Before search engines appeared, how did Internet users find information? Where was information located and who had it all?
It is hard to imagine what life was like before the Internet became part of our daily lives. Schools are removing classes on writing in cursive and replacing them with how to handle Facebook bullies. Google plans on the being the one and only place on the entire Internet to provide the answers to all questions by all people.
To do that, Google must know who we are, and this is not something we agree is what we want.
We do, however, provide the same thing we have been offering since we first plugged in a computer, dialed up a modem and waited for our email to load. For many people during the early 1990’s, American Online (AOL) was where the party started. We began by sharing what we found.
You Have to See This
This is how it all began.
In 1995 I bought a 286 PC with a 9600 baud modem that shared my phone line. To get email, access the Web and make my first AOL website, I had to call a long distance phone number to reach an AOL server. Once I was connected and the modem screeching ended, I went to my favorite groups in AOL that were arranged by topic to meet and talk with other people interested in the same things. I belonged to and moderated several email subscription groups that essentially did the same thing, which was bringing people and information together.
In the years to come, there would be all kinds of ways to find people to meet and share information with, such as e-zines, groups, chat rooms, listservs, Deja news, UseNet and early forms of instant messaging. In 1998 I launched a forums, while participated in several others. There was no shortage of information.
I met mentors who taught me how make my first websites by emailing me or recommending books. Back then, search engines were not born yet. If I wanted to know how to do something, I went to a forum or an email distribution list.
They all worked by making referrals and recommendations.
Search by Popularity
Before search engines, everything was referral based.
I repeat. The way to find information at the dawn of the Internet was by referrals.
If you are a search engine marketer, this is important. The basic core algorithm for all search engines is “What is the most popular website?” This one question tortures and challenges search engine marketers. They have created schemes, tricks and tools for the sole purpose of creating web page popularity. Their mistake is not studying user behavior. Companies do not invest in studying user behavior and how the data relates to their particular web site requirements.
Conversions and Search Engines
Today, rather than refer to words like usability and user experience design, the code word is “Conversions”. Call it what you wish, but the fact is, you can lead a person to a search engine result by hook or by crook, but if the web site is not designed for that visitor, they are leaving.
It is a fact that most companies pay for a web design, without understanding or caring about the user experience. Companies care most about search engine rank. They will do just anything to achieve this, but pay no attention to making their web site user friendly. Everywhere is the evidence, from banner ads plastered all over pages, to forms that demand to be filled out before a web page can be viewed.
It boils down to this one secret. Are people recommending your products and services? Are they chatting about your brand? Do they refer you? Are you providing a trusted resource?
If your website were to suddenly disappear, would anybody care?
[mks_button size="large" title="Hire Kim and Find Out " style="rounded" url="http://www.internetmarketingninjas.com/forms/internet-consultant/" target="_self"]
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.
I have been applying Holistic Usability and SEO practices for 13 years because the combination is powerful for building successful websites. Now, there is a book about it.
Get the download for free.
The Secret to Natural Website Conversions, by Kim Krause Berg
Natural text is an affordable Internet marketing practice that any type of web site owner can implement and yet an enormous number of websites ignore it in lieu of sliders, images and CSS3 navigation. With under five seconds to make a connection with site visitors, your web site must present value, trust, authority, ease of use, main tasks, and answers to top questions, inspire and motivate. My book will tell you how.
The Secret to Natural Website Conversions is a free PDF download available at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Its focus is on increasing website conversions by combining usability and user experience design with organic search engine optimization techniques. This book explains how to decrease site abandonment and bounce rates, increase page views and conversions and send happy signals to search engines.
Every page has tips, advice and provides oodles of examples you can use for your own web pages. It’s also easy to read and non-technical. The Secret to Natural Website Conversions was the topic of a radio show at WebmasterRadioFM and it was such a hit there will be another show about the book.
You can listen to the podcast here at the Ecom Experts show.
Not long ago I was asked to write about web site conversions for sites that don’t measure conversion rates by how much money they earn. It was fun to write from that perspective.
You don’t need to sell anything on the web to want higher conversion rates. Activity and tasks completion are just as valuable for many types of web sites. The more guidance your web design provides and the more genuine you or your brand are, the better your conversions will be.
If you missed the article, here it is again at SearchEnginePeople.com –
Conversions For Sites That Don’t Sell Anything