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Blog,  Search Behavior,  Usability

What Does User Experience Mean to SEO’s?

When you land on a webpage, what frustrates you? Is it how long it takes to load, ads covering up content, or the visual complexity of the page? The answer depends on who you are, what device you are using and what you need.

If you are to believe search engine marketing experts, the ultimate end goal for all web pages is to rank at the top for users’ search queries.  This is their truth. Page load time is the main goal for user experience. When Google launched its mobile test tool, marketers sounded the alarm because now web pages must render on smart phones to be included in Google’s index. Bing has introduced their own mobile requirements.  Online marketers want content for algorithms, sponsored positions, rank and ads.

Go to search engine marketing conference and look for a talk on how to design for human users. When you return to work,  you will not know how to design for people, but you will know how to design for search engines and use SEO tools.

Not Listening

When I’m asked to conduct a usability and conversions site audit, I now make a request and it goes like this:

“Are you ready to listen”?

TypewriterIt’s my way of destroying my career, yes.

But the fact is, I’m not going to waste my time and your money providing you with solutions that will increase conversions if you are not going to implement them.  The leading reason my recommendations are ignored is because marketers hate them. They insist that ads are not hurting people who came to read or conduct tasks.  They are satisfied with 30% of their traffic calling or filling out a form, even though removing or adjusting the timing of the pop up form covering their content would increase conversions and revenue.  They want ads sliding in from the left and right and covering the bottom part of the screen because people who want to use their site on a smartphone don’t matter. The site passed Google’s mobile test and THAT is their only goal.

A marketer may instruct clients to make the desktop and mobile device experience consistent. This means that pages are continuous rows of 3 or 4 blocks of images, text and links instructed to stack in various ways depending on the screen size. On a smartphone this creates longer pages and the potential of slow load times based on the user’s location in the world. Alternatively, some designers create a large screen layout with bells and whistles and present a severely limited smartphone version that removes parts of the website. The user experience is completely different based on the device. The question is…was a section that people desire removed? And why? Was this to please a search engine? Did your stakeholders say, “Discard what our target users want and design for search engines.”

In my audits, I may suggest relocating a call to action placed before their readers are given enough information to make a decision. I may ask them to adjust content on pages that are intended for use by people who are upset, in a hurry, on medication, in a moving vehicle, using text to voice software or don’t have 20-20 vision. This is in direct opposition to what their marketers want.  They are focused on keywords.

I research how people use websites. Does your online marketer perform user testing with people?  Does your company require user personas, mental models, or requirements gathering focused on people during website or application development?

Companies that allow marketers to dictate web designs are often surprised at the results.  For example, a company hired me to perform a usability and conversions site audit. The result was the decision to redesign the site for mobile, increase conversions and improve the site’s overall performance for people and apply my recommendations from the audit.  I was not part of the new design. After the new site launched, the owner called me, upset at what a heat map what indicating. It showed that users were clicking on the tagline, thinking it was a link. This is because of the way it was formatted and placed in the header. Rather than a sentence with a value statement, it was a series of keywords separated by dashes. There were two other navigation areas as well, so it looked like three sections of links with duplicate words.  People were confused, especially on smartphones where the words appeared near the hamburger menu symbol.

Another example is a site that underwent a massive redesign to meet Google’s mobile test. One of the goals was to not destroy the excellent rankings it already enjoyed, so the new design is an information architecture nightmare of links. I’m not permitted to have a say in these situations so I stick to user behavior instead. I can always show how these sites confuse people and chase them away, and it’s not just by the endless merry go round of links, but the mental and emotional state of the people accessing the pages. If you run a healthcare business, for instance, it helps to understand what it’s like to use your site if your target users are sick, mentally ill, high, drunk, in shock, emotionally scattered or injured.  Their experience with seeking help online is absolutely in no way anywhere near the state of mind of your designer, programmers or marketers.

This is what you will not learn at search engine conferences or online marketing websites. Are you ready to listen?