What a User Friendly Website Means to Search Engine Marketers

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
A screenshot of Kim's talk at PubconIt 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.

Wait.  What?

I was so shocked when I read What The Experts Have to Say: Google Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan 2.0 Updatesthat 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?

Your competition.

Slide from a talk 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.

Ignore Usability Testing at Your Own Risk

While more web site development companies understand why human factors web design contributes to long term business and brand success, there are still those not investing and taking risks.

In my latest column for Search Engine Land, I describe the risks of not performing site testing during the developmental stages of web site design. The testing I recommend is not just on functional or server performance. I would like to see every department, from search engine marketing, to software application development to user interface engineering planning and testing together. This means adding more skills and practices such as information architecture and accessibility testing to QA departments.

Web Site Planning

Nothing bangs you over the head with an “Ah Ha!” moment better than when you realize that to truly make your client or employer’s Web based project successful, you must understand how search engines index and rank, and how people search and make choices from search engines and webpages.

Read the full article – The Value Of Testing Website Usability & Search Engine Performance

[button link=”http://usabilityandseo.com/free-quote/” type=”big” color=”teal”] Get Your Free, No Hassle Quote Now[/button]

Low Income Disabled Persons Prevented From Internet Use

As a user advocate, one of my personal concerns with web design and programming is making web sites and applications accessible to everybody. That includes disabled persons and those who rely on mobile or smaller devices to use the Internet.

It’s a very hard sell. While I always plant seeds with my clients, it’s a rare one that wants to purposely go over their code to be sure it meets disability standards (aka “Section 508″ and “PAS 78″). Or, someone will push it off because they feel their alt attributes behind images meets the requirements.

Data released by the folks at PEW provided some saddening news. Susannah Fox wrote, in What people living with disability can teach us,

The Pew Internet Project recently issued a short report noting that people living with disability are less likely than other adults in the U.S. to use the internet: 54%, compared with 81%. The first question many people ask when they hear that is, Why? The second is, What can be done? The third is, or should be, What can we learn from this?

What struck me from their research was I had believed blockages to Internet usage by those with disabilities was mainly the fault of web site owners. As it turns out, it’s poor standards of living that are hurting these people. Living on disability lowers one’s income or a large portion of income goes towards ongoing care and treatment. Poverty prevents access to computers and broadband internet access. It’s not as if some of these people can simply hop in a car to use a library computer or if they have one, jump on public Wi-Fi somewhere.

Pew Internet’s research has consistently shown that broadband access and mobile access deepen an internet user’s relationship with the online world. — Download the PEW Report from Americans living with a disability are less likely than other adults to use the internet

I know I take it for granted that I have access to the world thanks to my cell phone, e-reader and computers. Imagine what it’s like to not be able to seek jobs, research health topics, email family and friends and access the countless ways the internet can exercise your brain.

If this topic interests you, What people living with disability can teach us links to other insightful write-ups and commentary.

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The You-Don’t-Matter Website (A Look At Ego/Vanity Sites)

Last week I conducted a web site usability audit for a famous brand corporate web site. It never fails to amaze me why these companies don’t hire designers trained in search engine marketing and user experience design.

I won’t divulge who they were. I never do that with client work because for starters, they had the brains to find me and get help. But what I found illustrated what I often find on corporate, famous brand web sites. There seems to be this arrogance that says, “We have the brand. We don’t need to optimize.  Who cares if people come.”

Fashionistas

Certain brands have an interesting way letting you know that you don’t meet their user standards. Take Prada for example. Unless you have Flash loaded and your computer has speakers, their web site is completely useless.

This is what it looks like without Flash installed.

This is what it looks like if you have Flash, JavaScript and sound.

It’s really cool. It loads a video with catwalk music, which immediately shows their new line being modeled. This is different than images with click to enlarge. Prada wants to create an environment. A vibe. A la-te-da. It does this beautifully. However, this is what Yahoo cached:

If I could afford a Prada shoe versus the ones I get at Famous Footwear for under $20, I would search Google with my perfectly manicured pink fingernails for “prada shoes”. And this is what I would get:

My pretty little head would be thrilled to find all the sites that sell them or have rip-offs or offer  them on sale. I never have to go to Prada’s web site – which by the way is somewhere down there in the SERPS. Google found the homepage but no inside pages. Certainly no shoes!

But hey, it’s Prada. It’s a select market. No dial-up user or sight impaired person buys from them, right?

Too Posh to Care

When searching for a place to hold a wedding or fancy gathering, this web site hopes to God you know about them before you go searching on the Web. If you have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or flickering movement will cause you to have seizures, do NOT visit this web site.

