Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

Customer Experience, Loyalty and Search Engine Marketing Without Understanding Either of These

Gordon Hotchkiss wrote a blog post called, Why Do We Keep Buying from Bad Businesses, in which he describes a situation many of us may be familiar with. Do you shop at stores where the prices are too high or the environment is uncomfortable? Why?

He describes his wife’s loyalty to a local family-run business, despite poor customer service and questionable product quality. Walmart is another example of what may be an unpleasant customer experience, but the prices are good, so this is often tolerated. Why do we put up with this?

Gord wonders if it’s “Convenience, price and some twisted sense of obligation to the family that runs the offending store.”

My family shops like his wife does.

But Does She Talk to Trees?

There are local shops I’ll run to for something quick, knowing full well it won’t be pleasant. For example, one newspaper/magazine shop in town is so smoke-filled that you have to battle a cloud and hold your breath during the time you’re inside, and when you come out of the place, nobody wants to be anywhere near you. But, it saves on gas to go there for a gallon of milk rather than the nicer stores farther away.

Living in a rural area allows me to buy locally grown food items. I do the same thing my mother did when I was growing up, as does most of my community. We have our routes for fresh meat or organic produce. We know which farms sell what in each season.

Christmas trees, both live and cut, are grown here. We choose the best from three places. One is a farm with two huge ponds and sprawling fields, where you can stroll for awhile with your family and hand-saw, and cut your own tree. We go there when we want an experience to remember. (I always thank the tree and talk to it. Everyone laughs at me.) The other two choices we have are local gentlemen who grow their own trees on their properties and you literally walk through their backyards and pick what you want.

All of these local picks that we’re loyal to are advertised by word of mouth and wooden homemade signs on the sides of our back roads. The farm gives a discount to school children and the schools send home flyers.

Unless you live here, you wouldn’t know these businesses exist. They don’t have web sites and don’t invest in newspaper ads. If you’re from the city, you may not care to shop the way we do. Many people want the big well known brand super stores where they drive there once, and get everything in one shot (including trees). They want that experience and are less concerned with supporting the local community or the quality and freshness of the products.

You Go First

Thinking about Gord’s blog post, I came across a statement in a discussion on the what comes first, SEO or Usability debate, in which someone felt SEO comes first because a site must be promoted before it can be “used”.

To which I wonder, if a site falls in a search engine, would anyone hear it?

Do you spend a gazillion dollars to market a web site nobody can use?

Do you know it can or can not be used?

I find this interesting about the argument for SEO “first”. If you hire a company to market your web site but you’ve never bothered to test it for overall usability, what are you thinking? If you market your web site and your landing pages are converting everyone beautifully and visitors love your products, what happens when your shopping cart or sales lead form is too hard to understand or has a bug you’re unaware of?

Your SEO who didn’t conduct a usability audit first is not going to tell you this.

I’ve read the argument that some SEO’s aren’t interested in a client’s web site’s customer experience. Their job is to get people to the web site and what happens after that is none of their concern. In a way, they’re correct because search engine optimization is limited to marketing to search engines.

But, people use search engines.

How can you promote something in which you don’t ask your client to consider the user experience of the person you’re targeting in your marketing campaign?

Was It Good For You Too?

Why would a web site owner hire an SEO who claims to understand their target market’s needs and desires if clearly, their sole point of service has nothing to do with your web site visitors’ experience? Isn’t understanding how people use the Internet and web sites part of the trick to marketing to them?

Customer Support on the Web: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You, by Daniel Szuc, discusses customer experience and how important online tasks are. He includes a great list of customer characteristics, including:

(They) don’t know about your company—They’re not familiar with your business operations, your internal company jargon, or your company structure. Using your customer’s language in your user interface helps customers to serve themselves better.

If the keywords list is based on the web site’s jargon and customers don’t understand what they’re reading, will they click to go there?

Does your SEO promote your site to a local area and not understand how they shop there? Like I said, most of us know our communities and what they offer. We also do what Gord was talking about. We’re willing to go against all logic and forgo certain pleasantries to get what we want. This is why so-called “ugly” sites may do well. If they managed to connect with their visitor somehow, all the more power to them. Will an SEO, who doesn’t do user testing on the site’s being marketed, have any information for their client on how they think conversions will go?

You get what you pay for. When hiring a company to market your site in search engines and directories, you may find that your money works harder when there’s an honest understanding for who will want to use your web site once they arrive, and who will come back, year after year.

Remember my example of the three places we choose Christmas trees from? There are three of them. If one has outrageous prices one year, we keep driving onto the next one to see if he offers a better deal, even if it means passing up a fun romp in the fields with the family (customer experience).

We keep looking for those signs alongside the roads, hoping for another memorable experience that we can share with friends and family who haven’t gone to get their tree yet. Every year we refer people to these Christmas tree places, along with our experiences with each one.

I’ve always disagreed that SEO or Usability are in competition for “first”. They compliment each other by fortifying the strengths of both missions.

They cover each other’s backs.


Connecting more:

Excellent resource that illustrates how a marketing campaign may be truly disconnected from the actual people intended to use the product – A Few Questions for CVS by Holly Buchanan.

Is it Worth Creating User Personas?


  1. iamlost's Gravatar iamlost
    November 6, 2007    

    ‘To which I wonder, if a site falls in a search engine, would anyone hear it?’

    You can certainly ‘hear’ the anguish of the developer in their blog and on various fora. :)

    ‘I’ve always disagreed that SEO or Usability are in competition for “first”. They compliment each other…’

    The idiocy of hierarchal competition strikes again.

    I visualise a website as a caterpillar with each leg being a separate motivating factor, i.e. SEO, Usability, etc. It is not so important which leg moves first but that they move in turn in the same direction. One or two legs can be dragged but the impetus is slowed. And no one or two legs can move the body much at all.

    It’s a dance, the caterpillar dance. Come dance with me and we’ll make butterflies together…

  2. November 6, 2007    


    iamyourgrasshopper :)

  3. November 6, 2007    

    I totally agree that SEO and user ability compliment each other to the point that it delivers a better overall internet and search experience.

  4. November 6, 2007    


    While reading this, it occurred to me that I’ve been doing both, in a sense offering both services, but selling it only as SEO. The Web Analytics and Usability side of my business isn’t near as popular as the SEO side, and now I know why.

    Because I’ve been doing both under the name of only one.


    Thanks for this piece, I’m off to now restructure my offerings if for no other reason than to actually SAY that I’m doing the usability analysis that I have been (and not necessarily to raise the price, heh).

  5. November 14, 2007    

    For years I concentrated on SEO for the site I’d built, without a thought about the user experience.

    Then I stumbled across GrokDotCom and learned about the whole area of usability, conversion and persuasion in the sales funnel.

    Combine the two together and you have a powerful fusion that not only attracts the right kind of traffic, but also raises the conversion rates massively for your existing traffic.

    Understanding both sides of the coin (SEO vs Usability) is a skill that is gradually being recognised and rewarded by high salaries in the commercial sector. I for one, like the idea of that!

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