Matthew Bailey with SiteLogic opened up the session on the intersection between usability and SEO. He reminded us that usability and SEO are two sides of the same coin: driving traffic to the site and getting them to do what you want them do. Basically, if they can’t find it, it’s not there (whether in search results or on the site). Bailey then outlined the various types of searchers, including the sharpshooter (specific), shotgun (general) and artillery search (high intensity, thorough). He encourages you to design a site for all user types. He advises designers to be careful when giving options, to maximize distinction, but minimize regret. He also recommends against using the terms products & services, as nobody searches on those terms (which I mostly agree with). Bailey then touched on the concept of taxonomy, which breaks down into three elements: hierarchal structure (weighting), classification (organizing) and grouping (clustering). For example, he used Wine.com’s structure based on almost all primary classifications and groupings (color, region, vineyard, price, rating, meal pairing, etc.). He then visited winerack.com, which fouled out on a variety of criteria: color contrast, AdWords, etc.
In terms of recommendations, Bailey advised designers to utilize established hierarchy of categories and customer-based navigation using relevant keywords. He highlighted bad ideas like rollover navigation (instead of breadcrumbs) and separating content in navigation, but having all links go to the same page (ecommerce example). On ThinkGeek.com, the navigation is incorporated in the main content area, along with sub-text explaining what you can expect to find in each section. He revisited wine.com and their use of color to define sections of the site. The next example he used was John Deere’s product copy, which used to be fluffy and is now benefit-oriented. Transitioning to landing pages, Bailey highlights an example of Target’s PPC ad for a search on hiking trail led visitors to an asparagus juicer. Bailey provided a fundamental rule we should all follow to maximize usability and visibility: call products what they are! (i.e. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste at BabyCenter vs. Dog Fizzix). On the architecture front, Bailey highlighted the Breckenridge Colorado site (uniform page titles, undifferentiated architecture, low contrast navigation, etc.). Alternatively, Rapid City South Dakota effectively uses contrast and font sizing to differentiate navigation. He reminded us that users want to fell smart, feel a sense of accomplishment, reduce stress, confirmation and reassurance (in fact, users consider compliments online more powerful than in person). For bonus points, he recommends ensuring your contact form is internationally friendly.
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen reminds us that a site designed with usability in mind can increase conversions by 135 percent. To anchor the session, Kathleen Fealy with KF Multimedia provided specific tips and techniques to effectively integrate usability & SEO. She reminded us of the usability fundamentals, including strong architecture, navigation, site search, content, calls to action and site maps. Fealy also recommended developing a plan of action, including: goals, user profiles, tasks, technology constraints, branding guidelines, success factors and known roadblocks. User-centered design is also a key factor in the process, and involves asking questions like who they are, what motivates and how do they navigate a site. Usability testing, ideally conducted before site, helps validate overall architecture, navigation, design and messaging. If budget or timeline restricts ability to host full usability engagement, utilize surveys, and informal user feedback. It can be helpful to develop personas (usually 3 to 5) based on target audiences as reference for design team. Fealy cautions us that words to not equate to action, when hosting focus groups and evaluating feedback. To help address this issue, she recommends card sorts, which aid in classifying and grouping information. She also covered PET: persuasion, emotion and trust, which differentiates between what users will do vs. what they can do. To maximize conversions, it’s critical to be persuasive, appeal to emotion and build trust. As such, Fealy recommends creating content that drive emotion, provide narrative stories and build credibility, all while incorporating target keywords. She ended the presentation by recommending resources like Usability.gov and SEMPO Institute. Overall, an informative and entertaining presentation by Bailey, and some additional background supporting information from Fealy.