Walking the bridge between usability and search engine optimization practices to enhance user experience since 2000.

Blog Usability – How to Reach Your Blogging Happy Place

Congratulations! You’re a blog owner. It has a catchy name. After submitting a blog post, you’re amazed at the inbound traffic. The ads in your sidebar are paying your mortgage. People recognize you on the street as that “Cool Blogger”. Next year, you’ll retire to some tropical island because your blog success is like winning the lottery. Or not.

A focus on the usability of your blog can help create a happy picture much like the one you’ve just read. First, let’s begin with the vision for your blog.

Vision

What is the purpose of your blog? The ease and availability of blog software has made blogging an option for nearly every type of web site. You can entertain. Inform. Sell products. Offer opinions. Market your company. Perhaps you simply want to write from your heart and your personal blog is your journal.

What is the value of your blog to your readers? Are you writing for yourself, your industry, your business, or company? Sometimes blogs are so well written that readers become fans even if the topic raises eyebrows. One of the best written blogs I ever found was filled with hilarious stories by a male escort.

Will your blog benefit readers? If your blog is part of a resorts web site, do you offer personal reviews of properties that your readers can use to help them choose where to go? If you operate a news blog, do you check facts, go by press releases or have investigative blog reporters on your staff?

Who is your target market? If you’re an artist with a blog, you may hope to inspire someone to purchase your artwork. Perhaps you want to convince them that your next show is worth attending. What writing style can you use for art lovers looking to purchase good works of art? When blogging industry news, do you write in simple terms or use technical jargon? Who will be reading your blog? Professionals? Peers? Strangers? Friends? Customers?

There may be related goals such as “to teach”, “inform and sell my book”, “news and a bit of personal life”, etc. When you wish to combine topics, communicate your objectives to your readers in your blog description or About page. Attempts to hide your true purpose or “fake out” readers may injure the credibility of your blog.

Blog visitors determine the usability and purpose of your blog based on the layout and content. When considering your target readers, consider demographic information such as age, gender, computer experience, geographic location and education.

Requirements Gathering

By now, it may have suddenly occurred to you that your blog isn’t just for you. Gathering requirements is an exercise in organization and better planning for your blog. Try to do this before you spend hours searching for the perfect blog template. The end result is better overall usability because of your close attention to small details and greater understanding of what you want to create.
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Usability Tea

As I return to a less intense work load than in weeks past, I thought I’d relax with you and share some recent usability blog posts that caught my eye, but I haven’t had time to write or comment on them.

Four Bad Designs. Jakob Nielsen picks four examples of designs that missed their mark. Each example is right-on, but my favorite is the first one. Without incentive, there’s no reason to care about the call to action.

Google Now Fills Out Forms & Crawls Results. There are limits. More information and comments by SEO’s can be found at Sphinn.

Gord gets into brain with Human Hardware: Men And Women.

Website Redesign: Improving Website Usability and SEO. Having come away from giving a class on usability to SEO’s, I was reminded of just how important and timely this topic is.

Shari Thurow wrote a great article called What SEO/SEM Professionals Should Know About Website Usability. It’s a 2-part article. Both include quotes from usability professionals.

Colleen Jones never fails to deliver inspiration. Read her Winning Content Persuades, Not Manipulates

What did I miss, that you liked?

Web Site Feedback as Your Secret Online Marketing Tool

There’s a small trick I do with my online order form that helps to identify one of the first problems a web site may have. I purposely don’t ask for a business address or phone number right away. I don’t want to know what these are. As a web site usability consultant, when I visit a client’s web site for the first time, learning how to contact them is my first official task. If I can’t locate this information, or it’s a pain in the neck to find, I’ve discovered their first customer service issue.

I wouldn’t recommend that you do this with your online business, especially if you are selling products. Your responsibility is to gather accurate information for your transactions immediately so that you can conduct business in an efficient, courteous manner. I, too, have reasons to be more formal, depending on the project. Both you and I have a strong desire to conduct business or provide information in a positive, productive way.

If we do not, how do we know when we’ve failed? How do we know when we’ve succeeded? If we don’t make the effort to include customers ‘ needs and desires in our interaction with them, and our competitors do, what message does this send? Are you inviting user feedback?

Dear Google, Your Application is Groovy

Search marketers know that local searches are a new arena for promoting online businesses. One way to do this is by informing Google Maps that a business exists. When Google has this information, with data provided by a site owner or their Internet Marketing Consultant, it is more likely a search for your product or service, in your town, will display your business.Feedback form

I decided to enter my business into the Google Maps application (http://maps.google.com/). There are several steps to the application, with helpful user instructions to guide you. When I reached the end, I had several options for how Google could verify that it was I submitting the data, rather than someone not associated with my business. This extra effort towards accuracy signals a desire to be customer service oriented.

