Web site usability and information architecture are still my drug of choice.
Whenever I feel close to quitting, I find others who not only believe in the value of UX work, but explain its value better than I can.
UX is the New SEO
UX is the new way to optimize sites for search engines because Google said so. Yes, that benign search giant has decided that links are no longer as important as they once thought. Out of deep concern for its users that click on the search ads, Google has decided that user experience (UX) is a much better determinant of relevance. This left the entire SEO is gob-smacked and floundering, at least those that have not already stepped off the ledge are.
Google’s help is not really helping. As their search engine has gotten smarter with personalization and query revision, we’ve gotten dumber at searching.
From How do we solve the Enterprise UX skills gap?
Sommer used the example of abandoned shopping carts, which are not just a metric but may reflect an emotional breach of trust with a web site that bombards the user with additional offers and promotions, causing potential buyers to flee the scene.
Yen added the importance of facilitators/requirements gatherers who know how to ask the ‘why’ questions, determining the key parts of the user’s role versus ‘chores’ that are not core to the user’s role but must get done (e.g. timesheet processing).
Few designers possess the range of UX skills needed, which include:
User profiling and research, informed by industrial psychology
interaction design: translating use cases into information architecture and screen elements
low and high fidelity mockup creation
user testing and prototyping
emotional design elements, branding, and verbiage
engineers to build the design
Towards a New Information Architecture: The Rise and Fall and Rise of a Necessary Discipline
This is the most incredible article I have read in months.
…I call this new breed of talented thinkers Information Architects and this book was created to help celebrate and understand the importance of their work—a work which inspires hope that as we expand our capabilities to inform and communicate that we will value, with equal enthusiasm, the design of understanding.
~Richard Saul Wurman in Information Architects
Dan Brown, in his talk on Designing Rules, points toward a new relevance for the information architect in a post-Google world. Just as furniture makers had to choose between making patterns for IKEA or continuing to hand craft furniture for a shrinking?—?but appreciative— market, so IAs must decide if they will handcraft bestbets or create the rules for making them. Peter Morville, one of the “my two dads” of Information Architecture moved on to search. Search is far from solved. It and recommendation engines— the push to search’s pull —provide more than enough of a fun rule space to keep IAs busy for many years to come.
This just about caused me to have a heart attack, die, and go to UX Heaven, from Choosing the Right Metrics for User Experience.
Although most organizations are tracking metrics like conversion rate or engagement time, often they do not tie these metrics back to design decisions. The reason? Their metrics are too high level. A change in your conversion rate could relate to a design change, a promotion, or something that a competitor has done. Time on site could mean anything.
I am told that site owners want me to prove why they should hire me. All they want is to rank in search engines. Their sites are fine. From 5 Questions to Ask Your Next UX Design Agency
Smart UX design provides value to your consumers. Value, in turn, influences purchasing decisions and brand loyalty. A great UX firm should understand your users better than you do. That understanding, translated into positive daily user experiences over the long-term, can be a competitive advantage. UX design has the power to set your brand apart. Pick the agency that can best articulate how their UX skills will contribute to your brand’s success.
The next time you see a web page with a big form covering up the page, forcing you to give them your email address first, before you are allowed to enter the site or see what what it is about, just know that a marketer had the final say – not a usability professional or conversions expert.
Before search engines appeared, how did Internet users find information? Where was information located and who had it all?
It is hard to imagine what life was like before the Internet became part of our daily lives. Schools are removing classes on writing in cursive and replacing them with how to handle Facebook bullies. Google plans on the being the one and only place on the entire Internet to provide the answers to all questions by all people.
To do that, Google must know who we are, and this is not something we agree is what we want.
We do, however, provide the same thing we have been offering since we first plugged in a computer, dialed up a modem and waited for our email to load. For many people during the early 1990’s, American Online (AOL) was where the party started. We began by sharing what we found.
You Have to See This
This is how it all began.
In 1995 I bought a 286 PC with a 9600 baud modem that shared my phone line. To get email, access the Web and make my first AOL website, I had to call a long distance phone number to reach an AOL server. Once I was connected and the modem screeching ended, I went to my favorite groups in AOL that were arranged by topic to meet and talk with other people interested in the same things. I belonged to and moderated several email subscription groups that essentially did the same thing, which was bringing people and information together.
