She Has Something to Do With Web Sites

This year my family went out in all directions for Thanksgiving. My husband, Eric, and I went to my Mom and Dad’s for dinner. Not 5 minutes into the meal, Dad asks, “What is it. Again. That you do again?

My sister, her son and my mom also had “some idea”. Eric took a stab at it. After his elevator speech, my Dad pauses from his turkey to say, “You call it Usability. What is that, exactly.” So I went into my elevator speech that included search engines and search engine optimization. I’m cross skilled, and naturally blend usability and seo practices together in my work and talks.

Whenever I would lose somebody at the table, all I had to do was say a keyword, like “Google” or “Make web sites easy to use.” I even had my electronics engineer Dad spellbound with my description of page rank and why he will see what he does in SERPs. Everyone was impressed that I carved out a nice career, but clearly after nearly 15 years in the biz, my working world has been a huge mystery.

I don’t talk to my family and local friends about what I do. I’m not always “on” that way. I wait until asked. And when that happens, I’ve learned to keep it simple. “User friendly” is something everybody who has ever been on the Internet can relate to. That I work in a career that tries to make the user experience pleasant puts me in a positive light pretty fast. When I bring up accessibility, typically I’ll get glazed looks until I offer examples of why it is needed and if they seem to not care about the humane part, then I tell them that Target was sued for not being accessible. Then I am their hero.

Sis and nephew think my travel is cool. So do some of my closest friends from the SEO industry, who know I not a seasoned traveler and for the first years dragged Eric everywhere I had to go on business. Now, I’m bold enough to go to airports, order shuttles, and check in hotel rooms all by myself. My sister has always been the courageous one. While I was fine with guiding my steed over 4 or 5 foot fences in my riding classes and grooming for the stable’s show equestrians at horse shows, she was the one showing and open jumping with confidence. The ribbons in our horse barn were mostly hers.

This Thanksgiving, I said grace and then we moved around the table to share our thanks. This year, they all know me just a little bit better and when my parents, sis and nephew surf the ‘Net, they know I’m in there.

Somewhere.

Intuit Web Site Setup Service Misleading

I would like to thank Intuit for their hard work in bringing me new clients. It came as quite a surprise that you support my web site usability and SEO services.

Imagine my surprise when I flipped on the boob tube for several minutes while making tea from the comfort of my (very busy!) home office and there you were, all professional sounding like, with your (dare I say it?) sly and devious commercial to small biz web site owner hopefuls.

For the mere fee of $4.99 (or some such pittance), new web site owners can buy a web site designed and marketed by Intuit. In just under 3 minutes, you had me going there, by golly. Especially the part about being findable in search engines? You naughty dog, you!

Services such as this help to explain why I get so many people from my community asking me to build a web site for them for $100. You should see the disbelief on their faces when I bring up web site requirements, user behavior, mobile use, special needs users and little mundane things like “web standards” and marketing.

As more and more people come to me wondering why their sites don’t function or people aren’t buying anything, I should write you a thank you note. They truly believed that if you build it for them, they’ll get rich.

Now, I’m as lazy as the next person, and a template and domain (“homesite”? Wow!) sounds awesome. I love how you never mention the part about how the competition may also choose the same design (that comes with your pre-fab content). And you made it sound so easy to “Get Found by Customers” but you don’t say how or what happens once those customers get to the web site. Isn’t is clever that your customers never need any search engine optimization and no social media marketing to be found? Not to mention your templates would pass usability and accessibility audits. Right? How cool is THAT!

I was so thrilled at your offer, I went to your web site and checked out your “learn more” and I must admit, if I had no clue about web site development, marketing and ownership, I’d be sold on the pay, click to customize and watch the world come to your site stuff you’re saying. No doubt, your software and the thousands of others just like it, is a practical option for somebody.  I was certainly impressed with how one form makes their site show up in “important search sites” like Google Maps and Yahoo! Local.

