Kim Krause Berg – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:53:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 The Value Of Testing Website Usability & Search Engine Performance /the-value-of-testing-website-usability-search-engine-performance-116900 /the-value-of-testing-website-usability-search-engine-performance-116900#comments Fri, 30 Mar 2012 16:36:45 +0000 http:/?p=116900 For one day during the holiday shopping period in December, customers could not use a well-known retail giant’s website. Heads rolled. Jobs were on the line. Searchers were puzzled. How is it possible, you may wonder, that a website representing a popular brand could experience a day of lost sales during the busiest shopping time […]

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For one day during the holiday shopping period in December, customers could not use a well-known retail giant’s website. Heads rolled. Jobs were on the line. Searchers were puzzled.

How is it possible, you may wonder, that a website representing a popular brand could experience a day of lost sales during the busiest shopping time of the year? What did they lose, in addition to customer trust and revenue loss? Consider what they did to become that famous brand.

Most likely, they have a marketing company that handles everything from print advertising, PPC, sponsorships, social media marketing and organic on-page search engine optimization. They’re also more than likely to have user interface engineers hired to design attractive websites and programmers assigned to scripting and coding interactive forms, applications and pages.

Were the individuals in each of these areas testing together? Do they communicate any strategy that may interfere with something another department is working on? Unfortunately, the answer is often no.

In cases of large corporate website development, entire departments are working on the exact same project and each feels they have the most stake, power and investment. You can bet that when changes are made to the design and performance of an order process, starting from a product page, that along the way to final production, something wasn’t tested for both search engine and user reactions.

Objective Approach To Testing

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already on board with the idea that Usability and SEO procedures do, in fact, blend together well. It wasn’t always accepted and there are some people who still insist the two practices can’t live together.

Frankly, unless you’ve mastered one, you can’t succeed at mixing the other into your personal practice unless you’ve spent time in the other camp. Nothing bangs you over the head with an “Ah Ha!” moment better than when you realize that to truly make your client or employer’s Web based project successful, you must understand how search engines index and rank, and how people search and make choices from search engines and webpages.

As simple as this might sound, finding people with both usability and search engine strategy and testing skills is quite difficult. In addition, there is an understandable lack of understanding what usability and search marketers do because there are related, and just as important, skills, tactics, practices and procedures each profession can do to enhance value.

For example, despite complaints that information architecture is dying and SEO is already dead, the truth is that long-term success online (and now, with mobile devices), information architecture is critically vital and, in my humble opinion, the ancient methods of organic SEO is as necessary as eating vegetables for good health.

Why wouldn’t giant company departments with managers and staffs with trained people consider some sort of unified testing approach during the development phase? One answer is time. Those of you who work in intense development environments understand managers that are breathing down your neck and superiors forcing impossible deadlines.

It’s easy for mistakes to be made in these situations, and this was the case of the big brand that lost a day’s worth of sales. They didn’t factor in time to test the results of changes and when several departments are rolling out their own set of updates at the same time, something is bound to conflict.

Usability testing considers risks.

If large companies with multiple websites face severe situations like this, what does it mean for the rest of us? The solution is the same for everyone.

Hire an outside, objective company to handle all testing or create an in-house QA testing department ready to handle all aspects of front and back-end design testing.

This includes search engine marketing, which brings in areas such as site architecture, domain structure, content implementation and works with the usability person on persuasive navigation, target market analysis, mental models and much more.

Tools &  DIY Testing

Many website owners and companies with an online presence lack enough objective information to decide what type of testing their site needs. Many of you are aware of methods you can do on your own or by reading a how-to article, such as split testing, click tracking and making sense of Google Analytics and your server logs.

There are heat maps, gaze maps, feedback forms, surveys, user generated product feedback and color contrast software. Add to this all the free SEO tools and free or low cost mobile device emulators, and you can spend hours gathering information on your website’s performance.

But will you understand what all that data is showing you? Do you have access to case studies that explain why certain types of people make the choices they do?

Eye tracking software is cool but unless you can get verbal feedback from the user about why they looked at something somewhere and then looked at that thing over there, you can only guess.

Would the results of eye tracking tasks be different if the test subject started from a search engine result rather than just being shown a page layout? What color choices and navigation styles work best for your target users?

Real website testing via audits and reviews can consist of a mish mash of the above tools, but if you don’t have an interpretation of the findings, what use is this to you? User testing is helpful but unless the test participants represent your target user demographic, the results aren’t solid. They can find broken links, but so can software. They can tell you if they understood the content, but so can software.

The bigger your website, the more you will need to invest in all out testing from every angle. It can mean performance testers who record expected user activity and each time a change is made to any code, the tests have to be run again or changed to adapt.

One of the first lessons a website designer or owner learns is that any change to the design or addition of scripts or content leads to changes in how a search engine may crawl the site or index a page. Something as simple as changing a word in text navigation can affect search results and also confuse regular users.

Search engines expect changes to webpages but people don’t. They simply want “the thing to work” and they want it to work just like it did the last time they were there. Every Twitter or Facebook user will bend your ear on how changes to the user interface upsets their daily, harmonious social activity. Each Beta roll out comes crawling out knowing that testing is being done live and they must face the repercussions if there are any. And, there will be.

What To Test

Despite the long term value of investing in creating an in-house testing environment, which pulls from every contributing profession to website development and brand marketing, most companies won’t consider it.

Even some QA companies themselves don’t include human factors, user experience design, persuasive architecture, information architecture, social media marketing and search engine optimization. They strictly focus on functionality and some basic usability standards. Rarer still would be any QA testing department or usability testing company that includes accessibility standards testing. This may still be a specialization singled out like information architecture and mobile device testing is.

In addition to a fear of investing in hiring website testing and not understanding why tests are needed, many site owners don’t know enough about why they even own a website. Obviously, most site owners want to generate revenue or be a leading source for information, but they don’t have a plan for how to do this online. They may have created a business plan but not a website requirements plan.

This is how you decide whom to hire for website testing, audits, reviews and analyzing marketing data. Whomever you hire should ask for the requirements for your website. Who is it designed for? What do you expect search engines and people to do with it? Who is your competition and why? What makes your company so special?

Website usability, user interface, SEO and search engine strategy testing can present you with reams of data to fill up spreadsheets and make pretty charts, but how helpful is any of it unless you know specifically what to test for?

Photo Credits: “Businessman Pressing Risk Button, stock image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net, used under license, contributed by user “mack2happy”.

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The Ultimate Secret For Successful Marketing & Web Design /the-ultimate-secret-for-successful-marketing-web-design-113201 /the-ultimate-secret-for-successful-marketing-web-design-113201#respond Fri, 09 Mar 2012 14:00:47 +0000 http:/?p=113201 We’ve just experienced another season of roundups in the sports, music and movie industries and throughout it all, I noted interesting things about marketing and human behavior. Super Bowl It began with the TV commercials during the Super Bowl. Usually my favorite part of this final game of champions is watching the new commercials that […]

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We’ve just experienced another season of roundups in the sports, music and movie industries and throughout it all, I noted interesting things about marketing and human behavior.

Super Bowl

It began with the TV commercials during the Super Bowl. Usually my favorite part of this final game of champions is watching the new commercials that are made especially for launch during the Super Bowl, but this year, they were so uninspired and boring that I couldn’t wait to get back to the football game.

The only brand that stuck in my head later was Volkswagen and that’s because of “Bolt”, the dog who got himself into shape so he catch the new VW Beetle as it sped by his house. (Watch here: The Dog Strikes Back: 2012 Volkswagen Game Day Commercial.)

Why would a dog who works out be such a great commercial for a car? It was an idea based on something we already know, but don’t think about that much, and that’s that dogs love exercise (and many love to chase cars.)

Interestingly there is a short and long version of that commercial, where in the longer one, we’re taken a Star Wars bar filled with aliens and Darth Vader, who are watching the commercial and commenting on it. That section doesn’t get much air play and my feeling is that it’s because we understand and relate with the dog behavior far more than we identify with alien behavior.

