For the nearly 20 years that I have been building, optimizing and testing websites, there are always those people who think I’m a weeny who knows nothing.
This recent testimonial, written by a someone I have known for a long time, came as a surprise. I know what makes a website work for ALL people, not just those who own the site. I am the only person that I know of trained in SEO, UX, IA, Accessibility and software QA testing. To stay on top of all the trends, fads, algorithms, testing methodologies and neuroscience human behavior studies that are part of my work means I don’t sleep, take family vacations or know how to play baseball.
When someone remembers your contributions, it is a joyous thing. Holistic SEO and Usability and Cre8pc Below are parts of what “Grumpus”, who helped build Cre8asiteforums, wrote:
Very early on, I realized that Google was hitting the scene, but it wasn’t very good at indexing this “dynamic” content generated by programmed web sites. At that point, Alta Vista was the “established” search engine, but we knew that Google would be the king within a year or so. With some hit and miss experiments in developing my Movie Soundtracks web site, I realized that structuring things a certain way, clear path to goal, and various other factors would encourage Google, AltaVista, and even good ole Slurp! (Yahoo’s spider back in the day) to not only harvest the data, but represent it better than most sites. So, at that point, I started looking around to try to find some people that actually understood what was going on with all this “search engine” stuff. I got very lucky, because in the very first few days, I managed to find Cre8asiteforums. I’d found a few other good forums and resources where I could talk to people and refine my “hit and miss” approach to figuring it out and turn it into something a bit more scientific, but it was the Cre8asite gang that really gave me what I needed. Of all, though, it was Kim Kopp Krause Berg aka Cre8pc (pronounced Create Peace) who made it all fit together in my head.
The point of this is that I’ve always felt sort of sorry for Kim. No, not for any lack of success, or anything like that. I’ve felt sorry that her chosen area of expertise gets no respect. There are some, like me who get it. Of course, the folks at Internet Marketing Ninjas who bought up the forum AND her talents last year get it. And, of course, most of the gang at Cre8asiteforums (then and now) get it, too. The article I’ve linked to below, here, is a good example of this.
The entire industry (especially as Google has evolved in recent years) understands and is vocalizing the importance of the ideas Kim has been trying to present for almost two decades, but they are still behind the curve when it comes to actually bothering put what they are preaching into practice.
Kim calls what she does a “Holistic” approach to web design. I’ve always called it a “Whole-istic” approach. Her real word and my made up word bear the same general meaning, though. It’s basically an understanding that a good web site that achieves its goals needs to look at the whole picture and it needs to be organized in a way that the user can do what they are trying to do, while it also encourages them to do what I, the web site owner, want them to do. With structure and ease of use as a foundation, all the other things fall into place a lot more easily. Your copy, graphics, calls to action, shopping system, blog pages, and all of that are the bricks and your usability is the mortar that holds it all together. The former things are the rooms in a giant house, and usability is the hallway that allows you to move from room to room (and that does clever things like putting the dining room next to the kitchen rather than upstairs at the end of the hall).
I’m glad that the industry is starting to come around and is at least starting to preach what Kim has been practicing since the mid 1990s. And, to be honest, I don’t really care if the rest of the industry ever starts to practice it (after all, if they don’t know how to do it, there will always be work for her, yeah?) I do hope that businesses start to get it, though.
To this day, when dealing with a new client, my most difficult obstacle is trying to explain the importance of Usability and all of that. Thanks to Kim’s lessons over the years, I’m much better at explaining exactly what the hell usability actually “is” – but it still always seems to be the first thing they want to cut when you start reaching the top of the budget plan.
THE REAL POINT of this post is for all of you other folks out there who have a web site for your business or charity and who want to make it work right…
You simply MUST find someone who understands the whole-istic approach. All the search engine traffic in the world will not help you if people can’t find what they are actually looking for. All the people who find what they are looking for do you no good if they can’t figure out how buy it or otherwise do what needs to be done once they’ve found it.
You can read the full piece here, including the comments by others.
It isn’t about me. This is about investing in the right resources and people to build your website, if your livelihood depends on the revenue from it. If they have never heard of holistic web design, or do not consider the needs of every person who visits your site, and especially if they are only concerned with faking out search engines, you are putting your business at risk.
If you know me, you are aware that I have been doing what I call Holistic Usability and SEO since the year 2000. From the moment I combined the two practices, I became a black sheep.
Search engines are all about the user experience. It is, and was, all they could do to discover how we want our information delivered to us. Yahoo! was one of the, if not the first, to implement what later became known as taxonomies, where they focused on organizing content into categories. Their directory listed sites alphabetically, so SEO’s clamored to choose domain names that started with the letter “A”. Yahoo! had a homepage that listed categories to begin searching from and they were called a “portal” site. Others tried to emulate the portal approach to information.
