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

Optimize to be Remembered, Design for Effortless Ease of Use

If you could have had a crystal ball in 2004, would you have known that the power of online marketing is hiding within conversations? Did you consider that the content you put on your homepage holds little salt with readers unless it can be backed up with outside information? People still want the same thing today as they did five years ago: trusted people-tested results and recommendations.

Were you aware back then that search engine technology has undergone several scientific studies to help determine the effectiveness of search results for Internet users? What helps search engines understand what we want? Conversations. Why do we want anyone talking about our web sites? Conversions.

Who got the better deal?

One day I was running errands and a woman stopped me to admire my Teva flip flops. She said she had a pair and loved them but hadn’t seen them in the color combination I was wearing. We compared notes about how we learned about this product and who got the better deal.

Teva flip flops

Teva www.teva.com

I learned about my Teva’s from a social networking web site dedicated to women over 40. A small staff tests products marketed to women in that demographic and report their findings on their web site. They also invite member feedback. They promote these discussions and each product they test in Facebook, which is how I learned about the flip flops.

Based on the high praise of testers and member feedback, I followed the affiliate link and bought two pairs, one for myself and one for my daughter. I paid full price and was taken to a web site that offered over 30 choices of the product to select from. The whole process went well. I felt good about the purchase based on the type of customer conversations that followed the site’s review. I was also able to add my own feedback to the discussion when I received my flip flops.

The woman I met described her experience. She was browsing online shopping sites and followed a link that took her to a sale on flip flops. She wasn’t so concerned with the brand name as much as she was with the price. The page she landed on displayed two pairs of flip flops, at a buy two-for-one price that was 60% cheaper than what I had paid for mine. She was happy with her bargain, until she saw mine and realized there were other patterns nicer than what she bought. She asked me to show her the manufacturer tag and this is how she learned it was Teva’s that she had purchased. Her experience satisfied her need for the right price, but she had no recall of the name of the flip flops, couldn’t remember the web site where she purchased them from, and she was never prompted to visit the Teva site to see more choices. She also had no opinions to help inform her purchase. She simply went with the bargain price.

She got the better deal. She paid far less than I did. But I had the better interactive customer experience. I was never a number or a body-less sale. I also not only remembered the name of the site where I made my purchase, but I returned to it again to leave a comment. I’ve also recommended it to people. Most people will never hear about the other woman’s Teva experience, because she wasn’t really sure she had even bought that brand. She was certainly not inspired to share her experience online anywhere. She will not help sell the shoes or refer the web site she ordered hers from.

Conversion optimization

From the perspective of the web site owners whose site I purchased my shoes from, they made out well. They used social networking to get the word out about their web site and each new product they test. They selected images to help illustrate experiences with products. When optimized for image searching, these pictures may take searchers directly to their product pages. They created a community with free membership. Feedback is strongly encouraged. And it’s not just words. They figured out the emotional connection that’s also needed for conversions. A product used to remove cellulite showed real members’ before and after photos. Women love to know they’re not alone with some sort of perceived “body imperfection.” The site owners understand how trust increases conversions by using genuine photos and comments instead of marketing hype. How fun it is to respond to a “me too!” moment.

They also earned money for all their focus on conversion optimization, although they most likely don’t come to work everyday calling it that. More likely these site owners ask themselves what would work for them and their community. What would sell to women like them? What have other web sites missed by targeting baby boomers or marketing to women? Or, what doesn’t work? What have women been miffed about for so long? Could it be images of size zero women models? Perhaps altered images or just the fact that we know so many diet and health product marketing relies on fake and touched up photos? The owners of this site set down to optimize for emotion, trust, momentum, credibility and findability.

Most search marketers focus on keyword marketing, keywords in domains and quantities of inbound links. This is important, but search engines are also strongly invested in our web usage behavior. Truly, it is how we search, make choices and interact online that matters most to conversion optimization, and it always has been.

