Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

The Shots Heard Around the Search Marketing Industry Will Bang Better with Usability

If you’re checking the pulse of the search engine marketing industry, you may notice a changing heartbeat. For starters, SEO is not that “mysterious little thing that person does for us” anymore. In that honorary chair now sits The Usability Consultant.

As pointed out in a new Cre8asiteforums discussion called Bang, Bang – The shots heard around the search industry, several SEO companies offer more than a web site for services. They also offer a blog, forums, ebook or book, workshops and conferences and now, the purchase of another well branded SEO company, as in the case of Search Engine People Purchases SEO-Scoop.com.

While there are some SEO companies that offer web site usability services as part of their marketing services, the vast majority don’t understand what usability is. As I often hear, SEO’s are responsible for marketing and promotion and that’s it. Their services are geared towards getting sites optimized for search engines, getting sites into SE’s, indexed by SE’s, and marketed via social media, off-site marketing, print media, etc.

Their leading concern is for their paying client who wants their web site found and clicked into.

An SEO is not being paid to worry about the visitors’ experience once they arrive at their client’s web site.

I understand this. But, I’m stubborn.

I cut coupons. I bargain shop. I look at the ingredients of the food I buy. I’m willing to drive farther for organic food. For me, it’s logical to get the most bang for my buck. Selling SEO services to a company that has a broken, poorly designed site is not going to keep that company in business for very long, one way or another. If they go out of business because their site is dysfunctional, they will no longer need your SEO/M services.

I Say Usability. You Say Tomato.

When asked what usability is, my mind wants to explode. It’s captology. It’s user testing. It’s eye tracking. It’s requirements gathering and documentation. It’s accessibility, engagability, findability, understandability and credibility. It’s target market analysis, data gathering and tracking and methodology traced back to Human Factors and even before that. It’s human behavioral studies. It’s Split A/B testing, momentum, conversions and persuasive architecture. It’s forms design. And more.

Why does social networking work well? Human behavior. How do you make it work for you? By understanding human behavior on the Internet, not where to put meta tags or where to tuck in content. How do you design information architecture? By understanding who the site is for. How do you market that site? By understanding who the site is for AND optimizing the click paths and navigation borne out of the IA.

It sometimes surprises people when I test for color contrasts and font re-sizing. I do this because I’m sight impaired and there’s millions like me, but you wouldn’t know it to look at or be with us. I don’t care how much you promote a web site. If I can’t see it, I don’t use it. Why pay for SEO services for a site that people can’t use without a struggle?

I’ll be speaking at SES Chicago on Usability and SEO next month. I have 8-10 minutes to try and teach them something they can take back to work with them. Even if I do manage to convince them that organic SEO and usability standards are buddies, these poor people have to return to companies with management heads who refuse to drink the kool-aid.

Usability Serves People Who Use Things. Search Marketing Serves People Who Sell Things. Let’s Shack Up Together.

All I’m saying is that if you’re a marketing/advertising company, in order to succeed in today’s Internet, you can survive by selling services to those who don’t know what they’re missing, those who don’t know what level of expertise they need and those who don’t understand half of what you’re telling them they should do.

I’m rooting on the full service marketers who know their stuff. For me, all companies that have online applications require a full-time usability staff skilled in design, organic SEO, accessibility laws and web standards. Any web site that has landing pages needs to understand cognitive behavior, call to action and reasons for abandonment as well as the optimization side. A company hiring for redesign needs the army approach of content writers, IA, UX, Accessibility, mobile device builds, on and off-line marketing, SM, SEO, user testing, functional testing, requirements gathering and a project manager who knows everything I just said.

As a client, be extra sure to inquire about what a marketing company is selling you. When they say “usability services”, what exactly does this mean? Do they help with a redesign? What if your site is terrible and no amount of SEO is going to help you? Do you trust the SEO to tell you this or will they just take your money and play head games with you for a few months until you give up?

As a client, you must also inquire about what kinds of usability services are offered. There’s many kinds and many branches of skill-sets. Try to find what matches your needs. Try to listen to those whom you do hire. I had a hilarious conversation with a client while reviewing his site report. I never got into the actual design “look” in the report because this is a touchy topic for people. When I came clean and told him his site was “clunky”, he was at first a little shattered. But, I could show him what I meant and where things weren’t working; where the disconnects were. Why the site’s appearance didn’t represent the quality of his products, customer service and expertise. And he began to see his site through new eyes.

He already had the SEO work done. He already had the marketing efforts and abandonment “saves” in place. But after just week of applying my suggestions, his product sales went up over 30%. One week! And he’s not finished with the enhancements yet.

Tomorrow is World Usability Day. Search Engine Marketers don’t have a special day.

Maybe someday, the Usability Industry won’t need one either.


  1. November 14, 2008    

    Hi, nice to see SEO is moving towards usability. I think SEO’s must know how is it going to effect the users and business as a whole.

    I strongly promote “Usability Centric Search Engine Optimization”
    at my blog.

    Just in case: http://www.vijayweb.com/usability_search_engine_optimization/

  2. Tom's Gravatar Tom
    November 15, 2008    

    Good advice.If you have a blog, you have the best SEO tool available.With a normal website, knowing SEO is essential or you will never rank well in the search engines.It´s shocking how many sites don´t even have the meta tags configured.

  3. November 16, 2008    

    I get so tired of the single-tactic practicioners, and always enjoy seeing you write about the interface between usability and SEO. Usability, just like SEO, is a tool – a lever we pull to get a job done. SEO is a lever we pull to increase traffic. Usability is a lever we pull to turn traffic into action. A business needs both to succeed.

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