whose responsibilities are marketing their company’s web site interests to Internet users, it makes sense to also instruct them on making sure pages are built to meet requirements and how to track, test and implement changes based on human usage data analysis that goes beyond keywords and links.

My personal experience is some top search marketing companies will not accept new clients without first having a usability audit performed on the site or it is included in with their quotes because they know it enhances their services and provides a better long-term ROI for their clients.

Case in point, I’m working on a site in a highly competitive industry. It’s not optimized well for search engines and could use some help. They could simply hire a search engine marketing company to make the site rock in search engines and call it a day.

However, I spent nearly 10 hours trying to get their web application to DO SOMETHING! It doesn’t work. It’s hard to understand, but worse, it simply doesn’t function. Since the application is the bread and butter of the site and their leading tool for conversions, all the money they spend on marketing is going down the tubes.

To not talk about this in the search engine marketing industry just floors me and worse, their clients suffer.

Maybe client satisfaction doesn’t matter to some search marketers.

I wouldn’t hire them if I knew that.


Cre8asiteforums discussion in the SEO Forum – Is Usability Part Of The New Seo? Kim rants, Danny listens

SEO – Selling Effectiveness Optimization

The more reputable SEO consultants understand that it is not just getting to #1 in Google. They are already encouraging their clients to maximize sales from their websites. So as I suggested back in 2003, SEO should be Selling Effectiveness Optimization. Perhaps with the passage of time, the suggestion will now be seen to have more merit.

I Am No Longer an SEO. What do they call themselves now?


  1. July 15, 2007    

    Well said, Kim. I have joined sphinn.com but you’re spot on in your comments. To me the way the industry largely operates is another manifestation of the product-driven approach rather than the customer-centric (user-centric) approach. We’ve got great stuff: come and buy it. Rather than finding out the real needs of your targeted market niche and designing total product/service packages that meet those needs. If you do that, then it’s just a question of being visible and making sure that you’re easy to buy from. Anyway keep up the good fight. :)

  2. July 15, 2007    

    Sphinn is focused on online marketing, with an emphasis on search marketing, but not exclusively.

    Sorry there’s no usability category and that you take it so personally. Someone else noted there is no domianing category, and I commented that I would see about adding that. Adding usability makes good sense. Sorry I didn’t have it from the start and that you didn’t feel you could join and comment as part of the new community there. But if you were upset and felt a little rant outside was needed, well, I guess I understand.

    On SMX versus SES, frankly, you are unfair. You like the usability programming at SES? And who has been doing that programming? That would be me. But you somehow think I’d ignore usability for SMX. Don’t mistake a focused show like SMX Advanced for what we will do in the more broadbased general show. Geez, you condemn an entire conference series based on two focus shows? Just unfair.

    I know the concern that usability seems second to search at many shows. The reality is that usability is so important that you can and people do have enitre shows about it. And guess what? Those shows dont dive into search in depth because they dont have room to do both deep. Yet I dont recall rants that they ignore search :)

  3. July 15, 2007    

    It’s a crappy deal when someone launches something new and someone else comes along and rants or passes quick judgment about it. However, now we know that Danny Sullivan is still planning and working on his new series of conferences, and the word is direct from him.

    As he points out, the usability industry turns a blind eye to SEO/M, except where some of them dabble in the usability of search results. To me, that’s always been too limiting and the reason I don’t attend THEIR conferences. They’re also not scheduled as often, the industry itself is nowhere near as open to networking, they tend to be more academic and they’re less cohesive as a group.

    SEO’s operate differently. Even the different practices will network and work together. It’s easy for newcomers to break in and quickly make a name for themselves.

    Limitations are seen in the SEO industry too, which can sometimes seem as if operating inside a small bubble. There are new people learning SEO skills every day but how many of them are even aware that there’s more to it than search engines?

    Less it be perceived that I was hinting at competition between SES and SMX, it wasn’t an idea in my head when I wrote, but I can see how it came out that way.

    Because I work on so many travel sites, the next SMX in Seattle, focused on the travel industry, is right up my alley but my interests aren’t just on the SEO side. So many travel sites just don’t work once you get there, and that kind of a topic would draw me in. Does it have a place at SMX? Probably not yet but I did wonder, why not?

    While I’ve privately apologized to Danny, he had every right to defend his work and that of his team. His response stands and I’m honored that he followed up and corrected me.

  4. July 15, 2007    

    RE: “It’s a crappy deal when someone launches something new and someone else comes along and rants or passes quick judgment about it.”

    Nah. If it is heralded as representing an industry, and it doesn’t, it needs the critics to help it out (as do the users). Fire away. If Danny wants to represent the industry, he can take the criticism.