In the years to come, there would be all kinds of ways to find people to meet and share information with, such as e-zines, groups, chat rooms, listservs, Deja news, UseNet and early forms of instant messaging. In 1998 I launched a forums, while participated in several others. There was no shortage of information.
I met mentors who taught me how make my first websites by emailing me or recommending books. Back then, search engines were not born yet. If I wanted to know how to do something, I went to a forum or an email distribution list.
They all worked by making referrals and recommendations.
Search by Popularity
Before search engines, everything was referral based.
I repeat. The way to find information at the dawn of the Internet was by referrals.
If you are a search engine marketer, this is important. The basic core algorithm for all search engines is “What is the most popular website?” This one question tortures and challenges search engine marketers. They have created schemes, tricks and tools for the sole purpose of creating web page popularity. Their mistake is not studying user behavior. Companies do not invest in studying user behavior and how the data relates to their particular web site requirements.
Conversions and Search Engines
Today, rather than refer to words like usability and user experience design, the code word is “Conversions”. Call it what you wish, but the fact is, you can lead a person to a search engine result by hook or by crook, but if the web site is not designed for that visitor, they are leaving.
It is a fact that most companies pay for a web design, without understanding or caring about the user experience. Companies care most about search engine rank. They will do just anything to achieve this, but pay no attention to making their web site user friendly. Everywhere is the evidence, from banner ads plastered all over pages, to forms that demand to be filled out before a web page can be viewed.
It boils down to this one secret. Are people recommending your products and services? Are they chatting about your brand? Do they refer you? Are you providing a trusted resource?
If your website were to suddenly disappear, would anybody care?
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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.
For my friends who devour case studies in Human Factors and new thinking in web design, here are some of my more recent finds.
Elements that comprise Service Design as a discipline.
Introduction to the Fundamentals of Motivation
There is little escaping the fact that our motivations or how we explain and conceptualise them digs deeper into our own psyche and that of our societies than very often as designers we are prepared or entitled to look. Furthermore, if Design Thinking and Service Design hold the key to solving larger more complex social problems as (Burns, Cottam, Vanstone, & Winhall, 2006), Brown (2009), Martin (2009), Loevlie (2009) and Miller and Rudnick (2009) have claimed, do we need to start being more capable and comfortable at asking those questions and visualising and conceptualising the responses?
Motivational Design Personas
I want to understand what motivates people’s behaviour in relation to their use of products, systems and services. I feel designers have a duty to better support individuals motivational capabilities. The first phase of beginning to synthesise and communicate this has seen me draft some early personas of motivated behaviour.
Hopefully you will recognise some of the attitudes and motivational states represented as well as levels of engagement that these personas are supposed to represent. As most designers are aware personas are a fantastic tool for visualising users and service stakeholders behaviour.
I was struck by Jordan Kastler’s The Hidden Cost Of Cheap SEO & Social Media Labor because I wrote about this in the 1990’s.
In fact, my article caught the eye of a local newspaper reporter who later interviewed me about my new business and rather forceful writings. He promoted what I wrote about Yahoo! where I stated, “Anyone who says they can get you into Yahoo!’s directory for free is flat out lying.” The original premise of the first Cre8pc web site was focused on all the good and bad of SEO practices and tools. In those days, me, Ammon Johns, and Fantomaster (Ralph Tegtmeier) stalked DejaNews, Usenet groups, and the more popular SEO forums and clubs, trying our best to teach best practices, blast the hell out of incredibly stupid, cheap thrill web site promotion tricks, practices and software that allowed people to rip off clients. (Even the cloaking pioneer, Ralph, had class and integrity in his approach.)
In 1998, I was so frustrated by the SEO industry, that I started the Cre8pc Web Site Promotion club in Egroups, acquired by Yahoo! Groups, and in 2002, moved to a friend’s server and turned into a real forums. Today’s Cre8asiteForums still maintains and supports best practices. Should anyone try to promote idiotic SEO practices, use the forums as a link boost, or post incorrect information that would hurt the vast web design and marketing industries they are instantly removed, with no warning. Every single new member is screened because we uphold our integrity there.
