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.


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.


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

Search Engines Are Like Home Delivery Trucks

While thinking about recent news surrounding the latest algorithm changes Google made and pondering something Matt Cutts has been saying about search, a picture came to my mind of a Google person arriving at my house delivering search results all packaged up for just me. The only thing missing was a little card.

Delivery of boxes

Search Results Just for Me

Perhaps someday search will be so intimately tuned in to us that such a personalized delivery of information will be possible. Of course, to do this, we’ll give up our privacy even more. Or not. The way waves of change go, there is often a backlash. For many of us, the privacy intrusions have become unacceptable. We don’t want personal delivery from search engines because what if we change our minds? For years Google’s spokesperson to SEO’s, Matt Cutts, has been saying that search engines, especially the one he represents, are and have been focused “on the users”. I’ve been saying the same thing because this is the only logical reason I can come up with for why search engine marketing is so vital to websites. We all want the same thing. We want the object of our desire.

This is why so many of the practices done by SEO’s since the very beginning are ones I’ve never done. People don’t go to content farms, or links pages or article deposit sites for that thing they most want to find. They don’t care if your site is linked to by .edu sites or PR10 pages. Sure, this happens behind the scenes but search engines have learned, and Human Factors research has found, that we base our choices on criteria like credibility, brand reputation, easy to use web sites and excellent customer service. I’ve never seen a scraper site that offers those things.

Something else that I’ve always felt would be rewarded someday is unique, original content – and years of it. A site such as Aaron Wall’s SEOBook is one example of consistency over time. He and his writers have a proven record of articles and posts that out class most other sites like it. Sure he has his book and SEO tools but for me the decision to stick with his site is the dedication and work he puts into the content. Because of the quality and time online, his content is scraped, stolen, and wrecked by the laziest of people. When he interviewed me years ago, that interview showed up for weeks in various versions on hundreds of sites. I wondered then how he could stand to watch it. As a user of search engines, would you tolerate being delivered alternative versions of well written, authentic content by your favorite writers?

I wouldn’t.

News and Stuff

I’ll be going up to SES NY (Search Engine Strategies New York) next Tuesday to blog for Libeck Integrated Marketing, the company I joined in January. I won’t be speaking this time.

At some point this year and we expect into the future, I’ll be back to speaking at conferences on Usability, Information Architecture and SEO topics, and offering training too.

New tool I love! ReadItLater. When you see something you want to read but have no time, this nifty tool lets you grab it for later. I have it on all my browsers and computers so that all I have to do is log in from anywhere to read from my list.

I’ll be at the Philadelphia Philadelphia Twestival Local 2011 to raise money for MANNA – Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutritional Alliance on Thursday night, March 24.

I’ll be watching everybody drunk with courage at the Pirate Karoke at SES NY at Wicked Willy’s NYC on Wednesday, March 23.

Recent writings by Me

Web Design Strategy is a list of points to consider and printable.

The 6 Riches Of Navigation Gold: Try This At Home. Yes, the gorgeous braided woman in the photo is me. (Oh Kim, shut up!) A girl can pretend.

Long Live Homepages

Don't Shoot Down Homepages

The Power and Glory of the Homepage

“Homepages tell us where to go in connection with the entire website. Landing pages can be limited in scope because they don’t have to tell the story of the entire site. Their focus is purposely limited.”

Rethinking The Home Page: 4 Relevant Considerations

“If you have a blog, give it a name. It’s like a new puppy or kitten that has come to share your web site home. Nobody runs a search for “blog” to get to your blog.”

Google’s Farmer Update Plants User Behavior Seeds

“This is a critical difference between content that is true and necessary versus content that’s untrue and manufactured to fit certain keywords.”

And you all thought I was lying around eating bon-bons.

The UX and SEO Connection For Our Changing Times

If you’re seeking signs of hope or signals for where to put your time, money and energy for your online business, I have some direction to pass along. The convergence of Internet Marketing and User Experience design is where the action is.

Peter DaVanzo has conducted an interview with Mike Grehan that contains nuggets of gems and insights by someone who has devoted the past decade to looking under search engine hoods. Mike Grehan Interview offers Mike’s perspective on what’s happening with search today. It contains valuable information. For example, he says,

But if Google is saying they now have seen a trillion URLs and have no certainty that they’ll ever be able to crawl them in a timely fashion, maybe we’ve reached the zenith of the crawl. Not only that, the end user is expecting a much richer experience. So if the main job of SEO was to optimize static web pages and make them available to crawlers, it’s all becoming a little passé now.

Indeed. Not only are searchers’ expectations changing, so are the devices used to search. We’re searching from our cell phones and Blackberries today. We search while driving (I don’t, but I know some of you do!), walking our dogs, and sweating in the gym. Not only do you want your web pages to appear in search results, but you must be sure the page your visitor clicks on matches their search criteria, immediate needs or intended task and is accessible from any device or environment they’re in at that moment.

I’ve drilled this point for years. You can market and optimize until hell freezes over and if the landing page doesn’t connect with your intended visitor, you’ve just blown your money through the fan.

So, now that search engines can follow end users they can see where they started and where they dropped off. That kind of data is so important. It’s the wisdom of crowds. It’s the people’s vote. So how does a marketer get involved there? It’s going to be a little clichéd, but create an experience – not a web page.

Creating an experience isn’t easy. Just today, in reviewing a client’s mock-ups, I presented them with challenges they hadn’t considered. Their design is snazzy and I like it, but I don’t count. My job is to speak up for their target users and those with accessibility issues that might interfere with their web page experience.