Oscars

Ratings for the Oscars and Grammy’s were up this year. What seemed to strike a chord with their audiences was the most simple of moments. We may have tuned into the Grammy’s to hear Adele sing publically for the first time after her throat surgery.

Meanwhile, Katy Perry created a wild and colorful stage presentation, and Lady Gaga seemed out of place in her typical off-beat garb even while sitting in the audience.
The singer, Adele

In the end, what blew everyone away was Adele simply standing alone on stage and starting out with an acoustical first line, “We could’ve had it all.”

By the end of her song, I was all misty eyed and happy for her. Her triumph, poise, grace and awesome blue eyes was all it took to make her performance unforgettable. She was the performer who looked the most like us.

During the Super Bowl, Madonna envisioned and created an elaborate show filled with drama and lots of sounds and movement. Her being there was criticized before the game, but after her show, she proved her 53 year woman body and soul could still sing, dance and perform like a star.

She reminded people who she was during the cocky 80’s and who she had become, as well as simply looking like she was having real fun up there.

Both Adele and Madonna did something that Angelina Jolie would also do during the Oscars when she presented her right leg and struck her now (in)famous pose on stage.
Angelina Jolie

She left an impression on us and gave certain people, mostly women, something they could relate to or perhaps have the nerve to do too. It’s a subtle thing to convey confidence and make those who watch you connect with that confidence.

This is what marketers strive for. This connection with customers is driven by research and focus groups and demographics data.

The same is true for usability heuristic driven web design, in that studies that include mental models, user personas, marketing data and user generated feedback help designers understand first and then design to make those connections between what they see on their monitor and how it makes them feel.

Old Is New Again

When “The Artist” won for Best Picture, I thought this was also fascinating because it is a silent black and white film that took us back to the days of tap dancing, face powder and lipstick and of course, the required funny scruffy dog.

This movie had no descriptive title that offered any clue that it was different from today’s graphics driven colorful action packed movies. With no information scent to go by, “The Artist” drove in audiences by word of mouth. Why did audiences love this movie?
Actor, Jean Dujardin

I think its success lies in its simplicity, the same as the genuine presence of Adele with her simple hairdo and pretty dress or the peek of Angelina’s slender leg poking out from the side of a dramatic black gown.

While watching a black and white, soundless film, the focus of our attention changes so that our brains can see more details. Our brains actually work harder while watching, but we’re relaxed because we know there will be no loud booms from bombs or machine guns or screams from people dying in battle or plane crashes.

Since our daily lives are filled with sounds and images of despair and pain, what offers us relief from the chaos wins the prize.

This is a lesson web designers are still learning, or perhaps re-learning. We used to go to websites to find information on pages that loaded fast and were easy to figure out how to use.

Today, servers put together hundreds of bits and pieces of images, content and scripts from various sources to compile the page you see on your monitor. The more technical the programming, the larger the page size and longer it takes to load.

Watch how people react to news stories or blog posts that come in video only and you’ll quickly learn that not everyone wants to wait for the thing to load, nor do they care to be entertained while getting the information they’re searching for.

Humans need choices. It’s just how we are and rightly so, since we’re each unique.

We fuss with our new computer and mobile devices but the truth is, we’re tired of the constant upgrades, enhancements and the latest new gadget that will somehow make our lives easier.

All we really have is more bills coming each month so we get a TV signal, our computers will work and our phones can accept text messages. If you step outside the marketing and technology worlds, you may discover that people yearn for some peace and quiet or at best, a chance to slow down.

Eye Tracking Vs. Task Analysis

I’ve been asked for my thoughts on eye tracking and to be honest, I’m not a devotee. Part of the reason is based on the study in 1999 called “The Invisible Gorilla”, where test subjects were asked to count how many times the players wearing white shirts passed a ball to each other.

Only 50% of them ever saw the person in the gorilla costume walk through the group of ball players. You’ll see lots of examples of what is referred to as “Intentional Blindness” or “Selective Attention” on Facebook when your friends show images that illustrate this same phenomenon.

I’ve witnessed myself the difference between watching a person look at and respond to a webpage versus giving them a task to do on that page.

In a majority of cases, unless they are given a specific task to do, they have no idea where to start when they arrive to the webpage.

This is troubling because so much money is spent on advertising to drive people to webpages and yet the user interface itself confuses them when they arrive.

Eye tracking can show where the eyes are gazing and for how long, but unless the test subject is speaking out loud, you can’t learn why they look in certain places or the point where they decide to leave the page.

Marketers, web designers and web application developers like to copy ideas and technologies that are known to work already. They may put their own spin on it but the idea isn’t original and sometimes their attempt doesn’t achieve the same results as the original.

Google Plus has copied Facebook and no matter how hard Google tries to bribe and cajole users into switching over to their social networking site, a large number of people are fine with what they have.

In fact, I feel that Google is trying so hard to mimic what’s already being done elsewhere that their original product, which was a search engine, is losing fans that are fed up and switching over to Bing.

An incident during the Oscars illustrates this. Not long after Angelina Jolie presented an Oscar on stage by throwing her head back, bearing a huge “I’m the Queen of the Universe” smile and thrusting her bare right leg out in front from the thigh high slit in her gown, a man who had won an award a few minutes later copied what she did when he got up on stage.

It was only funny if first, you understood why he was standing and fussing with his leg and head, and the fact that his leg was covered up. Unfortunately, while the audience and TV camera was watching him mock Angelina Jolie, it took our attention away from the person making the acceptance speech.

Some ideas are just plain distracting and because we’re curious by nature, we may stray off.

This is similar to banner ads placed near important content. Site visitors are searching for your products and information, not that other thing that just slid over the page asking them to take a survey or sign up for your newsletter.

We don’t come to websites to be distracted by something totally unrelated or which we didn’t expect to find.

Again, we respond better to simplicity and are happiest when we find what we came to see.

No Pain, No Pain

If the people in the Gorilla Study who were playing with the ball had reacted to the person in the gorilla costume who joined them, the test subjects who were watching would have likely noticed he was there. Their reaction would startle the test subject, distract them from counting ball passes and they would try to discover what interrupted them.

Humans must be better understood for technology to be accepted. This is one reason why search engines want to know everything about us. They want to develop products and services that people want to use and to do that, they must understand what makes us feel safe, what sites we favor, where we live and what we purchase. Sadly, they’ve lost credibility and user trust because of how they approach us for this information.

Advertising campaigns, PPC and social marketing strategies and search engine optimization also want the same information for better ad targeting. Website visitors may tolerate some banner ads, but the moment they come across creatives that prevent a page from loading or the ad or form slides on top of the content the user came to get, the human response is to be frustrated, angry and disappointed.

What did the VW dog, The Artist, Adele, and Angelina Jolie provide us that made what they did so successful? What was the tidbit of surprise and what unexpected gain did we get from each of them?

They sold their product without inflicting any pain on us.
This is the ultimate secret to successful marketing, innovation and user interface design. It’s the one thing we all share.

People like surprises that don’t hurt.

Photo Credits:
“Distressed Man”, stock image from Kozzi, used under license.
Photos from The Ultimate Secret For Successful Marketing & Web Design at Search Engine Land, used with permission; from Beacon Radio, used under Creative Commons license.

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Recent Findings On Captcha & The User Experience /recent-findings-on-captcha-the-user-experience-109779 /recent-findings-on-captcha-the-user-experience-109779#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2012 17:07:27 +0000 http:/?p=109779 The opinions on what makes a form or Web application user friendly may vary but most everyone dislikes Captcha fields. Some Captcha’s are so difficult to decipher they actually increase form and page abandonment. Along with the freedom the Internet provides humans, it is unfortunately humans who also created barriers to our free flow of […]

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The opinions on what makes a form or Web application user friendly may vary but most everyone dislikes Captcha fields. Some Captcha’s are so difficult to decipher they actually increase form and page abandonment.

Along with the freedom the Internet provides humans, it is unfortunately humans who also created barriers to our free flow of information. It’s uncanny the amount of search engine marketing money spent to bring people into websites, only to chase them back out because they must prove they are indeed, human.