As Jordan wrote in his wildly popular article,
I know how devastatingly costly it can be to launch, maintain, and grow a business. But there are certain aspects of building a business where it’s never okay to cut corners. You wouldn’t hire an inexperienced, too-cheap contractor to build the building. You wouldn’t buy discounted, bruised produce if you owned a restaurant and you wouldn’t buy day-old bread for your sandwich shop.
Even worse, for me, are companies that invest in search engine optimization, search engine marketing, analytics and social media marketing, but totally ignore user experience web design. This still happens and it just freaks me out. Today alone I tried to search for and order a textbook at the college where my son goes. It was so impossibly difficult to figure out where and how and what to do that I gave him my debit card and sent him straight to the college’s bookstore.
In another visit today, I viewed a brand new web site by a web design and marketing company. It’s pretty but has so many usability and organic SEO issues it would take me a few hours to document them all. I really hate web sites where you can’t bookmark a page (AJAX) or the pages cut off the bottom part and there’s scrollbar so you can’t move the page down read more. I also dislike web sites that special needs users will NEVER be able to use and many people will never be able to read due to the poor color contrasts and delicately faint feathery wisps of text that require a magnifying glass to make out.
Clearly, they don’t have a usability person on their team.
Don’t buy your links. Don’t fall for miracle-worker pitches, and be prepared to pay a decent price for a linkbuilding campaign. It’s the only way to ensure you’ll get results—real results that won’t get your site banned.
The only thing worse than site owners that believe in buying links, is trying to convince a client to STOP BUYING LINKS while they bitch to you that their PR score is pathetic and their site ranks lower than their competition. There are children starving in the world and yet marketers get away with charging site owners THOUSANDS of dollars a MONTH on linking schemes. (On web pages that suck.)
That moment when you realize you wasted all your money on a web site that sucks and marketers who ripped you off.
The Result of Cheap SEO Services
I don’t know if it’s hilarious or saddening that so many people fall for scams and get-rich-quick schemes from amateurs. I don’t know how many times I’ll have to keep exasperatedly saying, “There is no such thing as cheap SEO.” Because there isn’t.
No matter what low price you pay for Web design, SEO, or social media up front, you will wind up paying later on. Your site will get penalized. Your accounts will get blocked. And you will have to spend the time in the long run: whether it’s countless hours spent explaining things to a newbie, fixing a so-called “professional’s” mistakes, or working to recover your reputation, in the end, those pennies saved will cost you all the same.
So here’s a hint, a final plea, a last bit of advice: there are no shortcuts. Anyone who offers you one is a cheat, a liar, a scammer, or someone that has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
Like I said, me and a very small handful of others (Jill, Ammon, Kalena) have been on message regarding hiring the right skills, sticking to best, tested practices and applying the ENTIRE 360 degree approach to design and marketing that begins with knowing and documenting site and business requirements, to human factors web design, and online marketing using real data and strategies that don’t make search engines vomit out the web site.
Some of us, from the 1990’s and early 2000 years, have chosen to work with honesty, credibility and practices we’ve tested and proven to work for the long haul. We charge more because we’re under the impression that site owners want to succeed for years and we’ll support that with gusto.
Others have become famous, risen and fallen, risen and died off, risked web sites destroyed online businesses, and claim to have made millions by out witting search engines and creating the Lazurus Effect (raising sites from the dead). Their methods use cheap labor (Have you seen the fee’s in work from home and freelancer sites for cheap SEO and content spamming? Sheer insanity.)
Dear Jordan Kasteler. Thank you so much for the shameful reminder that in nearly 20 years, nothing much has changed in the search engine marketing industry.
Have I got the list of lists for you. Are you looking for the very best list of authoritative standards sites?
One of my most favorite persons, “iamlost” (sure, he has a real name but this one is so cute) just posted the list to beat all lists at Cre8asiteforums. It goes into web site standards, web best practices, server stuff, Internet stuff, database goodies and organizations.
Prepare web site goals by researching web standards.
Bookmark and feast on