Personally, I don’t envy you the guilt of knowing how many of those poor folks will eventually throw in the towel and come to companies such as mine looking for help on things like what their customers want, who their customers are, how to get them to do something and why, after all the money they pay you, their site is on page 55 of search results.

Best wishes on what will undoubtedly be a very lucrative holiday season for you as you rake in the big bucks from hopeful new ecommerce site owners.  I’m looking forward to a very busy second quarter.

Gratefully yours,
I Fix Web Site Wrecks

Is it Usability or Adaptability?

As someone who is technically blind without my eyeglasses or contacts for correction, sometimes I feel like the forgotten user. The spectrum of usage for sight usability seems to be there is the perfect experience designed for those with 20/20 vision and on the other end, tools and code to make web pages accessible to those who can not see.

I’m in the in-between stage. With correction, I can fumble my way through.

I have bi-focal contact lenses in both eyes now. I used to have one eye for close up work and one eye for distance. Now, my brain has learned to adapt to my bi-focal contacts and one eye isn’t working harder than the other one. Even with my high-end contacts correction, I still need reading glasses, although with the latest upgrade to my contacts, it’s less of a dependency.

My eyeglasses have what is called “progressive” lenses. Rather than a line in the middle, like the old bi-focal lenses, I simply have to tilt my head at different angles to see close or far away. With my latest prescription, I can now see the TV set with better clarity, whereas before, I struggled. for years, I kept asking for correction that would enhance my ability to see my laptop and PC’s so that I could do my work. The sacrifice I’d made was not being able to read road signs and signs in airports. This is why I bring my husband to conferences with me or have someone nearby. They are, knowingly or not, my “Seeing eye person.”

Cell Phone Usability

As a new owner of the Google G1 cell phone, I’ve finally been given a real gift! I’ve had about 7 cell phones, replacing them every year because after using them for awhile, realize I’m limited because they’re not designed for sight impaired users who are in the “in between” stage. I always needed reading glasses to read the keys. Font sizes are a constant problem. Entering data into fields? Forget it. I couldn’t see either the field or the keyboard. At night, a cell phone was useless to me. For starters, even if the keyboard lit up, it was never light enough for me. Some keyboards have keys that are so tiny that I wonder how anyone can feel them. Some keyboards have poor contrast between background and the color of the letters and numbers on the keys.

I was thrilled to have finally found a sales person with poor eyesight, who found the G1 to be the best phone for her personal use. She walked me through some of the features and I became very excited about the phone. For starters, it has a separate key for every letter, rather than 2 or 3 letters and a number on each key. There is a separate line of keys for just numbers. The alt key is easy to find. There is a caps key, space bar and delete button, just like on a laptop. The contrast is best on the black phone with white keys, which is why I bought that one.

When you surf the web, the G1 pops up with a tab that allows me to magnify a web page or make it smaller. I can increase font sizes. This has been the first time I’ve ever wanted to view web sites on a cell phone, and it’s simply because the Google G1 phone invented a way for me to see them.

The design has a side hand rest with buttons and nifty menu tab. The best part, of course, is the touch screen. For sight impaired persons, the touch screen is a blast! It’s responsive. Colorful. Fun to use. For me, in certain situations, an image is better than words, so the icons are the right solution. I just press on an application icon on the screen. I can add “shortcuts” to my screen the same as we do on our laptops. With their Open Source Android technology, the number of free applications for use with the G1 is enough to make anyone happy. I loaded up stuff for me and my kids.

Many people become dependent on their hand held devices and I was envious. They use them for tracking every possible little thing. I wanted, and needed, to do that but no cell phone was usable enough for me. Writing notes on paper pads was easier than trying to use a tiny keyboard. I once tried adding a separate keyboard to a Palm Pilot…what a mess that was! I wanted the ability to type without a stylus, but with a separate keyboard, I needed a place to set it up. Finding the right keyboard for the right Palm was also annoying.