Spam helped create the need for Captcha. To defend ourselves from the onslaught of unsolicited and unwanted information that comes in the form of blog comments, log in, purchasing tasks and forums discussions, we must first solve a puzzle.

What Is Captcha?

Captcha stands for Completely Automated Public Turing (tests to tell) Computers and Humans Apart.

We commonly see them in the form of letters, sometimes mixed with numbers, which are presented in wavy, bold and italic fonts that try our patience.

You may come upon a registration form that will not accept your information until you solve a math problem like 2 + 7 or answer a question such as “Who was buried in Grant’s tomb?” Images and video are also used for Captcha.

The purpose of Captcha is to find a way to prove that you’re a human being and not a computer with abuse on its agenda. However humble and helpful the original goal, today there is software available to bypass Captcha’s, as well as humans paid to solve Captcha for companies who wish to do harm. Some regular website maintenance now includes regularly changing existing Captcha’s because it doesn’t take long for machines to figure out what sites use what form of Captcha.

Other reasons for wanting Captcha include preventing identity theft and fraud, computer viruses, spyware and hackers, phishing and bogus online transactions. Research shows that simply relying on passwords is not helpful for security because of password dictionaries and the overwhelming tendency to create easy, common passwords.

Do we really need additional help beyond passwords? Yes.

According to various sources such as the CSI, FBI and the Computer Security Institute, the costs of Internet crime and security breaches run in the billions of US dollars. Companies loathe going public with breaches for fear of the negative public reaction and stock market response. No wonder we’re forced to tolerate Captcha’s.

Usability Issues With Captcha

So much effort goes into making secure Captcha’s machines can’t possibly solve, studies show that people can’t solve them either. One of the worst Captcha presentations is when only one option is offered. Should it not be readable or easy to decipher, the form can’t be completed. It’s important to allow your users to refresh the screen until they find one they can understand.

One source noted the average person has between 7 and 25 accounts they log into every day (source). Because of the severity of the lack of trust, companies force users to authenticate who they are. In the course of one day, you may find yourself facing a Captcha field many times.

Other findings from various research include:

  • When we presented image Captcha to three different humans, all three agreed only 71% of the time on average.
  • Audio Captcha are much harder than image Captcha.
  • Some Captcha schemes are clearly harder for humans than others.
  • Non-native speakers of English take longer to solve Captcha, and are less accurate on Captcha that include English words.
  • Humans become slightly slower and slightly more accurate with age.
  • Ph.D.’s are the best at solving audio Captcha.
  • Image based Captcha is not accessible to blind users.
  • Poor accessibility for Captcha includes those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Splitting the image into regions which each contain a single character, called “segmentation”, and is found to be the most reliable for humans.
  • Spammers pay about $0.80 to $1.20 for each 1,000 solved CAPTCHAs to companies employing human solvers in Bangladesh, China, India, and many other developing nations.
  • Contrary to the common belief, text-based CAPTCHAs can be difficult for foreigners.
  • The use of color in a CAPTCHA can have an impact on its usability, security or both.
  • Distortion has a clear impact on the usability of CAPTCHAs. Users find it difficult or impossible to
  • recognize over-distorted characters.

Tools To Implement Captcha

For the time being it appears as though we’re forced to live with Captcha.

The following are some suggestions for tools and ways to create your own.

  • ReCaptcha (from Google)- http://www.google.com/recaptcha

  • How to Create a CAPTCHA Code – http://www.ehow.com/how_7335023_create-captcha-code.html
  • Securimage – Free PHP code http://www.phpcaptcha.org/

Captcha confusion may be overlooked when analyzing web site or Internet application performance. We don’t often see a tick box nearby that might alert a site owner that a user could not submit the form because of its Captcha setup.

A wise reader of this column suggested this topic and for good reason. When conversions are at stake, Captcha is worth understanding and investigating to be sure it doesn’t create a negative impact on your site’s success.

Additional Reading:

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10 Search & Website Usability New Year Resolutions for 2012 /10-search-website-usability-new-year-resolutions-for-2012-106354 /10-search-website-usability-new-year-resolutions-for-2012-106354#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2012 14:50:19 +0000 http:/?p=106354 No matter where in the world you live, it’s likely you have rituals that you participate in at various times of the year. Website owners have a New Year ritual too. The first item we need to address is updating the copyright year in the footer of our website. Not only does this show that […]

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No matter where in the world you live, it’s likely you have rituals that you participate in at various times of the year. Website owners have a New Year ritual too.

The first item we need to address is updating the copyright year in the footer of our website. Not only does this show that somebody is home maintaining the site but it signals to search engines that life exists there and to keep visiting.

Website Resolutions

This, like a new determination to lose weight, could be the first and last resolution you set for yourself. Not quite a ritual is it? And who wants to wait until beach season to see the results? What other practices can you add to your annual website resolution ritual? Is there a goal you want to set for the New Year?

There are two important goals to work into your resolutions list. It’s a new season. If last year was a bust, can you make up for that and create a more prosperous website property in 2012? Sure you can.

Let’s target two goals:

  1. Increase website conversions. This can be sales, sign-ups, subscriptions, and new ads on your pages, a renewed PPC program, increased participation in forums and blogs, and much more. You have specific tasks on your website. This goal is focused on creating more interest and momentum so that your site visitors complete those vital tasks.
  2. Increase search engine exposure and searcher response. If you feel your search engine rank or inbound clicks are flat, you may wish to try fresh ideas to give your search engine listings a boost.

Website Resolutions Checklist

New Year = Fresh Start

New Year’s resolutions are begun with the best of intentions but we can sometimes set the bar so high that we let the whole idea fizzle out.

This is especially true when we don’t see or feel any immediate results.

The following 10 items are chosen for their ease of implementation and known traceable results.

The list is short because this ritual is supposed to be doable and repeatable each year.

We also want to carry out our ritual resolutions once and when we see results, feel inspired to keep going or tweak if need be.

1.  While you’re in the footer changing the year, be sure to add at minimum the town or city, state or province and country of origin for the website. A zip and postal code are helpful too. A full business address is perfect but not every web site needs one. Why do this? Much depends on the type of site you’re operating.

For a local site that wants to do business locally, the address is helpful for local searches, as well as potential customers wanting to do business locally. An address or place of origin helps communicate where sales are accepted.

If your website is based in the UK but you accept sales from outside your country, the footer is a good place to note that. It can be as simple as adding “International sales accepted.” An address also indicates credibility.

2.  Go through the title tags for your homepage, landing pages, top level pages of importance, product pages, and PPC landing pages. In each title tag, add a value as an incentive to searchers who are reading SERPS (search engine results pages) to click into your page and not a competitor’s.

Examples: “free shipping”, “free membership”, “clearance”, etc. Avoid bland terms such as “best”, “greatest”, “leading”, etc. Don’t copy what your competitor puts in their title tag. Create your title tag to be more inspirational.

3.  Review each landing page for PPC and banner ads to be sure that whatever the ad claims is supported on the landing page. Repeat the same incentive or promotion on the landing page. This tells the human brain it has been taken to the correct place. Absolutely no bait and switch!

4.  Similar to item two, each product page needs its own Meta description that specifically addresses the product it pertains to. No cookie cutter descriptions. If you place the product name and manufacturer and your brand in the title tag, your Meta description should follow up the unique selling proposition and a brief product description. Again, ask yourself what would make someone want to go to your product page instead of the other company who is selling the exact same product?

5.  Clean up your text. Are your pages jammed with endless paragraphs that repeat the same information? Is your text written well, with no grammatical errors or broken English? Is it compelling? Perhaps this year it is time to hire a marketing copywriter who can improve your conversions and search engine results with their skilled writing.

6.  Run link checking software. This is often overlooked or a boring maintenance job. Let’s do it now and cleanup any issues.

7.  Upgrade software, plug-ins, blog themes, forums software, and any back-end applications you rely on. Sometimes, as in the case of some forums software and blog themes, all kinds of new things are added such as new photo galleries, better spam defense, added social networking integration and improved user interface both for the front and back-end.

