Usability and SEO: Speed Dating Nirvana?

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Imagine a search engine as the bouncer at your local bar, where potential customers spin around on bar stools waiting for the next big pickup line from a stranger. The search engine is figuring out what your site is about and where – even whether – it belongs. But how and what you – the stranger in this scenario – communicate will likely be the clincher to searchers. At the bar, someone might lean over and say, “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?” Online, your website may claim, “All this could be yours for one low, low price!”

Have you noticed how life – and our online demands – seem to have sped up? We want our web pages to load faster. We want instant access to our friends via Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, and IM. Website forms are getting shorter. We are too lazy to scroll past the first 10 positions of a search engine results page. Twitter allows us just 140 characters to explain what we are doing. And a new style of dating – speed dating – is popular offline, where you have just 3-5 minutes to sell themselves as a possible love match to a complete stranger before moving on to the next stranger for the next speed date.

This is not much different from the pressure an optimized website is under. It must accomplish several objectives in a short amount of time, just like speed-dating event participants have to make a good impression and find a good match quickly. Additionally, websites optimized by an SEO must be found by the searcher, rank high, prove their worth, and gain trust – all in the same few minutes as a speed dater and typically within the limits of a one line meta or title description.

I think we understand the time limit pressures. We also have a better idea of what we face in providing what the search engines require. We have improved our content and layout to help visitors understand what we have to offer. Where we fall down is in a disconnection between findability and engagability. We can show that we offer bike tires for sale with optimized content for “bike tires.” But without the usability side of site design, how do we provide the experience that will persuade customers to buy our bike tires over someone else’s?

The science of usability goes far beyond navigation logic and decorated links. User experience includes making a lasting impression, which helps with word-of-mouth marketing. Is the site clear about its objectives? Does each page motivate you to read more? Does the site content influence action?

As in dating, we think that to make a good first impression, we should keep the conversation focused on our positive traits. Especially in the vital first few minutes, we avoid launching into what we don’t want others to know.

Some interesting human factors studies prove that when it comes to online selling and influencing decisions, site visitors respond well to both the pros and cons of a product and remember both positive and negative details. If they previously knew about a topic, they were confident in their knowledge, not easily swayed, and resistant to change tactics. When presented alongside positive attributes, negative messages didn’t adversely affect whether or not someone bought an item. The ability to weigh pros and cons to come to a decision worked best.

Does your search-engine-optimized website instill confidence among your visitors? Have you done the homework for them by posting price comparison information or publishing user feedback? Amazon, for example, not only allows customers to send in book and product reviews, but encourages readers to rate the feedback’s helpfulness.

Usability is about keeping the promise that when you click the call-to-action prompt that says “order now,” a consumer won’t be sorry. Usability helps SEO speed dating to succeed, thereby encouraging more action at the local bar/search engine.

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Usability consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of Cre8pc.com (www.cre8pc.com), UsabilityEffect.com (www.usabilityeffect.com) and Cre8asiteForums (www.cre8asiteforums.com). Her work combines usability testing with a working knowledge of search engine optimization.

About the Author

Kim Krause Berg began working in website design in 1995. Her consulting business, Cre8pc (cre8pc.com), was launched in 1996, where she is a global Usability/IA/SEO consultant. Her training includes software testing, user interface and usability, information architecture, search engine marketing, and human factors design. In 1998, Kim founded Cre8asiteforums.

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