Sure, some of us call this usability, user experience, persuasive architecture and search usability. The unifying thread is the human to human connection or “social conversation.” Perhaps you’ve heard this term too and toss it aside as just another fancy name for social networking. However, consider semantic search. Consider all the ways we define words. Keywords can no longer rule the stage because there are so many definitions for certain words. “Green” is a color, and so much more. “Cougar” is an animal, and so much more. “Cup” is something that holds coffee, and so much more. After years of search results’ leading to re-searches, today’s search engines know that to present us with accurate search results will take a mix of magical mind reading and a more practical study of our brains and human-computer behavior.

We can help by creating conversions that help search technology understand the context in which words are placed. Someday, you will be able to type, “lump found in breast,” and search engines will know we’re not talking about a chicken, perhaps it’s a woman who is conducting the search, and it will bring up medical sites and supportive sites, such as those put up by survivors. Search engines will know what results to give you based on your search history, your location and, remarkably, by whom you converse with and how you network.

Your mission is to optimize to be remembered, design for effortless ease of use and accessibility and to be honest, authentic and well, human.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, September 11, 2009

Does the Social Web Impact Human Behavior?

CNN’s online news site recently posted a poll that asked, “Are you tired of social networking?” When I had checked their results, it showed that 74% chose “YES.” Yet according to Inside Twitter by Alex Cheng, Mark Evans and Harshdeep Singh, after analyzing information disclosed on 11.5 million Twitters accounts, 72.5% of all users joined during the first five months of 2009. 85.3% of all Twitter users post less than one update per day. Twitter is not the sole means of social networking of course, but this is one small example of conflicting reports regarding the Internet and human behavior. While not everyone is comfortable online, as a world civilization we’re adapting to the changes Internet technology is making in our lives.

What might this mean for online marketing and user experience web design? Should social networking development cycles be investigating usability? Might they also be considering the impact of social media web sites on human behavior and society?

The CNN poll was inspired by a piece they ran called Do You Suffer From Internet Fatigue?, which focused on a PEW study called The Mobile Difference. Pew found that only 7% of people use the Internet as their primary means of social communication. Yet, some of them feel guilty if they can’t keep with all the various forms of the social Internet.

According to John Horrigan, Pew Internet Project’s associate director of research:

“The most high-tech group we labeled the “digital collaborators.” The digital collaborators are the ones with the most technology, doing the most with it and loving it the most, and really are about not just using technology to communicate with others but to cultivate their creative lives.”

Horrigan discussed young people and their usage of cell phones for texting and Internet for social networking with sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This is how they communicate and socialize, and when they have to go “off the air,” they apologize for not being there.

Do we need a break? According to Horrigan, the answer is yes.

“I think it’s fairly well known in the tech community that traffic for blogs and so-forth dives on the weekends, so I think people tend to use the weekends as a way to take a little bit of a breather.” SciTech blog writer, John D. Sutter , who invites discussion on the topic of Internet fatigue (see resource below), shares that many are indeed fed up with information overload, or feel that “online social networks are ruining our society.”

It’s Google’s fault

One thing you can always count on with humans is that they will always find someone or something to blame for whatever they dislike. The July/August 2009 issue of The Atlantic has a technology article called Get Smarter that presents the perspective that human beings are an evolving species and one of our natural triggers is “How do we cope with this?” The author, Jamais Cascio, explores whether the “hive mind of the Internet” can influence everything from personal growth, entertainment and communication to scientific discoveries, because we now have a tool for visualization and simulation. We’re adapting to the Internet by way of “fluid intelligence,” which is the “ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of acquired knowledge.”

By contrast, others such as Nicholas Carr who wrote Is Google Making Us Stupid? for the magazine presents a different view. He argues that our brains are being rewired and it’s harder for us to relax due to information overload.

Linda Stone, a technology thought leader, likens what we as web developers call “hyperlinking” to “continuous partial attention.”

“To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.

We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking.”