8.  Review your website requirements or write new ones. The point of this exercise is re-evaluate why your web site exists and to inspect its performance. Perhaps you’ve never drawn up a written plan or you have added more employees or team mates who don’t understand your original goals and visions. It doesn’t hurt to document your goals for search engines, social marketing, usability, conversions and overall site performance.

Maybe you want to add a new goal such as improving the overall accessibility for the site. With technology and new user interface ideas coming out, it doesn’t hurt to pause. Maybe there are new things you can try and have been so busy you didn’t consider it. Now is the time to explore.

9.  Start out the year with a fresh look at your logs and analytics. If you use SEO tools, take them for a spin or have your SEO do it. Get updated data and inspect it for areas where traffic is falling off, conversions have sunk or bounce rates have increased. Create new funnels and track your main tasks or revise existing ones. Research new possible keywords or question searches such as “how do I” and “where is” types that may lead directly into your site.

10. Get organized. There’s nothing like a fresh start and new beginnings. Perhaps you need to budget for help with usability and conversions or search engine results. Blog owners may want to create an editorial calendar so that your writers or you keep the blog alive and active.

This is also a good time to schedule any conferences you want to get to, or local events. Maybe you wish to teach. Look into your local chambers of commerce to see if you can provide workshops. Some schools offer adult education courses. Don’t forget local youth organizations. (I once taught a Girl Scout troop how to make a webpage and how to FTP the files to a server. They loved it!)

There are twelve months ahead of you. Some will be positive and some a real bummer. By adding an annual New Year routine for your website, you’re improving your chances for the positive times. Go forth and conquer! And Happy New Year.

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Why User Experience Design Needs Search Engine Marketing /why-user-experience-design-needs-search-engine-marketing-103781 /why-user-experience-design-needs-search-engine-marketing-103781#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2011 14:17:44 +0000 http:/?p=103781 Most articles in this column focus on the how’s and why’s of usability, persuasive design and search engine marketing. We sound like a broken record. SEO needs UX. What about the other way around? There’s just as many misconceptions in the usability and user experience design industry towards search marketing and organic SEO. One of […]

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Most articles in this column focus on the how’s and why’s of usability, persuasive design and search engine marketing. We sound like a broken record. SEO needs UX.

What about the other way around?

There’s just as many misconceptions in the usability and user experience design industry towards search marketing and organic SEO. One of their more common fears is on page SEO mucking up user centered design.

We're Open Sign

Who is open?

It takes a bit of time, skills and logic to blend Usability and SEO so they don’t clash. Why would any creative, human oriented user interface engineer want any organic SEO worked into their designs?

Is it important for intricate, intuitive online applications to be marketed in search engines?

Are the final results of persuasive design so perfect and complete they’ll simply sell themselves?

Does User Experience Content Need SEO?

Organic SEO, when done properly, is content oriented. Content isn’t just the text on a webpage, such as in an introduction, bullet points and blog entries.

Content consists of:

  • Images (the visual conveys emotion, topic)
  • Headlines
  • Sub-headings
  • Image captions
  • Navigation labels
  • Alt attributes
  • Video transcripts
  • Meta data for video and webpages
  • Link anchor text
  • Product descriptions and names
  • Application user instructions
  • Button labels

User oriented design is customer oriented design. Therefore, the key objective is communicating to your end users the best way to do something and where to start.

Typically, we call these tasks and calls to action prompts. A usability oriented developer is focused on understandability and findability. They want intuitive designs but unless we can all read their minds to know what to do with an application or shopping cart, we need help in the way of content. The worst kind of content is the mysterious kind.

This is where organic SEO can help.

Topic Oriented Content

There continues to be a tremendous abuse of keyword stuffing on webpages which produces an impossible website experience for special needs users and makes some websites look incredibly cheap and unprofessional. The first rule in blended usability and SEO is to not be greedy.

Not every page needs to be optimized for search. The best choices are the homepage, topic specific landing pages, PPC landing pages and single product pages. A page with just one form can be optimized for search and accessibility.

A Few Ideas To Improve Your UX & SEO

User instructions, often neglected, are a prime spot to put the keyword representing the page topic or task into. Place instructions at the top, not bottom, of your application or form.

Navigation labels are too generic. To create interest, add a verb or related keyword. Verbs like “get”, “learn”, “buy”, “explore” and others are more likely to inspire a click.

Adding a keyword such as a brand name, author name, product name, etc. explains to people where they will go. For search engines, a variety of related keywords and phrases help describe the overall theme of the site.

WordPress makes it easy to add descriptive captions to your images. Use the “Media” section and when you upload pictures, add both an alt attribute and caption. Avoid making them identical however, because special needs software will “read back” both of them to listeners.

From a user experience perspective, there is more interest in a page that tells a story. You already know that visuals are powerful and you use them to create an experience and even convert. Adding a bit of descriptive content allows more people to find and use the web site, helps search engines understand the page topic and helps with overall understandability.

For understandability user experience designers are aware of different user paths created for different demographics of users. Not all words are understood by everybody. Search engine keyword research, such as Google Insights, can help determine the most used words to describe a topic or product for example.

Single product pages are an optimizer’s delight because they tend to be literally focused on one topic. A usability designer working with an SEO can work out where they wish to put keywords for a product page template.

Do you want a product keyword on the page and do you want it repeated in the product description and product caption? Would it be fun to change the “submit” or “buy now” button to say “Order your [insert product name] today” instead?

Performance

One area that SEO’s don’t pay much attention to but user experience designers and software application developers do is overall site performance. When a page has too many elements on it, such as video, images, scripts and a form crowding the page, page load becomes a concern.

Organizing pages better, lighter, and with a minimal design touch allows for more opportunities for simple organic SEO such as when a form is by itself or a video. Search engines take into account load time.

Teamwork

Usability and SEO Require Teamwork

Another vital concern for performance is when a website is marketed extremely well both on and off-line and there is a sudden increase in traffic.

Software application driven websites that are not prepared for this traffic will crash. This means that communication between marketers and developers is critical. I’m aware of one very well-known brand that ignored this and crashed last week during Black Friday sales.

For two days, they were down and the loss is likely in the hundreds of thousands. Search engines continue to come of course and meet a dead-end. So do customers.

Performance testing also takes into account how many users ask for a webpage per second. The criteria for these users may or may not be represented in a site or application’s requirements. They should be.

Marketing that specifically targets a certain user type presents its own stress test environment. For example, limited time sales or a two-hour 50% off special to crafters will attract a spike in traffic from a targeted user group to one section of a website.

Joint Effort

Search engine marketers are focused on rank, traffic and revenue for their clients. Many will never tell their client that their website must be usable, understandable, and conversions oriented. Website owners want rank, traffic and conversions and believe in the miracles that some SEO’s present to them.

They’re completely unaware that some SEO’s don’t do anything for a website design. Usability, user experience and accessibility designers and Internet software application developers are focused on the user experience, often ignoring and neglecting where most people start a task, which is a search engine.

A truly viable website that hopes to be successful for years has to embrace both user experience design and online marketing practices. Since most people are working on one side of the track, it’s important to consider hiring from both camps.

In addition, testing will prove one way or another if your website is ready. Find a consultant or company that specializes in usability and search marketing testing and audits to be absolutely confident. This is by far the most important investment you can possibly make.

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Why Blending Usability & SEO Really Matters /why-blending-usability-seo-really-matters-100764 /why-blending-usability-seo-really-matters-100764#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 14:39:46 +0000 http:/?p=100764 Whenever the phrase, “usability and SEO”, enter a conversation, there’s a very good chance it goes in one ear and out the other. Corporate management interprets it as “We need more money”, and middle management fixes their poker face until they’re free to run to Google to look up the term. Though there is improvement, […]

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Whenever the phrase, “usability and SEO”, enter a conversation, there’s a very good chance it goes in one ear and out the other. Corporate management interprets it as “We need more money”, and middle management fixes their poker face until they’re free to run to Google to look up the term.