Adaptability

My personal experiences got me thinking this week about another side of usability. Adaptability. We do this without really thinking about it. If something doesn’t work for us, but we really want it or we paid money for it or it’s all we have, we will find ways to adapt.

Just because we can’t use something doesn’t mean it is not usable.

For example, I’ve been struggling with the Wii Fit exercise program. It’s designed for people with working bodies. I had surgery in January for a torn meniscus on my right knee and then 3 weeks ago, re-injured it in a fall. In pain now for over a year, I’ve put on weight and am frustrated with the limitations brought on by the injury. While there are knee therapy exercises, I wanted a full body program. Yoga seemed like a gentle choice and Wii Fit offers it.

The Wii can track how you’re doing. It offers feedback. It can tell when you’re off balance, fidgety, fall off the power board, tense and other things. It doesn’t say, “Awww, you poor thing. That injured knee you have is really making it hard to do this exercise, right?”

So, I adapt. I ignore my “trainer”, who isn’t programmed to know my limitation. I keep doing what I can because stretching, breathing and working the muscles, even awkwardly, is still good. It doesn’t mean the Wii Fit is not usable. It means I adapted to it, rather than it being designed to work for me, a target user.

Is this something we’re not considering in our web page and software development practices? How about our marketing? I know I absolutely don’t look like the woman who is about to have an orgasm driving her “responsive” car, but hey, I can adapt. I can pretend to be her. I can pretend I have a $3000 gown on while driving to the drug store. I’m not the rich beauty who can afford a luxury car, nor do I have a wealthy partner who showers me with luxuries intended to turn me on. I doubt the car company expects me to be like their model. They want me to somehow find a way to adjust something in my life so I can use their product.

When user testing, how long does it take before you notice your test participant has adapted to whatever limitations they’re presented with to make their user experience go smoothly? Did they reach for reading glasses? Did they need to change the brightness on their monitor? Change a font size? Did they need to reload a page because they had other things running on their computer that slowed things down?

We may think we can control user experience. We can design to “be user friendly” and accessible. We can claim to meet web standards and provide proof of security and trust. Marketers can find every possible keyword combination and still not know the one YOU chose to search with.

Regardless of the hoops we jump through to make our products usable, how much of the user experience is truly ease of use and how much is user adaptation?

Online Reputation Management: What Goes Around May Be Total Crap

I’ve been studying physics. For me to understand any of the science and newer theories, such as “string theory”, I try to picture it in my head. Have you tried to imagine what a blown apart atom looks like or the so-called “11 dimensions” that string theory strives to prove? Why do I even care?

Have you noticed how one dimensional social networking is? Or how the sense of Time feels awkward when you crank up Twitter and see comments from “0 seconds” ago, “4 hours ago” or the huge gaps of nothingness that occurs in Space when Twitter goes down and all is silent? You just know that in another dimension somewhere, somebody is trying to type into Twirl, only to get the message saying the message quota is on overload. We can’t see the people banging their desks, but we know they’re there.

We also can’t see the performance engineers sweating over Twitter server load balancing issues. We do get to see a picture of a whale, for reasons I never understood, when Twitter is down. Our senses are out of earshot to all the users screaming that Twitter isn’t there for them to talk about their dinner, the cat sleeping on their head or the next blog post they just uploaded. That dimension exists. We know it does. We can feel it and even participate in the ruckus for a universal, communal “HOLY CRAP” moment.

Ethics

I just said a word I spent years telling my kids they weren’t permitted to say, but they do anyway. This small action is now open to the public and I am subjected to the court of online ethical behavior.

Was it ethical for me to say “crap” in my blog? Why is she talking about physics in an SEO and Usability blog? Will my business suffer because I went off-topic? How many people will race to their computers to write a post calling me names or questioning my sanity?