We’ve spent a good deal of our energy creating usable web sites that make it easy for people to find where we put everything, but we focus far less on their physical and emotional experiences. We may take it for granted that site visitors will follow every link. Search engines follow hyperlinks. Persuasive site design calls for making links compelling, noticeable and worthy. When was the last time you thought, “I want my customer to rest for a minute and gather their thoughts before they purchase from my web site?”

Design for future

The future came yesterday. Internet technology isn’t going away. We’ve adapted. We’ll keep finding more ways to use it. It’s estimated that 2 billion people will be on the Internet by 2010. That’s next year.

In a very short time, we’ve made quantum leaps in how we think, share and interact with one another, both as individuals and as consumers. With social networking we share ourselves in ways we never dreamed of doing face to face. We don’t have to leave the house to purchase products. We can call or send a text message to someone from wherever we happen to be, rather than hunt for a telephone booth. The line between our personal and public information has nearly disappeared. Our values, beliefs and human behavior are changing as a result.

In a white paper, A Road Map for the Post-Web 2.0 World Jerome Nadel, MS, CUA, CPE / Chief Experience Officer Human Factors International, Inc., writes:

“In the era of interactivity and user-created content, user experience is changing the very way we do business. There was a time in which digital technologies was just another asset of the enterprise, a tool used to execute strategy developed by management, and delivered to customers. That model has been flipped on its head. As we zoom past Web 2.0 into the realm of Web 3.0, customers are using technology to drive products, marketing and strategy.”

Are we worn out with social media? Do we really suffer from Internet fatigue? I think the answers depend on several factors, such as your age, where you live, personality, income, work life and personal values. To be sure, Internet marketers are having a blast and can’t quite figure out what all the fuss is about. And yet, in private, some of them admit they’re indeed worn out.

I believe we’re learning to cope with the technologies we’re inventing and people still prefer simplicity. Google shot past the other search engines because its interface was simple. The takeaways for us, regarding usability and SEO, is that our value lies in our fascination with and understanding of Internet technology and usage. We know how to “work it.” Could we wreck a good thing? Sure. We can contribute to the chaos and as result, drive people away from wanting to interact with social networking web sites. Companies can continue to develop applications and tools that invade public privacy. We can support adults sites or consider how what we are doing affects human civilization in the long run.

Or, I was just visualizing sitting on the beach with a frozen strawberry daiquiri on sunny day with a light breeze messing up my bangs, watching a school of dolphins off in the distance, breathing in coconut mango suntan lotion and letting the ocean waves lull me into total relaxation.

My computer, video, camera and cell phone are nowhere to be seen.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, June 19, 2009

Quick Second Credibility Usability Test

In a Lance Loveday’s article called Designing For The Subconscious Mind, he described his experiences when showing two different web site pages to an audience a half second apart. He then asked the participants which web site they’d prefer to do business with. The “professional” and “credible” page won over the “small time” and “cheap.”

As Lance pointed out, nobody said, “I don’t have enough information to make that judgment.” I’m willing to bet in that particular setting, those who wanted more information felt too intimidated to ask, but his quick test is still fun to try and think about.

Is your web site credible?Like Lance and my usability consultant peers, we’re presented with hundreds and hundreds of web sites. We’re asked, “What do you think?” Thinking has nothing to do with usability. In fact, if we have to think, that’s often a problem. The better question might be, “Are you compelled to do something on this site?” Or, “Do you trust the claims?” Or, assign users a task to see if you successfully planned and designed the site so they could easily complete it.

We bring our judgments with us

Truth resonates and we’re impatient

It’s fascinating to think about Lance’s audience responses because they had no time to evaluate authenticity, truth, genuineness, credibility or great customer service in half a second. They did what we all do when we enter a room filled with strangers. We look for the best dressed. The pretty women. The handsome men. The story teller. The joker. The flirt. The rich guy. The sexy older woman who loves quantum physics and tests web sites for a living.

