Waterfall over cliff

Do Not Drop Your Web Site Off the Search Engine Cliff (12 Years Later)


If you’ve been feeling like Tom Cruise climbing up the side of some remote jagged mountain in the blazing hot sun and concerned you’re facing “mission impossible”, chances are you own a web site.

Adding to the intense thrill of web site ownership are keyword comparisons and bidding for good keyword positions in search engines.  (Update a dozen years later…now it is RankBrain, Knowledge Graph, and a slew of algorithm updates named after animals that start with the letter “p”.) You might hire a search engine optimization specialist who can track elusive algorithm clues and is unfazed by page rank drama.  Your programmers and designers insist they get along.  The marketing department actually believes deadlines are met.  The new bank account is waiting for fresh revenue.  And oh yes, it’s assumed someone will come looking for your web site and wants to use it.

You did build it for them, right?

For every search result, there is the possibility that:

  1. The search engine will display a description that makes sense. Or not.
  2. The page the search engine refers to does what the description said it would do and is about what the search engine said it would cover. Or not.

Your SEO/SEM, if you hired a good one, helped you write your motivating title tag and compelling meta page description and structured it so it makes sense in SERPs (search engine results pages). (Update a dozen years later...add Schema, mobile and page load tests, snippets and ARIA.)

Your usability consultant, * if you hired one, evaluated the page to make sure it would meet customer expectations and convince visitors there are other hot pages inside the web site to look at too.  Without call to action prompts, and well displayed, logically labeled navigation links and credible content, the chance of someone remaining on a web page is pretty slim. (Update a dozen years later…the barriers got worse.  Ads that cover content. Popups that beg. Carousels. Big ass images. Colored text against colored backgrounds. So sorry.)

Once searchers arrive on a landing page such as your homepage or specific inside optimized landing page, you have less than 10 seconds to convince them that they are on the right site and even less to bribe (persuade) them to stay.

Impossible Mission?

Hand working at deskHad enough of web page abandonment?  Are those cost per click fees putting you further in credit card debt and not producing any bang for your buck?  Which part of “understand your web site visitor” didn’t make it to the drawing board?

I know this is hard. You’re not a mind reader. Unless you have access to costly studies and data about who to build your web site for and their computer usage habits, chances are you simply wanted a web site and hoped people would find it and use it.  By incorporating the skills and expertise of an SEO/SEM, along with a user centered design specialist, you will not be wastefully tossing your web site off the search engine cliff.  Rather, your adoring fans will clamor up the cliff to get to it. (Update a dozen years later...in cool colorful running shoes and cute little mileage tracking devices.)

Sometimes a web designer is cross trained in usability, user centered design, software testing, information architecture, internet marketing, social media marketing, graphic design, content writing, and application programming fields.  This is as rare as spotting an alien ship in the sky, but companies always look for such a person.  (Update a dozen years later…it’s called “Management has no freaking idea what the hell is going on.”)  Realistically, it takes a village to raise a website.   This is something to consider when shopping around for web site assistance.

Here are some things to keep in mind when studying your web site.  You can also ask your team to consider these points. (Update a dozen years later…still the basics but with more hurdles. Thank you Google.)

  1. What happens after your site reaches top rank?  It’s lonely up there, if nobody notices your page or understands the page description.  How effective is high rank? Do people really click on “sponsored” pages vs. natural results?
  2. Pay attention to inside “landing” pages.  Optimize them for easy indexing and point visitors to your homepage, sale products or free stuff.
  3. Be wise about what you invest.  Every cost per click must be productive. If not, a usability web site review can locate roadblocks.
  4. It’s about the user experience. Really. It’s a common habit for web site owners to create the site for themselves based on what they like and want.  When you receive a complaint, consider it a favor.  Yes, some people are mean and critical.  But, enhancements are improvements that sometimes benefit a lot of people, and you too, in the long run.
  5. Don’t settle for minimum effort.  One of your goals is to reach potential customers and readers.  Your optimized pages reach people looking for them. Your user centered pages reach people wanting to use them and will refer them to friends.
  6. Your competition does it better. Not by packing hidden keywords and buying links, but by carefully targeting keywords, providing cleverly written content and delivering user centered design.
  7. Think sustainability.  If you plan on your web site being around for a while, make this a checkpoint for every future decision related to your site. If someone has an idea that won’t impact the long-term sustainability of the site, the site may disappear out of sheer user boredom.  And search engines do notice.
  8. Understanding your visitors and customers allows for more creative keyword combinations.  Put a feedback form on your web site. Ask them how they found your web site. Ask them what keywords they used. Ask them why they came or what they wanted to find.  Ask them if they found what they were looking for and if not, provide room for comments so they can explain what happened.  This information is a gold mine for you.
  9. Never mislead your visitors. Be accurate with what you say a site or page is about. Search results relevancy establishes trust from the start.
  10. The elegance of action. The act of landing on a relevant, accurate, persuasive, interesting page leads to the fluid, unencumbered desire to know more and click deeper.  Aim for this.

Do not drop your web site over the search engine cliff without considering your website visitors needs, habits, and the reason they came to your website.  They want to do something NOW.  They want to know if you have the object of their desire (puppies, kittens, future spouse, job of a lifetime…)  Design it to be productive and user centered. This will pay off in many ways.  (Especially if you want to generate revenue.)  Remember your original requirements and goals and trace back every dollar you spend to meeting those goals.* Marketing efforts are strengthened when you make your visitors feel welcome, informed and productive once they arrive at your web site.

Note: This article was originally written in 2004 for my old Cre8pc Usability and SEO website and blog.  This version is slightly edited.

*  Most do not hire usability experts.

** This is still not done by companies, from startup to corporate and government and education sites.