If you know the business phone number, you win their challenge because by golly, their domain IS the phone number. (Click the image to view.) If you don’t know what the site is about, join the club, but I warn you that if you click a link to an inside page, you may be stuck there. I couldn’t find the back “home”. Leave a comment if you found it.

Just for jollies, check out the source code. It’s an SEO’s nightmare. There is no title tag. No meta anything. No content. At all. The entire site is AJAX driven, so no matter where you are, the URL never changes. If you aren’t the type of user who has the latest computer equipment, you most definitely can’t afford the services of this gorgeous place. This is what you do get.

Thanks to a funny discussion in Facebook that began when I mini-vented about poor site usability, I was offered some leads on sites that are absolutely not designed for everybody to use. They’re targeted to those with the latest technology and which don’t need search engines.  If you need to control sound or are using JAWS, these sites must be frustrating.

For ChristianLouBoutin you must have Flash 7 installed.

For Versace please throw out your dial-up and set aside 5 minutes for the site to load up if you have DSL or cable. When it does, hope for a horizontal scrollbar if you’re using a wide screen monitor.

As one of my friends said,

“And then the brands wonder why counterfeiters are the ones in the top 10 of Google.”

What Makes It a Vanity Site?

If you need something to see, hear, load and install to use it, it’s a vanity site. If there is no text anywhere  it won’t have information for you. Rather, via images and video, you’re supposed to see and sense the aura and telepathically communicate with the navigation.

Artistic sites by graphic artists tend to love to break rules. They’re all about the art and the newer technology which offers them great freedom to express themselves. The site is all about them. “You” are secondary. If you come, thank you. If you don’t, you won’t be missed. It wasn’t designed for you.

One design fad are  Horizontal Websites (Discussion link). Here is an example of what it can look like:

VanityClaire –  It’s pretty clever but the bottom part of the site can’t be seen at all on a wide screen monitor. There are no vertical scroll bars on horizontal web pages. That defeats the purpose of the design.

With Flash and JavaScript disabled, it looks like this:

A cleaner, less jerky example that doesn’t depend on Flash, is one by Donna Fontenot aka “DazzlinDonna”. It’s a free slider launch template.

What Makes a Site Non-User/Non-Search Friendly?

Many web site owners try hard to make sure their web sites function for most people. For them, my site audits are filled with logical recommendations that often make them smack their head. It’s always the little things that make a big difference for the user experience and search engine crawling. The bulk of non-usability falls into the accessibility area. The plus of making a site meet accessibility standards is that it automatically pleases search engine “bots”.

My friend, Joe Dolson, writes on this topic. These two links may be helpful in deciding whether it’s “worthwhile” to include users who have health issues of various kinds that prevent them reading or ordering online without some type of software or other assistance.

http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/1417-Accessibility-How-Many-Disabled-Web-Users-Are-There->Accessibility: How Many Disabled Web Users Are There?

I often hear business owners claim that their sites aren’t used by people with disabilities, so they don’t need to pay attention to web accessibility. But there’s no basis for such claims because the merchant can’t possibly know this information. The tracked profile of a user with a disability, via a typical analytics package, is identical to anybody else using that browser.

United States disability statistics: Measurement and sources

Take the time to follow his leads on statistics sources. The number of disabled people is staggering. States such as mine (Pennsylvania) have laws for any state government website that  requires them to be usable by everybody, whether they are using assistive software,  older computers or have health issues that make using a mouse or page viewing frustrating. Why? Because the state wants to do business and provide services online to every citizen.

Doing Away With Basic Usability, Accessibility and Search Engine Marketing

A company that doesn’t care if its web site comes up for specific product searches is one that believes its brand name is doing the job just fine. They may be right. However, sooner or later, I hope they discover their competition is a user click or search result away.

It’s scary to keep finding web sites that most people can’t use or search for. I can understand new sites with inexperienced (but learning) owners and designers. We find them in forums and blogs asking questions. We rarely find anyone from big shot sites or who are willing to identify themselves as such asking for help in forums. At their level they’re expected to know what they’re doing.

The big brand site that threw me into a tizzy last week had no text on the homepage at all. With Flash and images disabled there was a big fat nothing. No textt, no links and no navigation. It’s an ecommerce web site with no signs of an order form.  The lead task was viewing their pretty pictures. There were no call to action prompts on the homepage. If you could figure how to add a product to the cart, you couldn’t continue shopping.  You could only order ONE product. That cracked me up. And finally, I’ve never seen a site completely change the entire homepage so that every time you load it you get a different design.

Sites like that one have gigantic egos and a funky way of creating brand loyalty. Nothing says “You don’t matter” more than a web site that won’t let you use it.