Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

Get Clear on Usability and SEO Requirements

I like to keep things simple. I’ve found that when it comes to search engine marketing, usability, accessibility and user experience web design, the fear of doing something wrong can paralyze project momentum.

I was asked, What new technologies adversely affect usability today? I replied,

Any technique or technology that interferes with a user task is not recommended.

Simple, right?

Not so fast.

In a perfect world (and with any smart business), putting a business online requires thought and planning. Basic goals may be “Earn revenue”, or “Provide information on company”, or “Get sales leads” or “Register online” or “Enable the ability to [insert what that is]”. To accomplish these goals typically requires a long list of stuff and this is where the fun starts.

Generate revenue = sell ads = show big whopping ad on launch = user can’t see a danged thing, closes window and continues or freaks out and abandons the page altogether = accessibility issues = unsubscribe = dead end.

Generate revenue = put up a page of affiliate links to stuff you like = pray a reader stumbles along, spots a link and follows it = or more likely, the link is completely ignored because there was no incentive created to click = dead end.

Get sales leads = put up web form = ask invasive questions = abandonment

Get sales leads = put up web form = someone with special needs software can’t use it because it’s not coded for them = abandonment

What’s happening?

The “build it and they will come” line of thought never worked; not even in the mid-90’s when there was far less competition on the Internet. Site owners still don’t completely get what being online really means and when they do, they think good help is cheap.

There are still company CEO’s. like one of my old bosses, who believe “webmasters should be paid $5/hr”. For $25,000, I built and SEO’d 13 web sites. I left and built a business. He had to sell his company after laying off most everyone first.

For those who understand better what it truly means to conduct business on the Internet, panic sets in when they look for help. They may not understand what each area of expertise means, or the difference between an experienced, skilled person and one who is not. Some people have odd abilities; like I always had the ability to look at a project from a 360 degree perspective and project into the future what will likely come down the pike. I bring that to my work and consider it an added value, but since a client can’t measure it, they don’t consider it important.

Most site requirements never include search engines, social media marketing and accessibility. These are “maybe later” items, or in the case of SEO, the thought may be that basic organic SEO is all that’s necessary. However, there is a reason why keyword search research is performed. It’s tied to the user experience. It matters what people are typing into search engines and if there is no interest in the user experience of the searcher, then landing pages will miss their mark.

….Equals abandonment. Equals dead-end. Equals no word of mouth referrals.

The retail company, Target, frustrated one group of people who couldn’t purchase from their web site and the store was sued. Did they have a Requirements Document that included accessibility? Did they have anyone on their team in the role of CYA (cover your ass)?

There are signs that businesses are firing existing employees and re-hiring less experienced replacements at cheaper salaries. ((Known as “reshuffling the deck.) This is a bad move if the business conducts any customer relationship online. The recession is not going to recover when the expertise is let go and sent to the unemployment line. Laying off or firing anyone with years of knowledge of web development, performance engineering, QA testing, project management, search engine optimization and marketing, usability, user experience, accessibility and social networking is a truly dangerous business decision. There are very, very few of us who know how to do all these different things and more importantly, understand how they all play together on the same playground.

The simple approach can be healing and inspiring. Like I said, I love simple. It’s how I navigate the complicated, chaotic worlds of SEO and Usability. I like to start with a plan. I want to know what the site owner wants and then help them understand what they didn’t know they wanted because they had no idea it was possible or affordable.

The simple approach lays out everything before a stitch of code is laid down. There may be a requirement that says, “Don’t block content from view” and every ad placement, Flash header that takes up 3/4 of the page or navigation drop down menu must be validated for this metric. Tests are written to validate requirements, meaning every chunk of text that’s inside an image and not viewable by search engines will also fail.

The fun part is when the marketing department insists on the big dumb ad, but that’s another story.

For now, when things are feeling out of control regarding your online business, go back and start the story from the beginning, when you and your site were young and happy. Check your traffic, search and user data for clues on what’s not working to everyone’s satisfaction.

You don’t always need to redesign. Sometimes all you need is a written set of requirements, site guidelines and a way to validate your requirements are met. Don’t neglect user requirements. Don’t neglect search engine requirements. Don’t neglect special needs users. And if you don’t understand what all this means?

Hire those that do and by golly, treat them well.


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