Revenge of the User Friendly Web Site

When Google’s Matt Cutts announced that the search engine hoped to protect searchers from “bad” merchants, I jumped at the chance to help them by suggesting user friendly sites.

But, as I wrote today in Google Needs Proof Your Business is “Good” or Rank Will Tumble Down for Internet Marketing Ninjas, if Fortune 100 – 500 web sites don’t need to pass usability and accessibility standards, what hope is there for the rest of ecommerce sites?

I described how famous brands get away with designs that suck and still rank.   Since they get away with rank spots that smaller businesses jump through hoops to try to get to, it’s getting to be a pain in the neck convincing site owners to invest in usability audits.

Let’s Get Revenge

build your business site with confidenceIn small towns like mine, when the recession hit, unemployment soared and everyone was in a frightened daze, we bought local.  It got to be a really serious mission where I live because our beloved main street with its quaint small businesses was dying.  Even one of the favorite farm produce shops burned down.  To help them and others rebuild, families like mine bought locally.  Several years later there are lots of new cafes, bakeries, clothing shops and more opening.  The burned down business was completely rebuilt and is thriving.  Several resturants only local produce and meat for then menus.

Houses that were neglected are being repaired.  The local college enrollment shot up.  Even some new web design and search engine marketing businesses are popping up, to supply the needs of all the new businesses who want web sites.  What helped make all this possible was community, networking, word of mouth referrals and a even a sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that the money is staying within the Tribe.

The experience of buying from local merchants is special too.  There can be a first name basis relationship and lively conversations spark up with the people waiting in line, with the cashier or patrons of the cafe.

Can You Emulate This Success?

I believe it’s worth trying.  Consider this from Improving UX Through Front-End Performance

Adding half a second to a search results page can decrease traffic and ad revenues by 20 percent, according to a Google study. The same article reports Amazon found that every additional 100 milliseconds of load time decreased sales by 1 percent. Users expect pages to load in two seconds—and after three seconds, up to 40 percent will simply leave.

Can you keep up? If you’re designing sites with rich content, lots of dynamic elements, larger JavaScript files, and complex graphics—like so many of us are—the answer might be “no.”

Of course the big brands invest in all the fancy scripts and heavy visuals. Most small business sites are practical.

Consider all the research into neurology, persuasive design, customer service design and accessibility. As Mashable points out in a piece today called Brain Friendly’ Website Design Attracts More Viewers:

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism propose that, since the brain is engaged through motivation, the most effective way to get readers to visit and stay on a website is to give them proper motivation, such as invoking emotion with stories and pictures. The researchers also say that the simpler the design, the better.

If you base your ecommerce web site design and business model on how the big brands do things, you’re cheating yourself. Step back and look for realistic opportunities and design for your people.

Ads Rile Google? Bah. What about we Humans?

This caught my attention. Google May Penalize Your Site for Having Too Many Ads published in SearchEngineWatch states

Google is looking at penalizing ad heavy sites that make it difficult for people to find good content on web pages, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, said yesterday at PubCon during his keynote session.

The key point Google appears to want to make is that anything that prevents people from reading content concerns them. The article goes on to say,

Google has been updating its algorithms over the past couple months in their different Panda updates. After looking at the various sites Panda penalized during the initial rollout, one of the working theories became that Google was dropping the rankings of sites with too many ads “above the fold.”

This is an odd stance, considering Google AdSense Help essentially tells website publishers to place ads above the fold by noting, “All other things being equal, ads located above the fold tend to perform better than those below the fold.”

There’s nothing wrong with following Google’s suggestion above. All you need to do is put the ads in a left or right sidebar and start their appearance above the page fold. The most likely human response is to focus on the important content and tasks that are also placed above the page fold and ignore the ads anyway.

My guess is that Matt Cutts was warning about the types of pages where banner ads, text ads, adsense ads and animated ads are presented in what a “in your face” type of method. We see these kinds of web pages often. There is a brief article or blog post of about 3 full paragraphs with ads of all kinds and sizes placed above, below, and on each side.

When I see someone trying to promote a page such as this, I wish I had a paint gun and could splatter gobs of colored paint all over their revenue greedy, unreadable, mind blowing self centered page. I won’t “like” it, Tweet it, recommend it or if submitted to a forum or group, will not approve it. I’m really strict about this. I’m all about the people and presenting credible, pleasant material.