Since I believe in positive reinforcement, I would have liked to have sent a “high five” to Google because I had a good experience using their application. However, on the last screen, there was no place to offer feedback of any kind. I couldn’t rate it. I couldn’t recommend it to someone. I couldn’t send an email. I couldn’t answer a one-question quick survey such as “Did you enjoy adding your business to Google Maps?” or “Did you have any problems entering your business and if so, please send us your experience.”

I know Google is user centric. This is a missed opportunity for user feedback. It’s a missed opportunity to get a pat on the back for a job well done. We all like to hear about when we’ve done something
a site visitor appreciates.

Please continue reading this article here.

That’s a Nice Form You’re Wearing

In my dating days, I was a guy’s worst nightmare. When I went out with my friends, I may or may not have been looking for a cute hunk. Most likely, I was there to dance and flirt with a drummer. The worst thing a Coyote (man on the hunt) could do was to throw me a pick up line.

I would move away from the bar. I would roll my eyes. I would turn to a girlfriend and face my back to him. Sometimes I’d laugh at them because their pickup line was sooooo bad! I needed to get to know people in natural ways. Could they dance? Did any of them know how to have an intelligent conversation about say, books or string theory? These were the men who got past page one with me.

These were the guys who could get me to fill out their application form.
Flirting guy

Hi, Have You Got a Boyfriend? If Not, Are You Taking Applications?

This was how fast some men started the dating sales process.

It’s also how quickly web sites approach first time visitors.

These are the sites that ask for your personal information before you place an item in a shopping cart. Or, the types of web sites that offer a teaser of content, and before you can learn more about their services or products, they ask you to fill out a long sales lead form first.

When web site visitors face enough of these annoying roadblocks, they leave the bar. They turn towards their friends. They roll their eyes or they turn their back to you to end the conversation. They leave your web site.

I don’t miss those dating days. I was a Show-Me-What-You-Got-First kinda girl.

For today’s usability mission, read Sign Up Forms Must Die, by Luke Wroblewski.

Usability Bliss and Utopian User Interface Dreams

I laughed when I read SEO and Usability: Don’t Beat a Dead Horse, which is a response to my SEO and Usability: Be That Stallion and Round Up The Herd. He has a point and I though it was likely a sign that I’m a usability idealist.

Carlos del Rio wrote:

You need to reach with both (SEO and Usability) hands to efficiently take advantage of your site changes. But wait… word of mouth advertising? Brand building? I love design but I certainly don’t send out e-mails to my friends saying “Check out this site! It’s amazingly usable.”

I don’t evangelize products based on packaging, I spread the value of function. I tell people things like: value for your money, shipping policy, better than the alternative, or full of bright people. Certainly SEO and usability will create both volume and return on investment, but they are never going to be the basis of word-of-mouth advertising. You can dress a duck in a prom dress but that doesn’t mean that anyone is going to tell all their friends that they went to prom with a duck.

I say that if the duck can dance hip hop, drive a Ford Mustang (my teenage daughter’s boyfriend says that’s his choice for cool even if you’re a “dork”) and willingly pay for your date’s prom dress, then who cares?

As a user advocate, I dream of navigation that’s a cakewalk. Do I think people tell their friends to buy from a company because their navigation is easy? Well. No. It’s a combination of things that includes ease of use, as well as confidence, being persuaded to join/browse/buy/search, and extraordinary customer service. Among 134 other things…

I return to Amazon over and over again, even though they change their homepage all the time so I must re-learn it and the order process is always tweaked, forcing me to take my time so I don’t screw up. I refer Amazon because of their prices, not their user interface. Are Amazon web site designers satisfied with this?

I’d like to tell my friends it’s the easiest, most delightful site to buy books from but really, I’m a die-hard physical world bookstore person. Nothing has replaced a few hours of roaming bookstore aisles, sipping tea while flipping through a magazine and pretending to read while curled up in a big leather chair but really I’m people watching. Web sites haven’t competed with human experiences like this yet.

Sometimes I long for them to create a moment that just sizzles with me. Why? Because it shows they know I want that experience and they want to make it happen.

I happened to catch this from Waiting: A Necessary Part of Life by Donald Norman:

“To the analyst, such as me, interfaces are where the fun lies. Interfaces between people, people and machines, machines and machines, people and organizations. Anytime one system or set of activities abuts another, there must be an interface. Interfaces are where problems arise, where miscommunications and conflicting assumptions collide. Mismatched anything: schedules, communication protocols, cultures, conventions, impedances, coding schemes, nomenclature, procedures. it is a designer’s heaven and the practitioners hell. And it is where I prefer to be.”