It isn’t until we use a web site or interact with a person that we begin to understand on a deeper level what, if anything, we can do with it, or with them.

With web sites, we need a few things immediately. Right away, we must know we arrived at a page that will meet a need or want. Therefore, the information hierarchy must state a page’s purpose right away, rather than tease someone or waste their time waiting for flash animations to load. There is a time and place for flash, just like there’s a time to ask where the beer is or asking the host to introduce you to the hot woman in the corner petting the Shitzu.

We sense authenticity, but can be fooled. So, presenting something like testimonials is a weak attempt at credibility, unless they can be followed up on by contacting the person. Health product sites that claim a secret ingredient with a fancy name but offer no data, research, FDA approval or valid way to prove you won’t lose your eyebrows if you try it are suspect. Sure, someone will be desperate enough to try it, but the moment the lawsuit comes out, the brand is finished.

Interestingly, user engagement does not always equate to conversion or even desired results. At any moment during a task, web designers sabotage the process with unnecessary navigation, off-site ads or new topics that lead their visitor on a new adventure. Sometimes the experience of a site is just that. An experience. For some people, even after experiencing the experience and even liking it, they return to their most trusted brand because that one has already earned their trust.

Aesthetics

We judge aesthetic value by our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. We arrive at sites with our personal set of economic, political or moral values, as well as our technology, skills and credit card. What are the connections between the mind, emotions and beauty? Can we expect a web page to transport us to our happy place? Sure. Some of the newer site designs are like polished gems that you want to stare at and hold in the palm of your hand.

Sadly, these visual beauties are using their looks to make a sale, rather than the quality of their product or service. It’s in the area of customer service that a less attractive web site beats out the high class model it competes against. And it’s here that an audience making a decision on whom to do business with in under a second may make the wrong choice. They need more than a peek. They need to hear a site’s heartbeat.

The web site that succeeds is the one that can prove it’s alive.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, May 22, 2009

How Does Your Web Site Make Visitors Feel?

I’ve been exploring and researching the relationship between computers and people. More specifically, I’m fascinated by web sites and how, or if, they affect us emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. As a web site designer, what special power do you hold in your artistic hands? As a blogger, what kind of reaction are you seeking from readers? As a well branded company, are there in-house human instabilities that can be sensed by your online consumers?

A change in perspective

Over the past dozen years, we’ve learned that a secret to a web site’s long-term success is to build it for your visitors, rather than yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid putting “you” in there. With some brands, “you” are part of the attraction. However, what end users can smell from a mile away is a site designed to make “you” get rich or slanted to make you look good. They could care less about you. They can tell when the design and site’s purpose meets your needs and not their expectations.

We’ve learned that online visitors seek information. They love to be entertained. They crave an experience. If you notice, the increase in adult video sites is no accident and adult site owners are no dummies. What offers a better user experience, a static shot or a video? When Facebook learned a lesson from Twitter about our love of instant communication and feedback, they changed their user interface to include more ways to do this. Google caught on to our feeling overwhelmed by text information by giving us Universal Search, which offers images, maps, video, books and other ways to get information other than web pages.

Asia and Europe surpass the United States in cell phone usage. When you understand how mobile societies are, and match this with our curious nature and demand for “everything now”, you may realize there is far more to consider for your web site design and marketing than clear call to action prompts and keyword driven search.

The mystery and power of energy

For months now I’ve been tackling the theory that our online behavior and the actions we take after visiting a web site are somehow tied to, or dependent on, unseen energy forces. It’s not unlike how we physically feel when we’re exposed to people, environments or situations. I became very interested in health sites and whether or not they accurately targeted visitors and consumers arriving in various emotional or mental states. In fact, any product, service and brand created to benefit a human has an enormous job attempting to meet the needs of what may be thousands of different types of users.