Though there is improvement, traditionally the term, “usability and SEO” represent two distinct countries, each with their own culture and belief systems. SEO inhabitants live, eat, breathe and play in the realm of marketing, especially in search engines.

Their challenge is to monitor search algorithms and find new ways for getting their clients’ websites to appear at the very top of search results.

What happens after that is not of their concern. Exposure, repeated exposure and increased inbound human traffic to sites are primary goals.

The Usability tribe is more like an interbred family of blended bloodlines from different smaller tribes, such as user interface, findability, persuasive design, accessibility, software QA testing, information architecture and human factors.

For some reason, Usability is like a sun and each area of expertise rotates around it, contributing to and fortifying it with new cultures and practices, such as the neurosciences and psychology.

As you have guessed, there is much in-fighting within the Usability culture, as each set of practices fights to be heard and signaled out as the very best practice of them all. Their unifying thread is each culture is devoted to people, not search engines.

That said, within the human factors realm, information architecture and neurosciences, there are a vast number of case studies and research on how people use search engines and gather data.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Over the years, there have been attempts by a small number of search engine optimization professionals to include some pieces of usability into their marketing services. This nearly always leads to confusion because often, an SEO doesn’t truly understand usability and therefore is not exactly sure of what they’re asking for.

In the end, they settle for something that sounds like it should make their SEO efforts look more powerful or they obtain user interface services. Sometimes this is a bit fractured. An SEO may include usability standards regarding look and feel only to make sure a website with a poor appearance will hold onto a click coming in from a search engine result. They don’t typically add conversions oriented design despite that making more sense for marketing.

Unfortunately, the majority of search engine marketing companies ignore the people side of Web design entirely. There is no thought of functional testing to make sure application driven real estate, ecommerce and travel sites are not broken before pushing them up in rank.

Marketing people are not concerned with special needs users, which leave out large segments of certain target markets such as in the health and government industries.

Standing on the banks of the river of Web design and marketing are all the practices that fall under the human factors camp. There continues to be misunderstandings within this extremely large group of people about what search engine marketing is for and how it works.

The good news is the latest generation of web development is comprised of people who are interested in both the technical practices of search optimization and marketing, and at least several areas of usability such as conversions (persuasive) design and finding ways to blend practices so that they work together rather than in opposition.

It used to be that usability people were the destroyers of marketing efforts and SEO ruined good user interface. We may want to move on past that.

Adapting & Blending

A Web design company that wishes to provide the absolute best opportunities for success for their web site clients hires individuals who are cross trained, or willing to be educated, in both search engine marketing and web site usability.

This is not a fluff undertaking. Rather, a solid investigation of exactly what this blending means should take a while and more importantly, require an open mind.

Since there are rarely indivduals trained in or experienced in search marketing and human factors design practices, let yourself consider starting with some basic offerings. Several of the top search marketing companies in the USA include usability reviews which are specifically heuristic evaluations of at least 20 of the most needed usability standards for a usable design.

These can be an additional $300-$500 for a simple review with suggestions for improvements that when implemented, increase conversions, traffic, brand reputation and in the long run, search engine rank.

Sometimes one of these reviews reveals serious issues or defects. Your client can opt to get more in-depth assistance and even support for a redesign, while remaining with your company.

Find a usability professional with knowledge of search marketing (in my opinion, this is a must), to outsource this work to for your client. You remain the project manager and get part of the money quoted for the job. In this setup, your company proves it is truly client oriented and dedicated to the immediate and long term success of each client.

An even more robust approach to adapting and blending practices is to include optional areas such as mobile design and social media marketing. Of course, your clients’ project determines the need. Not every site is a fit for social networking and some will not require mobile usage.

However, the majority of websites today does, or will at some time in the future. You want to be prepared for this, either in-house or by sub-contracting an independent consultant. Sometimes two companies blend their services. This is a new approach, where a project manager handles the entire team for their client. The client may never know that two companies are working on their job.

All that matters to clients is that they’ve hired the very best experts. These days, those experts do not all sit inside cubicles at one company.

Integrated Marketing

A new term has gained some favor lately and it is “integrated marketing”. What this signals is a blended approach to web site design, support and marketing. A company using this approach has brought together different practices and applies the theory and methods of them all to their clients’ sites.

Not every integrated marketing type of company is the same however. Some include social media networking, while others don’t go there at all. Others dabble in user friendly design, SEO and limited social marketing, and don’t do any functional testing, accessibility standards design, conversions design and analytics, public relations, information architecture for both SEO and usability and more.

This is because there are simply not enough people in the world with work experience that integrates these areas.

As a website owner, be sure to inquire as to the depth, expertise, quality and variety of services offered by companies you seek out for help.

For example, social media marketing is vastly more complicated and involved then putting up a Twitter and Facebook account.

Usability and SEO techniques can be blended and complimentary to each other and also information architecture but it’s still difficult to find a company that offers that quality of service. When faced with a redesign, be sure to find a company that will prepare design and functional requirements that you not only see but have signed off on.

Also, just because a well-known corporation provides a website doesn’t automatically mean their sites are user friendly. Some of them don’t even have a usability design department, or if they do, their skills are sorely limited (i.e. no accessibility training).

In situations where websites are more or less one huge application requiring regular tweaking, weekly rollbacks and code freezes are commonplace. Add to this situation optimized pages that are changed based on analytics data and split testing for conversions design, and you have a nightmare.

Large companies have much to learn about understanding and organizing the pieces of the puzzle and hiring the best experts for the work.

Websites That Work

Whenever someone asks me what usability and SEO means, I opt for the easy way out by telling them that it’s my job to make websites easy to find in search engines and easy for people to use. Obviously there’s so much more to the story.

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Keys To Understanding Search Marketing & User Intent /keys-to-understanding-search-marketing-user-intent-96669 /keys-to-understanding-search-marketing-user-intent-96669#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2011 16:41:16 +0000 http:/?p=96669 Search engine marketers spend a large portion of their marketing strategies on keyword research. One method is to seek words and phrases that are most likely to be used by searchers to find a particular website. What may be ignored or overlooked is understanding the user intent behind these searches. It’s one effort to provide […]

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Search engine marketers spend a large portion of their marketing strategies on keyword research. One method is to seek words and phrases that are most likely to be used by searchers to find a particular website.

Search queriesWhat may be ignored or overlooked is understanding the user intent behind these searches.

It’s one effort to provide pages that come up in search results for particular words, but a very different approach when you want to understand why they are searching and what they’re looking for.

An enormous number of studies and research has been done around the globe on search queries. They range from the stability of search engine APIs, to user intent, to SERPs accuracy and relevancy and understanding user goals in web search.

It has always been a mistake to think of search marketing as just a battle of data and algorithms. Understanding why people search is a valuable part of your online marketing strategy.

User Intent Types For Search

A popularly referred to study by Andrei Broder, A Taxonomy of Web Search, classifies web search queries into three classes:

  1. Navigational. The immediate intent is to reach a particular site.
  2. Informational. The intent is to acquire some information assumed to be present on one or more web pages.
  3. Transactional. The intent is to perform some web-mediated activity.

Sometimes referred to as a “known item,” navigational searches are those where we know the domain in advance (searchengineland.com). There is usually only one “right” answer, and typically the search result is a homepage. For search marketers and content writers, navigational searches are the easiest to optimize for search engines.

We’ve learned that articles, forums, blogs and topic-specific directories are sought by information seekers, but it’s also not as simple to optimize without knowing in advance why the information is being sought.

Broder defines informational searches as wide (New York) or narrow (New York subway). To help with user intent, Google offers suggestions based on search term popularity, search history and other criteria.

Google search results

Transactional searches include online shopping, application-driven sites, forms, registration, file and video downloads, and any time the user wants or needs to interact with a webpage. From a persuasive web design and page optimization perspective, user personas, user testing, server logs and site analytics contribute to enhancing pages for accurate search results that meet user intent.

In other words, not knowing your target user and market weakens the chances of connecting to searchers. Or worse, they arrive, don’t connect and abandon the site.

Which of these categories of user queries is the most dependable?

