Ignore Usability and Search Marketing at Your Own Risk

My submission for this month’s “Just Behave” column in Search Engine Land is out. It’s called Finding The Right Balance Between Search Marketing & User Experience.

Yesterday a colleague asked me to find information on software application response times. I responded with some qualifying questions to refine my assistance but what it boiled down was this: the corporate powers wanted to know how much they could fudge things so that an ecommerce software application could roll out into “production” even though it wasn’t ready to effectively respond to customers. Could this be a problem and if yes, who says so?

This week, speaking with someone interested in hiring my services, the conversation was threatened when we began talking how much it would cost. I was asked to sell the site owner on the need for Usability and SEO in my RFP. Their web site is “all FLASH”. He loves FLASH, even though the user data and actual customer feedback indicates visitors are frustrated. He paid “a lot of money for that FLASH developer”, but I have to persuade him to spend money on making the web site usable and marketable?

I brought up the idea of business requirements for the site. It was obvious the company had none and did not understand why I asked about them. As I’m listening, I know this is not going to end up in a project I’ll want to take. For starters, they don’t want to pay for what they need because they haven’t justified that it to themselves. What they may pay for is shortcut and quickie glance reviews that are available for cheap from usability companies. These may point out the top layer of problems, but they don’t come with the solutions or staff to fix them.  In truth, they barely touch the surface of what most professional usability services cover.

Web site and application audits and testing are a weaving of:

# Search engine requirements
# User interface requirements and standards
# Accessibility requirements and laws
# Content requirements
# User testing and research
# Market research
# Functional testing
# Performance testing
# Ongoing testing to unblock conversion jams and to make adjustments based on tracking data
# Requirements gathering and documentation
# Information architecture and/or sitemap review

When someone approaches me and says, “My site is all in FLASH and I want to keep it that way, but I want SEO and usability work done it”, I know they barely have any idea what they got themselves into when they got into the world of online business.

I wrote this, in my article:

How we respond to computer information doesn’t begin and end with a good user interface. How visitors search and find web sites doesn’t end with the marketing process or how search engines present search results.

These are layers in a computer user’s experience process that we’re just beginning to understand.

Software QA Performance Engineers, where I live, earn over $80,000 a year.  This is just one item on that list above.  Usability services are vital and worth every penny your professional usability consultant asks for.

The last straw, for this particular phone call, was being asked to recommend this company’s services to my friends. Why would I recommend a company that doesn’t listen to its own customer feedback and get a web site that works?

If you are a web site owner with a struggling site, my hope is that you get the courage to invest in saving your business.  If you need a referral for companies that are credible and professional, I do this too.  Just drop me a line!

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Read in full – Finding The Right Balance Between Search Marketing & User Experience.

Take it for a Sphinn if you wish to vote for it.

3 thoughts on “Ignore Usability and Search Marketing at Your Own Risk”

  1. Kim,
    Great post. One fo the biggest challenges in the web is how easy it is to get started by “slapping up a shingle” and say you can build websites. Anything that is worth doing is worth doing well, which means working people who really know what they are doing.

    One thing I will note, is that having a fully search-engine indexed flash site is possible but it takes a ton of engineering work to make it happen. The question that is more important is why is flash so important to the client. The fact that the client doesn´t know the business purpose for the website, is enough of a concern in itself.. But if they just “like flash” they are a dangerous type of client. They probably are not clear on what they want, which means you are going to spend more of your time educating the client than just getting the work done. On the other hand, the consultant who is succesful at helping people build the business case for their site and getting ownership buyin will have some serious opportunities in the market.

    Great post.

  2. Ryan…exactly! I just ran into this again, in a different way. A longtime friend is “getting a website”. Somebody else is building and hosting it. My friend is not technical in any way, other than being able to type into a computer. He’s in the healing field. I don’t know whether or not I should be quiet and let him run with this, or offer to look at it, or wait until it’s done or pick his brain on what he wants, so he gets what he hopes for. I could see him agreeing to an all FLASH site and not understanding what that could mean for the long term…sure, it can be dealt with engines. But not for free and I’d never want to launch a new site that has to be marketed fast as an all-FLASH site.

    Ah well….

  3. While I am not a usability pro like yourself (I am more of an e-commerce/web generalist), I bet between the two of us we could come up with a story like this for every day of the week. The key is if it doesn´t have a direct business purpose, it shouldn´t be done.

    In my conversations with different non-web businesses, the purpose of their website is for credibility “to say they have a website.” When I talk with some of my friends who own their businesses and give me this kind of “weak response” it seems like the real reason is that they don´t know what is possible within the budget “both time and money” that they can get done.

    To some degree this might be our problem, because it seems that those of us who understand the need for the “business case” are used to working on the bigger sites with bigger budgets. This may cause us to want to include too much which could intimidate them. Maybe getting them up and running with a wordpress site, with a few plugins, and a great graphic design is good enough. You may not even need to tell them that they can add their own content when they want. At a later date, that can be a good bonus.

    Great post, and thanks for the response.

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