So let’s get into some of this. You are a human being. You have before you a computer of some type or perhaps a cell phone. It’s equipment that contains the energy forces that made it (with all their fancy scientific names). Some scientists are exploring whether objects contain the consciousness of those who built it. This is similar to organ “memory” where an organ transplant patient has the memories and physical habits of their donor.

There are many names for unseen human energy. In China, it is qi or chi, prana in the Yoga tradition of India and Tibet, ruach in Hebrew, ki in Japan, baraka for Sufis, wakan by the Lakota, orenda by Iroquois and more. This energy is considered to be an intelligent, subtle force that transcends human knowing. Many of use rely on our awareness of this energy as our guide in decision making. It may be used by our bodies to heal ourselves.

There are other types of energy. Electricity is one. Every breath, every piece of food you digest, plus your memories, feelings and thoughts are encoded in patterns of tiny particles of electricity. We’re bombarded by waves of electromagnetic emissions by computer monitors. Something you may have experienced by being around a person or thing is a “vibe” that you may interpret as positive or negative.

We’re more than skin and bones with credit cards

If you can agree to some extent that there are vibrational fields, auras, energy fields and other unseen forces around our bodies, than you might be interested in some of the research on the “spiritual brain”, neuroscience, evolution of the mind, evolution psychology, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why would energies matter in user experience design? Do they come into play with marketing and online branding?
Picture of flower
Have you ever worked for a company where so many people and departments are involved in a web site or software application development project that it never really reaches completion? Or, if it does, it didn’t meet user expectations or hold up to what marketing and advertising claims said it would? As an end user, can you sense that behind the scenes of a web site, you can somehow feel the unity or disharmony of those involved in making it? When you scan Twitter, how do feel about some of the comments made there? Do they make any part of your body feel good or bad while reading them? Do you tense up? Do you bypass users who are always bringing you down?

We feel things.

Some people have extra senses that you may not be aware of, and you should, because they are also visiting your web site. Do you know someone who is sensitive enough to identify electrical shifts in someone’s body? There are people who can “taste” colors (a phenomenon known as synthesesia) and those who hear sounds the majority of us don’t catch. When you stop to consider how unique we are and what our uniqueness brings to the table with designing and marketing web sites, is it any wonder we sometimes feel helpless when we see a drop in conversions?

Energize your brand

In the book, The Brand Bubble by John Gerzema and Ed Lebar, there is a section on how to create what the authors call the “energy-driven enterprise.” They, too, are exploring energy. They feel that a firm can create a competitive advantage by generating brand, organizational, operational and cultural energy. They learned from studying consumers behaviors and put together their “laws of energy.” From the book:

“The Laws of Energy naturally led to the corresponding New Rules for Brand Management, which translate each law into practical actions, strategies, and tactics for leaders and managers to induce energy in their brands and transform their brand management to create consumer-centric, energy –driven enterprises.”

As consultants, the first thing they do is perform an “energy audit” of a firm.

How much have we learned and how much don’t we yet know about our love for online communication, purchasing and business networking? Are search engines just a natural extension of the mind? These days I question whose pulling the cart. Are computers pulling us or are we pulling computers? And, at the end of a long day interacting with web sites and hand-held devices, how do you feel?

See Also: Can Web Sites Make You Feel Anything?

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, April 24, 2009

Which Do You Prefer? Curl up with a Book or Computer Reading Device?

Have you ever considered how different the experience of online reading is compared to scanning words printed on a dead tree? To me, the experiences are worlds apart.

My life as an avid reader began with cereal boxes in the 1960’s. In those days, there was typically a small toy inside the box. The back of the box might have a game, or something to cut out or tell a story. Once I got a 45 RPM record from a cereal box. I think it was a song by The Partridge Family. I learned early on that reading while eating Captain Crunch led to some kind of reward.

I fell in love with school libraries in elementary school because I loved the escape of a good detective book. The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and others entertained me for hours with their daring adventures. The reward was a successful mission, the good guys won and girls were as smart as the boys.