I’ve done it. I may see a blog post or comment and think, “Whoa! Who spiked their peach tea?” Is it ethical for me to pass judgment on them? Is it within my rights as a citizen of the Internet to complain about someone I take issue with, for whatever issue I believe they violated?

In the whole life scheme of things, is it more valuable for me to manipulate public opinion or ponder the beauty of flower petals?

At Cre8asiteforums, we’re talking about ethics and reputation management for business and people in a thread called Online Ethics – What Say You? There’s lots of ground to cover when it comes to ethics and I don’t for a minute think I’m educated on all of it, nor am I free from dents and lack of wisdom. I asked some questions and the answers and feedback go everywhere.

There are ethics issues like justice, freedom, values, consent and trust. For me personally, trust is huge. It’s why I don’t “friend” everyone who comes along my path in some online social sites. For some reason it’s assumed that I “should” be everyone’s friend because I’m someone else’s friend or run forums or own a business. I disagree. And if I’m manipulated to be a “friend”, I respond by forming my body into an ice cube. Earn my trust. Don’t pretend you know me.

Ethics includes animal rights, the environment, human rights, legal issues, business standards, marketing, religion and Internet ethics, the latter which is still in the discovery stage. The key thing about these ethics is they change and evolve. To early Native Americans, it was unethical to believe that the land belonged to people and could be sold or traded for. To them, there was enough land for everyone. And yet their integrity came into question because they didn’t believe in the same God as the white man, who apparently told HIS people that land was not free.

Who was right?

In theory, ethics represent “good”. It’s good to be kind. It’s bad to call people names. It’s good to investigate and document experiences. It’s bad to engage in revenge tactics and try to influence opinions without facts to back it up.

In the forums thread, I talked about our rule about not attacking people or businesses by name. It’s been the number one rule. While we know Community members practice this behavior on their sites, we don’t permit it on ours. Why? Because everyone is responsible for their own experience and interaction. Everyone’s situation is different. While it’s true many hosting companies are total rip-off’s, they don’t mess up every single account. Some customers get along fine with no problems to report. In the case, however, of RegisterFly, who created a riot with their customer service violations, the sheer majority and scope of the bad experiences supplied enough proof that something was terribly wrong there.

Personally, I have no impulse to cause anyone financial, emotional and physical harm. I try to not speak unkindly online of my industry peers. Some deserve to be slapped around. My choice is to ignore them or in some cases, support their good actions and not support their bad decisions.

Do you have a personal code of ethics? Is your business committed to integrity, quality and customer relations? How do you communicate this online? Can you control what others say about you or your company? No, you can’t. When I found my own business appear with a negative statement about me by someone who never used my services and has never met me, I was stunned. I wondered if I had legal recourse.

When did it become acceptable to purposely and systematically wreak reputation havoc on a company you never did business with?

Recently I learned of a linking practice based on purposeful deception. The idea is to leave logical, helpful, polite comments in blogs and earn the blog owner’s trust. Some bloggers will learn to trust the commenter and let them post comments at will, with no moderation. Suddenly and without warning, the commenter begins to spam by linking to “bad” sites and writing comments that are completely uncharacteristic and uncalled for. This behavior is becoming an actual business practice. When does this sloppy treatment stop?

One of my favorite discoveries with my forays into physics, science and spirituality is the theory that at the very basic of core of our Beingness, we’re all made of the exact same Thing. A teeny tiny microscopic part of us is part of the One Thing that made it all possible in the first place. We share this thing. We can’t see it, can’t measure it, can’t hold it in our hands and can’t manipulate it to be different than It is.

Not only that, the computer you’re using to read this has that same invisible Thing in it. “We are all Relatives”, Native Americans believe. They include the two-legged (us), four-legged, rocks, plants, sky, and The Ancestors, who are technically dead but possibly in another dimension, so we just can’t go to the movies with them.

So if you spread hate and think ill thoughts or force anyone to do something they don’t wish to do, you’re hating and forcing yourself as well.

The reputation you try to manage may someday be your own.

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