Information architecture and findability, while staples for any search engine and directory, took a back seat in the world of SEO, where the big cool things were keyword stuffing, link farms, reciprocal linking schemes and cloaking.
Google came out with a different way. No portal. Semantic search, understanding the meanings for words used in search queries, personalized search, local search, user behavior, user preferences, user favorites and the demand for accurate, credible content was the new way to gather and deliver information.
Meanwhile, even today, old SEO tactics exist. Google has spent much time and expense to finding ways to clean up the mess and they still do, which to me is fascinating when I know that I, as the black sheep, has been advocating for a search engine optimization approach that does not sacrifice the human experience but rather, supports it as the way to achieving better rank.
While information architecture and findability, organizing information, tagging, meta data and categories are part of what I do as an SEO turned usability analyst, I am not sure if these skills are taught to SEO’s in their conferences and workshops.
I No Longer Pitch SEO Conferences
It has been 3 or 4 years since I pitched to and spoken at a strictly search engine marketing conference. There is only one large conference , PubCon, that welcomes me to discuss web site usability topics to their mostly online marketing attendees. My last talk was standing room only, so clearly there is interest.
There is not enough interest by leading search engine marketing conferences in teaching attendees how to make user friendly websites that search engines value. Yet, to listen to the leaders from the Internet marketing industry describing how they respond to each new Google algorithm update, they nearly always recommend a user friendly website as one of their top methods for success.
I was so shocked when I read What The Experts Have to Say: Google Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan 2.0 Updates, that I had to stop what I was doing, dust off my old beloved Cre8pc.com site and share my thoughts.
Bruce Clay wrote, “The focus needs to be on content—that which provides value to the searcher—and a user-friendly site, meaning the structure and navigation is logical and clear.”
These other tidbits from the leadership folks in the search engine marketing industry too:
“optimize sites for user intent”
“Take eBay for example, they not only had a major issue with repairing website issues.”
“It’s cliche to say: “Focus on the user”, but it’s only cliche because people keep saying it but aren’t doing it.”
“Creating unique site experiences that are focused on high quality user experiences on your site is essential. For many organizations this is a big shift.”
Why is it, I wonder, that the top SEO’s advise making user focused, user friendly websites and yet the top search engine marketing conferences around the world do not encourage usability and user experience design topics? In fact, there are now separate conferences strictly on conversions design, attracting online marketers.
To me, the entire conversions craze is a marketing darling that SEO’s completely missed because the game, for them, is not about design or the user journey. The entire point of their existence was about beating the brains of any search engine by means of math and tricks. Like any game where the objective is to outsmart a pile of machines, this has been and still is, a crazy fun addictive way to make a living.
However, as I figured out 14 years ago, after fighting to get really ugly websites to rank for many years and even being employed to make websites that were forced to take a back seat to users in exchange for better rank, I slept better knowing I could do both. To make it even more fun, I learned accessibility design. It takes money and time, plus the right skills, to build a website for the user journey. Most companies will never invest in a website that is user friendly, accessible and optimized for search engines.
Why should you invest in the user experience?
If you would like to survive any search engine algorithm update, you must build a website that ALL people can use, on any device they choose, using any software they require to assist them and by providing the best content for their search query.
If you want to learn how to do this, request that these topics be presented at your favorite conferences and seminars. Like I said, I no longer pitch and as much as I love speaking at conferences, it is an enormous expense for the company I now work for to send me out.
However, you can hire me to visit your company, or perform a site audit to get your website on the right path. It may be the best business investment you ever make.
Don’t ignore the advice industry leaders are sharing with you.
Attendees at this year’s PubCon New Orleans interested in improving their website design, increasing conversions, and sending “We are Awesome” signals to search engines can attend my talk on Wednesday, March 19 at 11:45.
Persuasive and Conversions Web Design
Whether you have an established website, are launching a new one or seeking ideas for a redesign, how do you know what works best for increasing conversions? Does user experience design interfere with your search engine marketing strategies? What design changes can you make now that will bring an instant conversions lift? This fun session provides tips, tools and action items to build a successful website that both search engines and your visitors will love.
As more and more news sites devote their top stories to leads they find from People magazine, the only other sign of desperation is advertising out the wazoo.
Case in Point
Pubcon continues to deliver affordable one-day conferences and I’m excited to be speaking at the next one in Austin, Texas in January 2014.
I like to make my talks fun, fascinating and informative. I’d love to meet you and welcome you to sit in for my presentation on Tuesday, January 28, 09:20a – 10:20a at the Pubcon Regional Austin Conference
Usability Conversion Tactics
Usable websites offer great user experiences, and great user experiences lead to happy customers. On the flip side, a poorly designed site means frustrated users and higher bounce rates. This session will look at aspects of usability and experience design, and how we can consider user experience to enhance online marketing performance.