Another study, The Effect of User Intent on the Stability of Search Engine Results added a fourth category, “Commercial,” when tried to determine how stable search results are for each type of user intent.

They tracked Google, Bing and Yahoo search results and discovered that “queries with informational intent appear to generate a result space that is much less likely to change than the result spaces produced by queries with transactional, navigational or commercial intent.”

Conversions Follow Good User Intent

As end users, we want to feel confident that our search query is an exact match. This is less likely to happen in commercial searches, where competition between e-commerce sites occurs.

Supply and demand affect pay-per-click listings, and changes in rank create instability of the search result space. The volatility of commercial and competitive transactional searches presents unique challenges to search marketers, who once again benefit from getting inside the minds of searchers.

One specific type of user query does not appear to be addressed yet, and that is searches by special needs users. When they go in search of information or want to make a transaction from a website, how can they know in advance the site is accessible to them?

We’re more likely to read about large e-commerce companies being sued for not being accessible to everyone more than we hear about companies that target special needs visitors.

Information Accuracy

Unfortunately, search marketing doesn’t always equate to credible and accurate information being placed on the Internet. Anyone can promote their stuff — and they do. How do we verify information credibility today?

Does authentic, credible content matter to search engines? You can bet it does, because not presenting accurate, valid content for specific search queries is a poor reflection on the search engine.

In addition to the intent behind search queries, it’s important to note that people respond emotionally to information, and our experiences with the Internet factor into our decision making. We base many decisions and choices on habit, memory, trust, consistency, credibility, expertise, accuracy and much more.

What’s often funny is when people refer to themselves as an expert or guru in their field, and then don’t offer information validating their claim. The World Wide Web offers an abundance of information suppliers, but far less in the way of expert evaluation of what is credible. The responsibility for deciding accuracy and credibility lies with the end user of the information.

When you judge information found on the web, emotionally you’re hoping to trust the author of that information. This is why spam email and text messages frustrate us. We haven’t established trust, nor do we likely believe the information to be in our best interest because it wasn’t well targeted in the first place.

Clearly there is denial on the part of some Internet marketers who insist on ignoring the value of providing good information to the correct mental models (i.e. people who desire the information). There is no value in link dropping in blogs and forums.

In forums, blogs with active user comments, LinkedIn group discussions and article-driven web sites, certain cues help determine trust in information: accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage. Moderated sites do well because they demand quality discussions by well-intentioned members (rather than self-absorbed promoters) willing to share expertise and knowledge.

How can you successfully create and market your web pages so that they stay stable in search results pages and convert to your readers, customers, mental models, user personas and accidental tourists?

One study, Factual Accuracy and Trust in Information: The Role of Expertise, came up with what they call the 3S-model (source, semantic, surface features) used in trust judgments. The 3S-model framework provided them with two sets of characteristics: information and user. Each of these criteria are factors in judging information trust.

Information Characteristics

  • Semantics (content) — accuracy, completeness, scope, neutrality
  • Surface (presentation) — length, references, pictures, writing style
  • Source — authority, website

User Characteristics

  • Expertise in information skills
  • Domain expertise
  • Source experience

Both experts and novices look for expertise in information skills and domain expertise and evaluate sources based on their own experience.

Source experience as a form of information judgment can be done passively or actively. Passive decisions are based on earlier experiences with the source of the information.

This means that if a user has a negative experience with a particular source, they may not feel the need to judge the credibility of the information. They may not be motivated to participate, be involved, etc. Again, consider well-known e-commerce sites known to ignore special needs customers, online forums and one-sided viewpoint sites.

The general public enters search queries with the belief that search results are accurate. They know that not every result will meet their specific need, so they rely on a wide array of criteria to predict and evaluate the right choice.

Successful search and social marketing strategies must include understanding how to create and deliver information that is judged to be accurate, trustworthy and authentic. Understanding user intent helps marketers and search engines present relevant information.

With the enormous volume of information available to us on the web, your competitive advantage may just be in how well you understand your end users.

References:

Truran, M., Schmakeit, J.-F. and Ashman, H. (2011), The effect of user intent on the stability of search engine results. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62: 1276–1287. doi: 10.1002/asi.21550

Andrei Broder, A taxonomy of web search; 2002, IBM Research

Lucassen, T. and Schraagen, J. M. (2011), Factual accuracy and trust in information: The role of expertise. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62: 1232–1242. doi: 10.1002/asi.21545

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Does This Website Usability Fairy Tale Have A Happy Ending? /does-this-website-usability-fairy-tale-have-a-happy-ending-86440 /does-this-website-usability-fairy-tale-have-a-happy-ending-86440#respond Fri, 22 Jul 2011 13:34:39 +0000 http:/?p=86440 Whenever I’m asked what usability is, I get tongue tied. “It’s about humans and computers,” I may say, but they’ll picture robots and talking cars. “I help make web sites that work,” is closer, but vague because technically, if it’s on the Internet, it’s working. Then I’ll hear myself try to make it clearer by […]

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Whenever I’m asked what usability is, I get tongue tied. “It’s about humans and computers,” I may say, but they’ll picture robots and talking cars. “I help make web sites that work,” is closer, but vague because technically, if it’s on the Internet, it’s working.

Then I’ll hear myself try to make it clearer by bringing up the “abilities”, such as credibility, understandability, accessibility and findability. Of them, the most nods vote for understandability. It’s in our nature that we all want to be understood. We each want that something that fits us just right. We all want….

A Website Usability Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a long time ago, but shortly after animation and Adobe Flash were born, there lived in the deepest, lushest jungle of suburban homes outside the quaint town of Webby Hollow a lovely family called the Allaboutus’s. Everyone in town knew the Allaboutus family, because it was, as you know, all about them.

Mr. Allaboutus, at barely 6 feet tall, with a beer belly and constant supply of cherry licorice, ran a website called, (it should come as no surprise), BeerLicorice .com. He spent hours every day in Twitter tweeting about his newest chocolate beer or blueberry flavored licorice because his social media marketing consultant told him Twitter is the way to go. For Mr. Allaboutus, Twitter was perfect because every tweet was all about him or his products.

Meanwhile, the spunky, witty, and utterly delightful, Mrs. Allaboutus, enjoyed remarkable success talking about her life and times as a young rebel and exotic dancer (before she met Mr. Allaboutus, at which time it was all about him, you see.) Her blog was so popular that Blogher asked her to write for them and she was featured on the late morning TV show, The View.

It came as no surprise, when Barbara Walters asked Mrs. Allaboutus what she attributed her wild website success to be, that the dear lady flipped her hair, smiled wide towards the camera and exclaimed, “Well, of course it’s a success because the site is all about me!” And the audience clapped and yelled “Bravo!” just before Whoopi gave away free iPods and Elisabeth presented the next segment on costumes for tiny dogs.

Webby Hollow was even more remarkable because, of all the families who lived there; only one had a young son who built websites that superseded every known expectation by its marketers and site visitors. Abby Bill T. Allaboutus had the unfortunate trait of humbleness. His father blamed his own mother Abby, after whom he had named his only son because the name belonged to his family.

The ever so cheerful Mrs. Allaboutus had the entire family tree analyzed for strange character traits, only to learn that a concern for others and honesty was traced back to a distant relative whose name also began with the letter “T”. How horrid she secretly thought, that her own self indulgent father, Bill Thomas, would have a generous and authentic grandson who carried his name, Bill T.

Now, Abby Bill T. Allaboutus spent hours and hours improving his websites. However, he did so in the privacy of his own room when he had the Internet all to himself, for he had learned early on that nobody in the Allaboutus family dares to check their Google Analytics data to see how their websites are doing. By the tender age of 13, the young rebel Allaboutus had secretly mastered customer satisfaction, user generated content and the world’s safest, most private contact forms anyone had ever known.

On one particularly sunny day, you know, the kind you’ll find in a story like the one about the Three Bears, the Allaboutus family went to the biggest park in town for a picnic because Mr. and Mrs. Allaboutus wanted to accidently drop their business cards near the swing set.