    I also think you’re right about SEO but at the same time, you seem to similarly “package” SEO separate from other web publishing aspects (like but not limited to usability). I’m an SEO and one of the first things I do is QA a site. I’d know right away if it didn’t do what it was supposed to do and why, as well as how it represented itself in its market. SEO is about search optimization, but it doesn’t stop with an SE referral count. It stops at the bottom line, when the profitability of search referrals is documented. And that requires far more than the “package” seo people seem to expect from SEO vendors.

  5. July 15, 2007    

    Another part of the problem may be that there are much fewer usability professionals, available for such conferences (though I may be unaware of those). Sure, Kim should be able to speak on usability, as well as Eisenbergs could speak about persuasive design and such, but there seem to be plenty more SEO experts to speak about SEO.

    Not to mention SES and Danny seem to have a solid background in search, not usability :)

  6. July 16, 2007    

    The experts in both fields are developing and setting the standards for future developers. Clearly both Usability and SEO are becoming core requirements for the web.

    As all of these specialties and the internet in general mature, the core skills of SEO and Usability are going to become basic requirements for competent webmasters. No matter how good you are with Flash or color schemes, If you don’t understand and automatically apply principals of both SEO and Usability then you will be incompetent. The two fields are brother and sister. A bit of sibling rivalry is to be expected I suppose.

  7. July 17, 2007    

    Kim, your view is either exaggerated to elicit a reaction from readers, or you’ve temporarily forgotten a basic business premise. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to focus on select portions of an overall solution. A focus on SEM without coupling it to usability, site design, etc., is a perfectly reasonable business model. SEM companies don’t need to solve the entire problem in order to deliver value. Companies might choose to be ‘all things’, though in my book there is a place for specialists. In the end it’s the client who decides how much of the problem to tackle at a time.

  8. July 17, 2007    

    Researching sphinn. Just might sign up sooner than we think. Thanks for the great article information.

  9. July 17, 2007    

    Ron, I was simply expressing my opinion, though it did seem to stir the pot. Your points are good ones.

    Not everyone wants the whole package, but hopefully clients understand what they’re getting, and not getting, from their investment. My own personal experience has been that when SEO came first, it wasn’t enough to complete all their goals, and at that point, the design itself and issues regarding it, come into play.

  10. July 19, 2007    

    You go, Kim!

    Many people still don’t get that SEO doesn’t work in a vaccuum. For SEO to be successful usability is key!

  11. July 20, 2007    

    Thanks Jill :)

    The more I read the continued rumblings, discussions or posts inspired from this one, I’m realizing that unless someone has personally experienced watching an expensive project fail to succeed because the user side was not built into the overall plan, they really have no idea why some of us keep bringing this topic up.

  12. July 31, 2007    

    To me, they seem to be one and the same. SEO should be about user usability. Links of the in coming type, should mean that someone else has found your site to be useful to them and their users. Outgoing links should be ones that you think your users need. Internal linking is to help the user get around your own site. Title tags, keywords, content, all go back to making the site available and usable.

  13. July 31, 2007    

    Sorry, but I just had to expound on the subject a little more:

    Many webmasters are so busy trying to figure out how to fool the search engines into thinking that their pages are important, that they have forgotten what makes them important. They end up like the guy at work who spends more time and energy avoiding work than he would have spent if he had just done his job to begin with.

    If the goal of the search engine is to find useful content and arrange the links to that content in such a way that the searcher can find the good content in the easiest way, and it is, and, if the internet end user is a human being, it stands to reason that websites designed with the human end user in mind, would do well.

    If the site has keywords that match what an average human being would type into the browser to look for that particular type of content, and arranged in such a way as to make it easy for a human being to find the content that he or she is looking for on the site, the site should do well.

    If this site has links to useful content on site and off, was designed by a human being, for a human being would end up ranking pretty well. It also stands to reason that a sight designed by any other method, is trying to skew the process by means that would, in any other field of endeavor, be considered dishonest!

    Search engines exist to serve people by providing accurate results. These accurate results consist of information that people want and need, whether that is a place to buy merchandise, find services or acquire information. Any attempt to fool the search engine is inherently “black hat.”

    In the end, the internet is about human beings, for human beings, and the human element should never be left out of the equation.

    This is a great forum, and I am looking forward to seeing the web site up and running.

  14. July 31, 2008    

    I wound add only one sentence that if the sites usability is excellent then you are going to get success in SEO. Also visitors aspect should be prioritize than any other factor.

  15. Lots to think about from your post. I look forward to my next visit.

  16. August 20, 2008    

    Wow Impressive!

    Your blog is very informative. However, it is pretty hard task but your
    post and experienced serve and teach me how to handle and make it more
    simple and manageable.

    Thanks for the tips… Best regards.

  17. September 8, 2008    

    there is no successful SEM campaign Without SEO on the side. IMO

  1. I am no longer an SEO | SEO News - All The SEO Scoop on July 16, 2007 at 7:36 am

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