Today, I’m a bookstore fanatic. I can spend hours gazing at books. I love to hold them, page through them, read about the authors, look for bargain prices, and settle into a chair to read. I have a writer friend who interviews famous people, many of whom are authors. She lets me borrow the free book copies she gets. Many are autographed for her. She and I both are attached to our book cases and view them with pride.

Reading online is something I find difficult to do. For such a devoted reader, I think it’s surprising that no web based article or magazine holds the same magic for me as the printed word. Sometimes I’ll even print out a white paper, article or case study because I want to curl up on the couch to read it. I want to scribble notes on it. I like to use highlighters and write reminders for things that may come in handy later. I can’t take a highlighter to a web page. I can’t jot down notes on the screen.

I loved the article In Defense of Readers by Mandy Brown. I could relate to the solitude I find while reading, even in a crowded bookstore. Mandy wrote:

“Despite the ubiquity of reading on the web, readers remain a neglected audience. Much of our talk about web design revolves around a sense of movement: users are thought to be finding, searching, skimming, and looking. We measure how frequently they click but not how long they stay on the page. We concern ourselves with their travel and participation—how they move from page to page, who they talk to when they get there—but forget the needs of those whose purpose is to be still. Readers flourish when they have space—some distance from the hubbub of the crowds—and as web designers, there is yet much we can do to help them carve out that space.”

Interestingly, as web designers and marketers, we create content in the hopes that readers will do something. We want them to read and click to go somewhere. We hope they read and make a purchase. In other words, we design click paths and tasks to direct action or persuade some kind of interaction. We have expectations of our readers. We don’t think in terms of rewards. We don’t even visualize their reading experience. (We hope nobody is reading our stuff while driving, however.)

Jakob Nielsen wrote, in Write for Reuse,

“We know from countless studies of users’ reading behavior on websites that people mainly read only the initial part of any piece of content. To read beyond that, users must be convinced of the content’s value.”

He even says that reading a full page on the web is “rare”. Indeed, web designers already know they have to design for scanning.

According to research by Gartner, 80% of Internet users or what they called “Generation Virtual” are lurkers. They are “…essentially spectators, who reap the rewards of online community input but absorb only what is being communicated. They can still implicitly contribute and indirectly validate value from the rest of the community. All users start out as lurkers.”

With the enormous volume of information on the Internet, our reading habits are quite fascinating. We can listen to web based content via audio and podcasts. We can fire up our cell phones and read articles, blogs and forum threads on tiny screens. Our laptops come to bed with us, ready to offer a story if we sign up for something like Zinio.

Are we really enjoying the user experience of reading online? Is it rewarding? I miss the days of fiddling with cereal boxes, trying to force the toy to fall out. I’d cut out box tops and send away for prizes. I love my library card. I love those big giant bargain coffee table books on Greece, astrology and ancient Egypt that you can buy for $5.00. I turn my cell phone off in the book store because I don’t want anyone to know I’m from the world of machines.

The act of opening a book, reading the inside cover, scanning the table of contents, looking at the author’s picture, feeling the smooth book jacket, and feeling the weight of the book are a cherished user experience.

I’m not ready to let go of it, yet.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, March 27, 2009

Pinky and the Brain, Search Marketing & User Experience Design

When Google went from being just another new search engine to the search engine, I couldn’t stop comparing the company to the cartoon series, Pinky and the Brain. In my mind, the conversation between Larry and Sergey was identical to the two lab mice:

Larry: “Gee Sergey, what do you want to do tonight?”
Sergey: “The same thing we do every night, Larry—try to take over the world.”

For the cartoon, no matter what scheme Brain devised, the world was not his to take. Perhaps it was Bill Gates’ plan to put a computer in every home that stood the best chance of world domination. Steve Jobs and Apple followed up with more computers and added music. You might even say that the music injection was the language the entire world could understand.