I get this. For me, the bliss is in the wanting to strive for perfection and believing in that Utopian moment where the user interface totally blows away the person experiencing it. Sometimes I think I’d be bummed if we discovered the perfect web site. What would we strive for next?

Other Finds

Reading about Virginia DeBolt’s resistence to Twitter in New, improved and better than ever has just about tipped me over the edge. I love Virginia’s writings. She has an open mind and she’s mighty smart.

Designing Ethical Experiences: Social Media and the Conflicted Future

When conflicts between businesses and customers—or any groups of stakeholders—remain unresolved, UX practitioners frequently find themselves facing ethical dilemmas, searching for design compromises that satisfy competing camps. This dynamic is the essential pattern by which conflicts in goals and perspectives become ethical concerns for UX designers. Unchecked, it can lead to the creation of unethical experiences that are hostile to users—the very people most designers work hard to benefit—and damaging to the reputations and brand identities of the businesses responsible.

Webstock 2008 coverage – by LukeW is on my must-read list. So nice to see Kathy Sierra again.

And the last word belongs to Jeffrey Zeldman’s Facebook, Twitter, and Bird Flu where he writes:

So the planet warms and the Kenyans kill their neighbors and we tweet about nothing and hope the servers hold out.

SEO and Usability: Be That Stallion and Round Up The Herd

As more and more people jump on the SEO and Usability bandwagon and write about it, a few different arguments are presented. In some, one set of skills is more important than the other, or “first”. For others, one can’t live without the other.

Still others think they have a purpose together and create new terms for practicing it.

horse head I’ve written extensively over the years on the relationship between SEO and web site usability. Five years ago I felt that SEO efforts were helpful up to a certain point before a well designed web site takes over. Sort of the “You can lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink” theory.

This viewpoint is also expressed in more and more blog posts and articles. It’s a start but nowhere near the true value of combining SEO with web site usability design and testing.

While more companies grasp that usable web sites bolster their marketing investment, they have a limited understanding of exactly what this means. They’ve figured out that the horse can be lead to water, and they’ve managed to get it to drink, but they haven’t worked out the importance of that horse telling the entire herd about that water source and leading all of them there to drink as well.

Web site usability goes far beyond the user interface. It’s wonderful to hire a search engine marketer who knows how to design web pages that appear high in search results and are smoothly indexed. Even better is the marketer who designs expert landing pages and researches your target customer. They’ve done their job when someone has no problem finding the web site they seek and wants to click into it.

The expected results go from being located in search engines to being visited.

And then the logic seems to stop.

Visiting a web site is one step in the overall user experience, but there are many other steps to consider and build for such as browsing the homepage and conducting a task or two. However, the moment the web site misses a beat somewhere, such as a functional defect, dead-end navigation, loopy information architecture, sleepy content or invasive form requests, the moment of bliss is over.

People know their search engine has other web sites to show them.

SEO and usability is not an either/or decision. It’s a concentrated and blended effort to go above and beyond basic expectations to reach for goals like great customer service, findability, word of mouth advertising or brand building.

Marketing a poorly built web site can be a waste of money, but truthfully, a lot of people will use a web site they dislike because they have time constraints, there aren’t many options, they’re patient, it has the right price, they have no desire to look at competitors or all the sites in that niche are also clunky to use.

You can most certainly hire an SEO and ignore the investment in the web site design. You can go the other way and build a gorgeous web site and ignore SEO, but good luck with that. It’s not a mountain I’d want to climb.

What really counts is bringing both skill sets together for the unified goal of creating a kick-ass user experience.

This means considering the user experience from the moment they fire up their favorite search engine, to the moment they click into a web site from SERPS, to every second they spend on the site and, of equal importance, what they do after they leave.

Could they use it? If they use assistive technology like screen readers, could they move about the web site and understand what it offered? They’ll tell their friends if you made your site accessible.

Was the value proposition presented well? Did they really believe your claims? Could they find your phone number for customer service? Did they stick some sale items into a shopping cart and then have to go make dinner and if so, will your cart remember them if they come back? IF they come back? Does your site let them go or was there a function to remind them to return and finish shopping and oh by the way, here’s a coupon as incentive.

You can just hear the herd of horses stampeding now, can’t you?

Bottom line?

If you don’t show passion for your web site, it will perform that way.

horse bow

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