IA, SEO & UX: $500 Won’t Fix This Mess

True story. I was asked to quote on an SEO job for a web site completely built in Flash with AJAX and JavaScript for an extra added thrill. They had $500 to spend.

Most of you would decline and so did I, but not before we got into a bit of a discussion when the agency insisted I was wrong about engines and Flash. For their company name, their site comes up in the number one spot. This, they say, is proof they rank well. They claim to be number one on their search term and claimed to be indexed by Google. I was challenged to prove they needed me. I didn’t have the time but it is a mistake to tell me I don’t know SEO.

Yes. Their site was number one for the company name search. This is because they are the only site with that name and domain. Yes, Google managed to get some pages. One was the Splash homepage that had no content on it. Another page was an orphaned Macromedia file. The other two pages were PDF’s. With no content or information architecture in place, there was simply nothing to add to a search engine database. Yes, they were number one for the keyword they targeted. This is because nobody was searching the term. Google data showed some interest by their local area (likely their own employees) but other than that, there was not enough data for Google to display. They had the perfect opportunity to optimize for that key phrase but had no interest in doing so. I showed them how far off the mark they were in targeting the words people use to search for their service. With some measure of satisfaction, I sent them their flat line of death – not only for their so-called keyword, but the clear line of usage in the past 4 years since they redesigned all in Flash. We’re talking a mountain down to a mole hole.

There were 4 silos: About them, Contact, Products and Services. (Very descriptive labels, not!) Every navigation cue was in an image. The URL never changed, so no matter where you clicked on the site, there was no url cue for sense of place. How in the heck they expected a search engine to figure it out, I have no idea. No link went to a separate page. Links either went to another web site they own, or a pop up window that displayed content a search engine would never see. Not to mention the content was bland. It could have been cut and pasted on any site offering products and services. There was nothing in the entire design or navigation structure, let alone the content, to help search engines understand what the site is about.

Of course they still think they can pay someone $500 to get them out of this mess. It won’t be me. However, this was a great exercise for me because it clearly illustrates how badly companies and ad agencies absolutely don’t get it.

Search Engine Strategies, Chicago 2009

Next Tuesday, at 10:30 am following Peter Morville’s keynote, Shari Thurow, Adam Audette and I gather together to explain why Information Architecture is critical to your web site both from a searcher perspective as well as the user. I am responsible for taping the walls. Shari will paint the room. Adam will make sure we don’t fall off the ladder. We cover:

What information architecture is as it relates to web site development (not software, or database development.)
Findability
IA and SEO
IA and Usability
Taxonomy, Ontology, URL structure
Page sculpting, orientation, scent of information, sense of place

and this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve worked hard to come up with information and takeaways, tools and examples. I get to tell stories.

See you there and if not, ping me for my slides.

Related article at Search Engine Land – Information Architecture: The Backbone Of SEO & Usability