Extending ourselves

It occurred to me one day that people like Larry, Sergey, Bill and Steve, and others like them, instinctively understand the human brain. They know that computers aren’t substitutes for our minds, but are extensions because, for starters, we create the machines. Fascination with our brains is everywhere. There are new books on the male brain, female brain, brain after a stroke, spiritual brains and how brains handle memory or heal disease.
Pinky and the Brain
It’s likely no coincidence that around the time Google was launched, an essay called The Extended Mind was published in the journal Analysis by two philosophers, Andy Clark and David Chalmers. They set out to prove that the mind is a system made up of the physical brain and parts of its environment. When your environment is dependent on computers for communication, for example, how does this affect your memory? Does texting with phonetic words mean the eventual loss of grammatically correct writing?

One way to take over the world is to make people dependent on computers for their survival, communication, entertainment and income. I find it no coincidence that Google explores ways to make its search and data an extension of our daily habits. The key theme between Larry, Sergey, Bill and Steve, and others like them is that humans love convenience.

I think user experience web design and Internet marketing success is tied to exactly the same idea.

Awareness

Another interesting study shows how narrow our awareness is. Two psychologists, Daniel Simmons and Christopher Chabris, showed a video of two groups of students weaving around each other, passing a basketball. Half of them wore white shirts and the other half wore black. They were asked to keep track of how many times the basketball was passed by their team. At one point, a student dressed in a gorilla costume came wandering into the scene. Later, several students said they never saw the gorilla. Their brains regarded this information as extraneous information. (You can view the “basketball” video here.)

We extract only what we need for whatever our task may be. This same lesson can be applied to usability and marketing.

Navigation and memory

Search engines keep changing their user interfaces. This is not intended to drive you crazy. Rather, the companies are keenly aware of human-computer interaction studies and listen to user feedback. One of our many issues with search and web designs is our inability to recall where things are, how we got anywhere and how to handle information overload.

Creatures of habit, we’ve learned where logos are placed and become accustomed to global, supplemental, supportive and breadcrumb navigation. We scan and look for tidbits. We seek out only what we need to complete a task.

Design styles have changed over the years. However, you will still see home pages with 20-plus items listed on the left side navigation. If just one of those choices is the start of a task, a site visitor has started down a certain path. Ask them to recall what the other 19 items are and they can’t tell you because they didn’t want or need all that information. Duplicating that information with image navigation inside the main body aggravates the situation by removing confidence. Which click is the best for the task, the left side link or product image?

Information gathering

We are quickly adapting not only our brains to our laptops, but also our hands and eyes to sorting through and responding to information. New studies are being performed on how our brains seek out new ways to get information. There’s a rearrangement of neurons based on new methods of getting any feedback. This feedback is not just by sight. For us as internet workers, the creation of lists, forms, videos and detailed images contribute to engaging the brains of our targeted readers or market. Consider disabled persons accessing the Internet and those whose handheld devices are an extension of their body.

One area I see missing in ecommerce design is close up shots of craftsmanship in handmade products. A wedding site with models showing different styles of veils will sell better if the model is shown with several head shots and with close ups of the beads, lace, and length. With the time honored custom of shopping for wedding gown and accessories with family, sales online must find ways to emulate the experience of touching material, remembering a design that was like one Grandmother wore at her wedding and trying on head pieces to see how they look on different size women. We have yet to truly emulate physical feedback to our brains in an environment where touch doesn’t exist.

Pinky and Brain were never able to conquer the world, despite being genetically altered so they could speak to humans. Brain’s name is an acronym for “Biological Recombinant Algorithmic Intelligence Nexus”. Will Google become an extension of our brains? As we search for information via the Internet and make purchases online, we’re contributing to a new way of communication. Our brains are adapting to new behaviors. How we market online is attached to our greater perception of ourselves. Think social media and social media marketing, for example.

For a struggling world economy, companies that will succeed will be those who get unstuck from old practices in design and marketing and regard each of us as evolving humans.

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This article was originally written by Kim Berg and published by Search Engine Land, January 23, 2009

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