Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Archive for Usability

SEO vs. Design: The Design Argument

I’m a designer before anything else. Before student, before music enthusiast – even search marketer or search optimizer. You read that right; my loyalties lie in the art of communicating information in pretty ways – not making the information super accessible and searchable. It’s not that I hold no value to optimization; in fact I often fight with designers about its importance. It’s just that to me, how something looks when it is found is more important to me than the ease of finding it. As a user, I have loads more satisfaction in going through a little trouble to find something that is absolutely awesome looking than finding something really easily and becoming disappointed at its mediocrity. However, I do understand that most people (especially clients!) think the opposite, and take that greatly into account when I sit down to do work.

Even still, while sitting through Gord Hotchkiss’ and Shari Thurow’s presentation about SEO, Usability, & Design at SMX West, I found myself writhing silently in my seat every time they gave design a roll of the eyes. We designers get such a stereotype in the search world it’s hard not to get offended. Yes, we love flash. Yes, we value aesthetics over usability. Yes, we think most things that are optimized compromise beauty. But I do think there is such a thing as a world where designers and optimizers exist peacefully in a completely beautiful, usable, and searchable world.

Take me for instance. While design trumps mostly everything, I don’t make any design choices without first considering usability. SEO and usability have been integrated into my design process, so no part of it is actually neglected. Sometimes one wins over another, and if it’s SEO I just swallow my pride a little bit and deal with it. In the end, hopefully (and usually) something that is more than satisfactory for both designer and client results.

I know that steadfast searchers and stubborn designers will probably forever be at odds to some degree, but I think if we continue to work together we might discover something new about the beauty of these things in conjunction.

Navigating the Informational Space

Recently in the SearchEngineLand blog, Gord Hotchkiss posted an incredibly interesting blog about navigational landscapes in offline and online spaces. It’s definitely a more strategic way of thinking about navigation, especially when you apply these theories to cyberspaces.

To summarize his post (although if you have time I strongly urge reading it yourself), there are three types of knowledge that humans gain when attempting to navigate physical space. These are:

Landscape knowledge – The first level of understanding navigation of a physical space. Humans naturally seek landmarks or reference points when attempting to reach a destination that may or may not be new.

Route knowledge – The second level. Route knowledge develops as humans begin to go from landmark to landmark and start internalizing the route. The steps to get to a place become slowly ingrained and memorized so humans are able to retrace or relay them.

Survey knowledge – This third level of navigating spaces is gained when humans begin to have an abstract understanding of a space and its various routes and destinations. We are able to imagine the destination in our heads and intuitively know different routes and how they will each get us there.

This translates quite nicely to online spaces, where users note specific landmarks on websites and consequently learn routes to certain online destinations. Hotchkiss makes a specific connection between physical landmarks and search engines, and that more often than not, most online navigation paths begin at a search engine. Even more interesting, when users begin to gain online route knowledge, it is likely that instead of returning directly to the website, many users remember the query they used to find that specific website, and the location on the results page of the link they clicked, and ultimately revert to the search engine to retrace their routes.

As we begin to understand more about navigational behaviors in humans in both physical and information spaces, usability is going to take on a whole new meaning.

Hello?! Where’s Your Contact Info?

Why do so many people think the only way to provide contact information is to put it in the “contact” section of your web site? It’s all very nice and tidy, I suppose, having it all in one place, but who ever said that’s the only place it should be? We have a new client in the service business, and so we were surprised when reviewing their site that their phone number was at the bottom of their first page. Why wasn’t it at the top? “We didn’t want it to be intrusive,” we were told.

Hello?! If you’re going to promote your company, particularly if you’re a service company, make it easy for your customers to find you. Here are five other ways for service businesses to get additional “contacts:”

1. Printable Coupons: Phone number should be front and center.
2. Describe and Link: If you talk about your “Friendly Customer Service,” be sure to link it to your contacts page.
3. Promise to Answer the Phone: If you really do have someone answering your phone, make a point of saying it. For most customers, it’s actually refreshing knowing someone will pick up when they call.
4. Where do you Service? Are you all over the state? Just the city? Let ’em know, and on the first page, too.
5. Promote Your Mailing List : Make it easy to subscribe to a newsletter you send out. Have a new confirmation window that pops up so visitors won’t lost their place on your site.

Keep Your Website Simple, Stupid

You know about K.I.S.S. –  Keep It Simple Stupid. The same philosophy should be applied to your websites. The prevailing problem with websites has been achieving good site stickiness – keeping visitors on websites — and it’s mostly due to poor usability. There are many successful ways to remedy this, but there’s one persistent answer: Keep It Simple (Stupid).

When a visitor lands on any landing page, they usually know what they are looking for, and if they can’t find it within, say 3 seconds, then they’re out, and you (or your client’s) bounce rate increases with every immediate exit.

I understand there are websites out there that require having a lot of content heavy or dynamically driven pages, but it is still possible to maintain a simple (ish) structure. Jakob Nielsen (www.useit.com), web usability extraordinaire, puts it best:

Where am I?
Where have I been?
Where can I go?

Successful sites have easy navigation, and make it clear to the user where they are. What does that mean? Keep consistency throughout your site. Your logo, header, footer, and navigation bars should remain in the same place and contain the same links across all your pages. If you have a site with a lot of pages, make folders and subfolders clear (“Home > Services > Ad Networking > Case Studies”, for example). Your titles should be accurate and relevant to the content. Don’t clutter. Make it clear to users where they have already been. Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to define visited links so that once a visitor has clicked somewhere, the link changes color. Have clear navigation bars and sub menus that let visitors know where else they can visit on your site.

Here are some interesting links for more information about usability:
The human factor in gadget, Web design – about YouTube usability, CNET News.com
Great Minds in Development: Steve Krug – article on and video from usability expert Steve Krug, DevSource.com
Great Minds in Development: Designing Your Applications for Usability – article on and video from Jakob Nielsen, DevSource.com