Search and user experience are changing. It has to. Our technology never stays the same. A few years ago we didn’t have Universal Search and we barely gave a nod to local search. We had little warning that social marketing would open us to wider networks of people so fast. Today, someone in Twitter can send someone to your web page and you’ll get the traffic, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get a sale, bookmark or a new fan. This traffic isn’t directed. Rather, it’s like dropping a net into the ocean and catching whoever took a fancy to the page.

How do you work with that? Plan for that? Design for that?

To understand what’s happening and apply it to design and marketing decisions, more tracking and testing are needed. In addition to all the fee and free tracking applications out there, your logs also tell stories about what’s happening with your web pages. A most incredible article on figuring out what your server log data is telling you came out this week, called An Introduction to Log File Analysis for SEOs & Webmasters, by Eric Lander

Follow up the interview by reading Mike’s paper, called New Signals to Search Engines

And put on a little Bob Dylan….

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Unconditional Marketing and The Social Media Experiment

When Google introduced page rank scores, the days of promoting anything because you simply liked it officially ended. Overnight, marketing became a case of “You rub my back and I’ll rub yours.” Is this working?

I don’t believe it is and I’ve never supported it because it immediately sets up conditions. Conditions segregate people. Conditions cause misunderstandings. Conditions may come with a price and then it becomes competitive, which may raise the price. By that time, marketing isn’t about what is worth promoting and talking about. It’s about who has the most money to spend on promotion.

Every year, without fail, newcomers to search engine marketing believe they need a heavy arsenal of tools to do their job. They buy into every myth about PR scores and search engine algorithms they come across. This is followed up with endless questions about what works “best” for ranking, be it owning a blog, submitting to directories or writing articles.

Rather than implementing any of these ideas for pleasure or to provide authenticity and proof of expertise in your field, the point seems to be to get in front of as many eyes as possible in the hope the Google Gods will find your site and send rains for the next year’s harvest.

The other day I saw someone ask for just links in a certain niche to reciprocate with. While there is credibility to this request and people do this all the time, those links you get were solicited. They didn’t come by naturally. Search engines have no way of knowing if a link was bartered for or offered because a site believes the site they chose to link out to is any good. When I put a site into my blog roll, this means I made that choice from my heart.

Which brings me to my other concern, which is blog rolls. If I linked to everyone I know and like, I’d have pages of links. For me, the value I can offer is to interview someone, or highlight a post or article they’ve written and link to it, refer work to them, and offer other various ways of support.

The emphasis on “friends” and “followers”, for me, is a sign of terrible self esteem. I could care less how many friends and followers I have. I do my work because it makes me happy and I like what I do. That’s it. Social networking has brought out the worst in people and did it quickly.

There is nothing social about competing for friends, being angry at not being in certain classes, and destroying friendships because someone didn’t want to be a friend with someone they don’t know. Everyone has their own personal set of standards for what friendship is, or for whom they want to support or join forces with. The moment social networking became competitive and removed choice; it became just another experiment in human behavior.

The Next Big Thrill

Advertising agencies look for clever ways to promote products. They’re paid to do this with skill and expertise, and follow a flimsy set of ethics and moral codes that shift as time goes by. It’s easier to create a campaign for TV and radio and buy up commercial time than it is to come up with some link bait type of story that has to be submitted to Digg, for example. Only a certain demographic of people use Digg or any other social media outlet.

I’ve noticed that some people who claim to dislike marketing do exactly what they claim to hate the most about marketers. It always comes down to who can cause the most commotion because the ruckus brings traffic and the traffic may bring links and those links may bring fame and that fame strokes the ego.

It bothers me that an entire industry, called “Reputation Management”, was formed to deal with the slush left over by poor Internet Marketing tactics. In the early days of SEO, the fun and challenge was getting sites and pages indexed and ranked. Competition for rank spawned “blackhat” techniques, necessary in some industries and understandable, but still, when it comes down to it, rank is no longer of value. It’s an extra hole in your ear or new piece of “bling” to show off. The head rush lasts a few minutes and then it’s time to dream up another quick thrill.

Sadly, that next big thrill sometimes comes at a price; when the entire point of performing any search marketing tactic, from blogging to linking, to video presentations and article writing, to submitting to social media sites, is to ruin reputations or to publicly humiliate companies and people. I don’t consider that behavior to be marketing and I don’t give any weight to persons who thrive on this practice. Consumer complaints should go directly to a company, not “bitch-blogs”.

Challenge for 2009

For me, as a web site usability consultant to the search engine marketing industry, I’m finding less and less to feel good about with the SEO/M industry. For my peers who have been around since the mid-1990’s, most of them are so busy they have little time for Facebook and Twitter. Their company reputations were built before social media became the Fad of the Moment.

For those entering the field, it must be terribly confusing to know what’s right and how best to do your job.

So let’s start with some simple things.

1. Don’t place conditions on anyone. Link to pages and sites you truly value, not because you have any beef to settle, conditions to meet, or arrangement that feels uncomfortable (and you’ll feel this and know when it does.)

2. Promote positive. Avoid marketing and promoting with the intent of causing pain, suffering, humiliation, or to purposely destroy businesses. This makes you appear to be vindictive and you’ll attract what you deserve.

3. Don’t put a price on your good will. When you believe in someone’s work, talk about them freely and without any desire for reward.

Unconditional marketing is powerful and memorable. It stands the test of time. Someday, maybe even search engines will figure this out.

But it has to start with good people like you.

Discussion onUnconditional Marketing has started in Cre8asiteforums.

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?