While they were gone, for reasons we may never know, a tall, brunette, gorgeous, younger than her age looking, website usability specialist sneaked into the Allaboutus cottage, looking for a usable website to purchase leather fringe boots from.

This was simple because the Allaboutus family didn’t lock their doors because they wanted people to come inside to learn all about them. Targeted research was something folks did in Canada. Or perhaps Mountain View, California.

Our usability specialist heroine, named Goldyberg, first located Mr. Allaboutus’s PC in his den. It was “sleeping”, so she moved the mouse and found herself staring at a fiasco of a website.

No less than 10 banners were above the page fold, plus there was a video of Mr. Allaboutus holding up his new chocolate beer and patting his round belly with pride. His new blueberry licorice sounded pretty good but in nearly 20 minutes of browsing, she never did find the call to action prompt that indicated how to buy some.

“This website sucks,” said Goldyberg, as she roamed around looking for another computer to try.

Out in the greenhouse, of all places, she discovered the handy tablet computer that she assumed must be owned by Mrs. Allaboutus. As Goldyberg breathed in the scent of fresh flowers and munched on a piece of basil leaf, she opened the lid and the machine sprung to life by instantly loading the famous blog about Mrs. Allaboutus and her long ago naughty and clever escapades.

Clearly, Mrs. Allaboutus loved pastel colors but had no sense of color contrasts. The entire site was a mix of images, JavaScript and Flash. The fixed 1500 pixel width site suffered terribly on a tablet, with scrollbars needed to move around every page. It was in no way accessible by many humans or mobile users.

A usable web site makes people happy.

A happy Goldyberg

“This website really sucks!” muttered Goldyberg, as she put her hair up in a ponytail because it was getting hot inside the greenhouse. She needed a drink of water so she turned and went in search of the kitchen.

After she drank water from a coffee mug that had pictures of Mr. Allaboutus and Mickey Mouse on it, Goldyberg stepped lightly upstairs and found an uncluttered room with a nice laptop, iPod and dual monitor PC with headphones.

There were web design books and search engine marketing manuals and Google AdWords $100 discount cards scattered about. Posters of Jakob Nielsen, Steve Krug, Shari Thurow and others were on his walls (where he got these, who the heck knows?). Goldyberg sat down and just stared in the silence at the laptop for a few moments before lifting the lid.

Clearly, Abby Bill T. knew his abilities. Strung along the top of his Chrome browser were six of his websites on various topics and in several different niches, from ecommerce to information to travel and cars.

As Goldyberg clicked into each one, she clicked off in her head all the usability elements she loved. There were:

  • Accessibility
  • Findability
  • Credibility
  • Authenticity
  • Understandability
  • Browser compatibility
  • Searchability

And incredibly, every link contained optimized keywords and the “scent of information”. Behind every picture was an alt attribute. Each page was devoid of loud banners and blinking things or pages of endless text. There were links to customer service and each task was clearly visible and easy to follow. Every attempt at meeting user experience design standards was met.

Stunned, Goldyberg whispered to herself, “This website has perfect usability!”

To make a long story short, Goldyberg carefully crept back down the stairs and out of the unlocked Allaboutus cottage in Webby Hollow before the family returned home. However, she looked up Abbey Bill T. online and they’ve since become the best of friends.

There are rumors that sometimes, in the quiet of the night, when Mr. and Mrs. Allaboutus are done tweaking their websites and gone off to bed, that Goldyberg climbs up the big oak tree by Abbey Bill T.’s bedroom window and crawls inside. It is said that together, they have made the world’s most successful websites for search engines and humans.

It’s because they cared so much for websites that are usable by all of us that you and I can order our favorite things today. Much like Goldyberg did, when she ordered her leather fringe boots from one of Abbey Bill T’s website that one sunny day, many many years ago.

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6 Commonly Ignored Website Requirements & 10 Tips To Remember /6-commonly-ignored-website-requirements-10-tips-to-remember-82683 /6-commonly-ignored-website-requirements-10-tips-to-remember-82683#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2011 17:36:30 +0000 http:/?p=82683 The leading cause for website or software application failure is not having a requirements document prepared and shared with everyone attached to the project. Typically, business and functional specifications, along with possible web design guidelines are gathered. What do most requirements documents miss? The purpose of a formal requirements document is to be sure that […]

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The leading cause for website or software application failure is not having a requirements document
prepared and shared with everyone attached to the project. Typically, business and functional
specifications, along with possible web design guidelines are gathered.

What do most requirements documents miss?

The purpose of a formal requirements document is to be sure that everything that appears on the website or application is supposed to be there. In cases such as ecommerce or application driven sites, there’s a better chance that managers from several departments, plus content writers, stakeholders in
upper management and project managers all feel they own a part of the pie.

This means they’ll fight among each other and their designers to put in their special thing, regardless of any logic or purpose behind it.

Requirements are traceable elements and functions. Top companies invest in people who write
test cases that are applied to the project based on the requirements document. The purpose of this
discipline is to find defects, anything that doesn’t look or function as planned and it acts as a backup to
those who still push for something extra, especially towards the end of a build.

If it’s not in the formal requirements and there is no test plan for it, that special extra something can be postponed to version
two or added as an enhancement later.

Today’s Requirements Documents

The days of simple business (goals, priorities, type of site) and functional (back-end, front-end user
interface) requirements are gone. We use the Internet in countless ways, to do countless actions. Our devices have changed.

Search engines have changed, as has search engine marketing. Accessibility, while still at
the bottom of the barrel, is gaining in demand as more people understand what it is and who it is for.

Human factors research and now, the neurosciences, have added reams of data on how we interact with
computers, websites, applications and gadgets.

Therefore, I recommend to anyone wanting to create a proper formal document, that they include the
following sections:

  1. Search engine marketing
  2. Usability/User experience design
  3. Social media marketing
  4. Accessibility
  5. Content Writing
  6. Mobile

Search Engine Marketing Requirements

First and foremost, this not only documents what types of techniques will be applied to the design, but also alerts management of the need for SEO help. Everything should be written down, including organic SEO, paid marketing, link development, and the nitty gritty, such as picture captions, video transcripts
and rules for embedded links.

Usability / User Experience Design

The usability section is often neglected entirely, as evidenced by the enormous volume of websites in the
fashion industry, ecommerce and manufacturing with websites that are frustrating to use. This section
is not only vital for your designers, but also for performance testing and software QA testing. Again,
adding this area to requirements lets management hire out for help if it’s not available in-house.

Test cases are fun to make for this section because it’s easy to check and validate what was done or not.
Look for usability heuristics on the web and use them as guides for requirements. Remember browser
and web standards compliance here, as well as target audience research to help with color, information
architecture and leading tasks.

Social Media Marketing

This may seem odd but one of the common questions these days is where to put
social sharing icons. Should your project include “Share This” and if so, what pages? Will your target
users be comfortable with sharing?

An ecommerce site that wants user generated content may want to
flesh out ideas in this section. Blogs and forums can be put into this section. Don’t limit this area to just
Twitter and Facebook. A social media marketing specialist knows how to truly implement this type of
marketing based on your specific needs.

Accessibility & Compliance Standards

This is not just for blind people. It’s a huge oversight to neglect this area. This section forces
your team to learn if you must follow Section 508 or PAS 78 (UK) guidelines.

Use this section to document requirements for alt attributes, title attributes, and accessibility techniques for forms.
Remember to include guidelines for Attention Deficit Syndrome, contrasts, readability, users who use
JAWS and those with an unsteady hand (MS, Parkinson’s).

Content Writing & Style Guides

Some companies may put content writing in with either usability or search engine marketing. That’s
fine. The important points for nailing down guidelines for content are consistency, embedded link
placement, anchor text rules, video transcripts, how to structure headings and sub-headings, and more.

Be specific if different departments participate with their own content. This is when style sheets and
guidelines are really helpful.

Mobile Device Requirements

Mobile devices are hard to keep up with but if your web site is the kind where your target users may
want to access it while on the go, this section of requirements is a must.

