If you know me, you are aware that I have been doing what I call Holistic Usability and SEO since the year 2000. From the moment I combined the two practices, I became a black sheep.
Search engines are all about the user experience. It is, and was, all they could do to discover how we want our information delivered to us. Yahoo! was one of the, if not the first, to implement what later became known as taxonomies, where they focused on organizing content into categories. Their directory listed sites alphabetically, so SEO’s clamored to choose domain names that started with the letter “A”. Yahoo! had a homepage that listed categories to begin searching from and they were called a “portal” site. Others tried to emulate the portal approach to information.
Information architecture and findability, while staples for any search engine and directory, took a back seat in the world of SEO, where the big cool things were keyword stuffing, link farms, reciprocal linking schemes and cloaking.
Google came out with a different way. No portal. Semantic search, understanding the meanings for words used in search queries, personalized search, local search, user behavior, user preferences, user favorites and the demand for accurate, credible content was the new way to gather and deliver information.
Meanwhile, even today, old SEO tactics exist. Google has spent much time and expense to finding ways to clean up the mess and they still do, which to me is fascinating when I know that I, as the black sheep, has been advocating for a search engine optimization approach that does not sacrifice the human experience but rather, supports it as the way to achieving better rank.
While information architecture and findability, organizing information, tagging, meta data and categories are part of what I do as an SEO turned usability analyst, I am not sure if these skills are taught to SEO’s in their conferences and workshops.
I No Longer Pitch SEO Conferences
It has been 3 or 4 years since I pitched to and spoken at a strictly search engine marketing conference. There is only one large conference , PubCon, that welcomes me to discuss web site usability topics to their mostly online marketing attendees. My last talk was standing room only, so clearly there is interest.
There is not enough interest by leading search engine marketing conferences in teaching attendees how to make user friendly websites that search engines value. Yet, to listen to the leaders from the Internet marketing industry describing how they respond to each new Google algorithm update, they nearly always recommend a user friendly website as one of their top methods for success.
I was so shocked when I read What The Experts Have to Say: Google Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan 2.0 Updates, that I had to stop what I was doing, dust off my old beloved Cre8pc.com site and share my thoughts.
Bruce Clay wrote, “The focus needs to be on content—that which provides value to the searcher—and a user-friendly site, meaning the structure and navigation is logical and clear.”
These other tidbits from the leadership folks in the search engine marketing industry too:
“optimize sites for user intent”
“Take eBay for example, they not only had a major issue with repairing website issues.”
“It’s cliche to say: “Focus on the user”, but it’s only cliche because people keep saying it but aren’t doing it.”
“Creating unique site experiences that are focused on high quality user experiences on your site is essential. For many organizations this is a big shift.”
Why is it, I wonder, that the top SEO’s advise making user focused, user friendly websites and yet the top search engine marketing conferences around the world do not encourage usability and user experience design topics? In fact, there are now separate conferences strictly on conversions design, attracting online marketers.
To me, the entire conversions craze is a marketing darling that SEO’s completely missed because the game, for them, is not about design or the user journey. The entire point of their existence was about beating the brains of any search engine by means of math and tricks. Like any game where the objective is to outsmart a pile of machines, this has been and still is, a crazy fun addictive way to make a living.
However, as I figured out 14 years ago, after fighting to get really ugly websites to rank for many years and even being employed to make websites that were forced to take a back seat to users in exchange for better rank, I slept better knowing I could do both. To make it even more fun, I learned accessibility design. It takes money and time, plus the right skills, to build a website for the user journey. Most companies will never invest in a website that is user friendly, accessible and optimized for search engines.
Why should you invest in the user experience?
If you would like to survive any search engine algorithm update, you must build a website that ALL people can use, on any device they choose, using any software they require to assist them and by providing the best content for their search query.
If you want to learn how to do this, request that these topics be presented at your favorite conferences and seminars. Like I said, I no longer pitch and as much as I love speaking at conferences, it is an enormous expense for the company I now work for to send me out.
However, you can hire me to visit your company, or perform a site audit to get your website on the right path. It may be the best business investment you ever make.
Don’t ignore the advice industry leaders are sharing with you.