I would like to see Google jump on pages that display a survey on arrival for the first time to a page or site. Typically these surveys cover up the content and to be able to read I’m forced to click it away. The same thing for ads that slide over the content or drop down from the top and hang there until you make the effort to get rid of it so you can read the content it’s covering.

Google Adds Promote and Remove Buttons to Search Results

It’s past midnight and just as I begin to think I should get some sleep, I get word of this:

Promote And Remove Buttons In Google at Cre8asiteforums.

Google’s “JohnMu” weighs in on the discussion at Cre8asiteforums.

Sooo, yes. I took screen shots. I can move my own web site up and down my SERPS pages.

From Google SearchWiki Launches, Lets You Build Your Own Search Results Page

SEO Implications?

Google emphasizes that changes made in the SearchWiki interface will have no impact on the traditional ranking of web pages. If you put your own site in the 1st position for your primary keywords, you’re the only Google user who’ll see your site at the top of the rankings. Your site will, however, be included when users click the “See all notes for this SearchWiki” link at the bottom of the page; that link leads to another page that shows what results other users have re-ordered, removed, or added.

Still, Dupont didn’t completely rule out the possibility that user data from SearchWiki may someday impact regular search rankings.

From Google’s official announcement:

The changes you make only affect your own searches. But SearchWiki also is a great way to share your insights with other searchers. You can see how the community has collectively edited the search results by clicking on the “See all notes for this SearchWiki” link.

Sooo, what’s to stop someone from purposely trying to deflate rankings by feeding into these search results?

Today’s Finds – Food for Thought

I enjoyed some blog posts this week from people I’m not as familiar with. One of them wrote about the need for search engine marketing and/or Internet education in schools and universities. Another looked at the “SEO Rock Star” theme in a different way. More on them below.

It’s been an exciting week too. Cre8asiteforums loses three moderators and gains two new ones. Both are women, well known and respected in the search marketing industry. We’re celebrating the addition of Donna Fontenot (aka dazzlindonna) and Miriam Ellis (aka “SEOigloo) and look forward to their energy, passion for their work and dedication to helping people.

SEOMoz featured a guest post called Why Won’t You Let Me Study The Internet?. He writes:

While I am currently expected to do research, collaborate, and turn in my assignments online I am not given the resources to learn specifically about the medium that drives it all. The major universities (with the exception of Stanford) simply haven’t committed to the internet and as such, there is no way to major in something like internet science. I am not offered classes like SEO 290 or Social Networking 300.

My 14 year old son came home the other day from school grumping outloud, “I HATE FLASH!”. Turns out he’s learning FLASH design in his Tech Ed class and dislikes it (he’d rather be studying history). His school is a public school district Middle School equipped with all kinds of gadgets in the class rooms. They communicate via web sites with parents, teachers and students. Rooms have interactive stuff that bring lessons to life in ways I never dreamed could be done. My kids know how to research using Ask and Google because they’re taught it in school. Typing is a requirement for homework. But, in their web design classes, they don’t learn how to design pages to appear in search engines or make them accessible to special needs users. Usability? Not taught.

Should we be teaching our skills to school kids and college students?

This week many people were out at SMX West. One participant wrote a blog article on his experience that I felt offered a different perspective. He had some opinions and ideas that may be shared by others and I admired his willingness to come forth with his SMX West Day 3: “Matt & Danny and Rand! Oh My!” I “sphunn” the post, and if you follow that link from the Sphinn button on his blog post page, you’ll see that Danny Sullivan responded.

Other Inspiration

Turn Usable Content into Winning Content by Colleen Jones is a must-read. She writes,

What we don’t understand as well, however, is how to make content win users over to take the actions we want them to take or have the perceptions we want them to have. We don’t understand how to make Web content both usable and persuasive.

Diane Aull writes the brilliant Why Do The (Good) SEOs Cost So %&*# Much? One of the best articles I’ve read this year so far.

One of my favorite passions…How to Build a Green Business.

I liked Tech’s feminine side and finally, among the tons of articles out on user personas, this one stands out:

QA Session on User Persona Method with Lene Nielsen, who wrote her Ph.D. thesis “Engaging Personas and Narrative Scenarios”.