At somewhere around 1:30 am in the Hard Rock Hotel bar on Day Two of the PubCon Vegas conference a man approached me to express his thanks that I was there.
Earlier on Tuesday afternoon I gave a talk on website usability and persuasive design techniques. The only conferences I speak at are Internet and search engine marketing conferences because my career began in SEO in the mid-1990. I understand the work and have enough interest, an industry related forum called Cre8asiteforums and small local work projects to keep me glued to the latest tools, technology and SEO. My friends are Internet marketers.
By the year 2001 my career path veered off into user interface engineering and later, online software application QA functional and usability testing. The company I worked picked me out of a group of an all-male team of user interface engineers and mentored me in Human Factors, while encouraging me to learn everything possible on usability so I could create our in-house methodology for usability testing. They said I had the eye for user experience design. I was fortunate to be noticed for a skill I wasn’t consciously aware I had, but management saw it.
It didn’t take long for me to see the immense power of creating understandable web pages, forms and online software applications while also optimizing for search engines. In those days, Alta Vista, Hot Bot, Yahoo!, and many other search engines, plus countless directories, made optimizing a competitive venture. All the money and focus was on ranking in the top 25 results and getting a high PR score. With Alta Vista, you could change a word in a title tag or in the body text, wait a few minutes and then refresh your browser to see you web page move up or down in search results.
When Google galloped into the scene, the rules changed. Not only were natural and non-natural search engine optimization techniques growing critically in importance, Google also demanded something the other search engines were not.
Google wanted their searchers to land on the best websites for their keyword queries. The only way to accomplish that goal successfully and consistently is to design a website that works for everyone who uses it.
Typically when I deliver a talk on website usability and user experience at a search engine marketing conference I’m lucky to attract an audience of about 20 people. Of that, I watch 1/3 leave before I’m done. Those who remain are truly interested in understanding how to make websites that people love and want to use. These are the folks who finally understand what I realized a dozen years ago. Marketing a broken, ugly or poorly conceived website is a gigantic waste of money.
At this PubCon, the session attendance wasn’t full but it was still impressive. My long-time friend and client when I was a private consultant, Christine Churchill of Key Relevance, may have been the reason. Christine went first. She’s well known, a pioneer in the industry and her talk was on tools, which is a wildly popular topic for SEO’s. She praised my work and notably my ability to be fully empathic about the users’ experience. She should know. She’s seen many of my website audits.
Despite what may be my best talk to date so far, I still watched about 7 people leave during my part of the session. Whenever this happens I wonder what their expectations were. After my talk my manager was ecstatic. I did well as a presenter but I had no idea if I had helped anyone.
If website usability and persuasive design aren’t part of the overall Internet marketing strategy, the bulk of the conversions work falls on the marketer. Should they be given, or own, a website that is not properly designed and built, nothing the marketer does is going to “stick” for long.
The man at the bar expressed being grateful that an Internet marketing conference included my work. His company struggles with promoting a website that has failed to convert. They don’t know where to get help.
I love what I do. I’m an advocate for everyone who visits your website, rather than a cheerleader for stakeholders. My job is take the stakeholders vision, requirements and attachment to things nobody cares about other than them, and turn that list into a website that delivers exactly what their target users expect in an experience that leaves a positive impression so they will return again and tell their friends about your company.
The funny thing about what I do is so obvious, but it seems to be taking a very, very long time to get website owners to understand that search engines don’t have credit cards to make purchases from their websites. Google doesn’t need your fancy new tools. Yahoo! isn’t researching your next car purchase or comparing auto dealerships. Bing isn’t comparing tablets and smartphones. None of the PPC ads you create and invest in are doing your holiday shopping for you. And sadly, no search engine or directory is going to book your trip to the Bahamas for you.
Every product, service, activity, task, and item of information your website provides must be conceived of, designed and built for your specific users. Your designers need to know as much about what’s inside the minds of your visitors just as much as your Internet marketers do. It’s still accepted practice to invest in budgets into promoting the brand rather than building a website that works once your prospects arrive.
During the question and answer part of the PubCon talk a man asked how to convince his CEO to invest in website usability and persuasive design. I suggest asking them to sit down in front of a computer, assign them a task and watch what happens. Ask them where the “number one money maker” is located on the homepage. Assign them a task. Remove all the images and ask your CEO to find a product or service. Finally, ask your decision makers to conduct tasks on their mobile devices.
Once they get over the shock and realize they are spending enormous money on PPC ads that lead to landing pages with high bounce rates, or the social buzz is to avoid your site because it can’t be trusted or used with confidence, or they see the data showing all that new glorious traffic isn’t converting, the ball is in your court.
Get a website usability review or persuasive design audit. Hire the best team of experts to make recommendations, design mockups, test that forms are not defective, etc. Be sure those experts know the other parts of the entire conversions plan, from making sure the URLS are healthy, links are innocent, content is mastered, compliance guidelines and standards are met and project managers know how to fit together each piece of the site design and marketing.
Tell your favorite Internet Marketing conference organizers that you want to invest in a holistic approach to design and marketing. With any luck, I’ll see you there.