News and ecommerce sites should pay attention to mobile variations. Sites designed in all Flash would fail this requirement. Local
sites are good candidates for mobile design and of course, any site that offers an added “app”.

What Else Should You Be Thinking About?

The key to a robust requirements document is finding an enthusiastic team of skilled people to prepare
it. Someone from all the departments that have a stake in the project must be part of all meetings.

These requirement gathering sessions are great for whiteboard brain storming. The following are some
items that may be overlooked but when considered, will add to an incredibly successful launch of your
final project.

  1. Discuss the willingness (or not) of stakeholders on their openness to new things. This is a risk evaluation. Are they willing to try new things and if so, what are some things they may want to try.
  2. Training. Employees are a great source for word of mouth marketing. Are there ways to include
    them in marketing? If there are actual storefronts, train associates in how to ask questions
    to get customer feedback that can be used later for social marketing or the actual design and
    location for web tasks.
  3. Don’t neglect local search. The requirements and marketing for local sites is its own niche.
  4. Conversions. Yes, it’s crazy but everybody thinks their site will magically bring in revenue. The
    usability section must include persuasive design techniques.
  5. Analytics shouldn’t be an afterthought. If your site is going to relying on Google Analytics, the
    code can be added during the build in preparation for going live.
  6. Testing. Never put this at the end. Split A/B testing can be done on test servers for example.
    And of course, test cases prepared based on the requirements can be applied once the build
    begins.
  7. Target marketing research and demographics should be added to the formal document. You
    want everyone to be in agreement, as well as unified in their understanding of who they’re
    focused on.
  8. Reputation management tracking can be added to the social media marketing section. It won’t
    come in until after launch but make sure it’s included in the overall plan.
  9. Establish a process that allows key stakeholders to know what key decisions are and allow them
    to sign off or discuss. Keep them in the loop, even if they say they don’t want to be bothered.
  10. CYA. This is main reason I promote requirements documentation. Cover your ass. With
    everything documented and traceable to top goals, you get a solid foundation to work from. By
    communicating every change (called “Change management”), every defect, every fix, and every
    breath in writing, no one can come back and claim something was missed or done without their
    knowledge.

If you already have a website, it’s not too late to create a requirements document. It may be best to
have someone outside prepare it so it’s objective and something isn’t subconsciously overlooked.

It’s never too late to test what exists now and re-test and track after a repair. I’ve seen even the smallest changes
make a direct and immediate increase in conversions. Requirements gathering are well worth your
investment in time and resources.

The post 6 Commonly Ignored Website Requirements & 10 Tips To Remember appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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5 Website Tips To Decrease User Frustration /5-website-tips-to-decrease-user-frustration-78332 /5-website-tips-to-decrease-user-frustration-78332#comments Fri, 27 May 2011 12:58:29 +0000 http:/?p=78332 If you ever need a topic to discuss at a social gathering, just ask everyone, “What do you find the most frustrating about using websites?” There are so many common complaints and issues raised by everyday Internet users and yet so many websites are still driving us crazy. Websites contain oversights. It happens to even […]

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If you ever need a topic to discuss at a social gathering, just ask everyone, “What do you find the most frustrating about using websites?” There are so many common complaints and issues raised by everyday Internet users and yet so many websites are still driving us crazy.

Websites contain oversights. It happens to even the most esteemed companies and organizations who have an online presence. It happens to small businesses with small staffs and brand new websites. It happens by professional web developers and those still learning.

Typically, navigation is the area where most end users become confused and lost on a website. Knowing this, more designers are studying information architecture, taxonomies and how to better organize and structure a site so that the navigation scheme is strong and logical.

What Are The Biggest Issues Causing User Frustration?

Two recent trends for communicating site structure via navigation quickly are in the examples below.

Drop down category structure navigation

Drop down category structure navigation

Example of fat footer

Example of fat footer

While fat footers appear to be on the decline, AJAX and CSS have made creating header navigation interesting by showing, in a quick glance, category structure along with a promotional item. The beauty of this combination is not only in offering choices to browse, but also the additional chance to provide a call to action prompt to an item being marketed.

In addition to not understanding where things are or how to get there, the second type of user frustration is not having their needs met whenever they have one. Consider that every web page visitor has a goal or two in mind once they arrive from a search or link from somewhere.

Once they figure out where to begin a task that will help them achieve that goal, their one big hope is that your content is designed to help them along the way. It’s amazing how many websites fall down on the job of simply answering questions or providing important information at the precise moment it’s needed to complete a task.

This isn’t just a mistake made by new website designers. It’s more common than you may think.

The other day, I followed a recommendation to become a new member of a prestigious marketing organization. Amazingly, I couldn’t find any information on how much their membership fee is. I did locate, however, some indication that a fee would be waived for a limited time. The content didn’t label or point to what that waived fee was for, so I took a chance and began the long sign up process.

After they asked for everything about me and my company (invasive questions and one that wanted to know how many “millions” I make in revenue), I arrived to the end of the task to learn that the fee was far more than I could afford. The waived fee was for a mere small publication item that wasn’t available unless I joined. Along the way, I also noticed that at no time did their sign up process tell me what type of payment methods they accepted.

Not providing user instructions or answering questions during an important task such as a purchase process not only creates frustration but also increases abandonment rates. Simply adding a page title helps users understand where they’ve landed and yet some websites still don’t use them.

How To Best Help Your Users

To ease some common frustration complaints, try the following ideas:

  1. Put accepted payment methods on the product page along with its description. Most ecommerce sites remember to put credit card and PayPal icons in their footer, but some don’t like to because they’re not attractive. Even if you do put them in your footer, do remember to indicate a simple “MC/Visa/AMEX/PayPal accepted” statement on the product page itself.
  2. Never make invasive questions a requirement to completing a form without first disclosing why its vital information you need. The same thing goes for requiring phone numbers. Why must you have it and is there an alternative contact choice? Related: Sometimes web users hear of a promotion or see a reference to something that’s unclear but sounds “kind of interesting”. Not knowing all the details in advance, they enter bogus data into a form until they see exactly what they could be getting. If they’re not satisfied, they abandon the task right there. If they like the offer, they’ll go back and re-enter their accurate information.If your analysis shows high interest followed by sudden abandonment, study your task process, promotional offer, content and instructions to make repairs.
  3. Mystery and intrigue belong in a good movie or book, not your website. Therefore, if you conduct business locally or globally, make this obvious right away. If you provide a toll-free phone number for customer contact or call-in orders, put it your header in a larger font size as well as in the footer. If call hours are specific, don’t hide that information on the Contact page. Place hours or your company’s time zone next to the phone number.
  4. Here’s one of my favorites. Be logical where you place social marketing icons for plug-ins that share information or link to Twitter or Facebook. Some sites put “Share this” on every page of their website. It’s unclear if they want the entire site shared or a single product or the content from the page. Related: Offer a reason why your site visitors might be interested in your Twitter or Facebook activities.
  5. Please make error messages that are pleasant, not in red text and in all caps and offer solutions for the user error. Highlight where the error occurred to avoid user guessing. Better yet, offer examples for how you want form field data formatted and add user instructions wherever it makes sense to increase their confidence and trust in your company or motives.

Emotional web design is usually referred to as a nice way to achieve better conversions by creating an emotional human connection with your site visitors.

Unfortunately, and especially where Internet software applications are used for things like online reservations, sales lead forms, shopping and user generated data, the wrong types of emotions arise. These cover everything from being annoyed, stressed, nervous, tense and upset.

A physical action such as using a tool that stops functioning or doesn’t work as expected makes users upset. Sometimes there are back-end issues that suddenly go berserk. This often happens to Twitter and recently, Sony Playstation’s down-time for over 20 days to fix an issue caused a tremendous backlash among their loyal fans. Sometimes a poorly worded product guarantee results in customer complaints later because the customer didn’t understand its terms.

There are two rules of thumb I like to go by :

  • First, anticipate user questions.
  • Second, answer these questions the moment they have it.

Once you start this practice, you’ll discover there are countless ways to incorporate the logic into your entire design or application process.

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