17 Jan 2014

Just Answer the Questions

Despite all the predictions over new web design layouts and methods, plus hoopla over Google’s Knowledge Graph, one glaring item is missing.

Websites are not answering our questions, when we ask them.  We come to the Web to do something that we want to do and what we most want to do is find that thing we want (and we ask for it in a variety of ways).  It can be an answer, product, or link to something that caught our interest. We want “that thing we want” to be easy to find and understand. We’re impatient in our quests and dislike the click, click, click that resembles a chase the dog routine.  If you have ever played chase with a dog, the point of the game is to never actually stop anywhere.

This is what you should be considering when planning your website.  While you may truly believe the point of owning a website is to make money, get famous,  develop your brand or simply to tell stories in your blog, you are not supposed to let your visitors know this.  They don’t care.  As far as your website visitors are concerned with, the site must give them what they came for, in a way they like, or they will happily go somewhere else.

And they do.

For example, this turns away first time visitors.  They have never been to your site and you’re already pushing them to do something they are not ready for.

Request for email

Have you ever strolled into a shop and before you take one step forward into the section you want, someone shoves a request for your personal information with a sly promotion attached to it?

In the example below, as in most websites that throw up a similar request before you can access the site, this promotion is only valid for first time visitors.  Which begs the question…if you are not a first time visitor, are you still hassled with this blocker every time you go to the site?

We Are Unique

Since search engine queries depend on how we use language, more time must be spent on understanding how we ask questions.  Google’s Knowledge Graph is expected to be able to understand whole sentences and deliver spot-on responses.  If you want your landing pages to rank high on the “perfect answer” scale, you will need to craft them to answer questions.
And, you don’t want to lose the “iffy” landings.  For example, a simple search for “cocktail dresses” takes me to name brand stores who have a category call “cocktail dresses”.  If I was built like a model, these landing pages would be great fun to explore, but alas, I’m not 23 and built like Barbie.  This means that 100% of the landing pages were abandoned by me.  Why?  Because they were undefined by me and they were not optimized to answer questions such as “Where’s stuff for curvy women over 40?”

Most women I know don’t look like the women presented in this search result.

Images of models

The Ad for Modcloth would scare me away because it promotes membership to get discounts.  As a first time visitor, most of us are not at this stage in the purchase process yet.  We want to know what you have first.

A generic two word search phrase doesn’t get anyone far these days but it does start most people on a path to somewhere.  Are your pages designed to guide your visitors to what they are really looking for? Do you help them reformulate queries by providing sub-searches using related terms or refining criteria?  To help your visitors get answers from your content, such as images, text, navigation and anchor text, your task is to know exactly how your target and non-target visitors look for information.  Not everyone calls Coke “soda”.  Some refer to it as a “soft drink” or “pop”.

The healthcare industry is huge and competitive on the Internet.  According to a 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project study, searching for health information is the third most popular online activity after email and search.  Various studies, past and ongoing, show that user experiences with finding information on healthcare sites is difficult.  Users tended to use alphabetical and anatomical classification queries.  When they don’t find the answers they are seeking, they leave the site rather than try to reformulate queries.

Successful health queries were the result of finding answers to specific questions, such as asking for a specific dosage for a 45 year old male for a particular drug.  Pages with content that ask and answer questions are more likely to be keep visitors on the site and be referred to others by email or sharing. The popularity of the page is then noticed by search engines, who are also looking for the best answers to provide their users.

User behavior remains ignored in most designs, from applications to web site pages.  What works for those testing sites absolutely doesn’t equate to universal and automatic working for everyone who will arrive to the website.  This is the most common hurdle I run into with every site I work on.  There’s this narrow focus by designers and stake holders that blinds them to what matters to the people who land on their website from every possible browser or computer device.

This is what we run into.
Duplicate calls to action
I landed on this page after following a recommendation from Facebook for free stuff targeted to my age group.  Nowhere on the landing page was there anything about age specific products.  How much money did this company spend on landing page duds like this one?

In this example, there was no search query.  But this doesn’t mean there was no question.  Landing pages are often devices used to lure people to a site, only to reach a dead-end, and after so many of these clicks-to-nowhere, new user behaviors develop.  One is lack of trust.

If you do anything positive for your website this year, plan for adding website usability audits or reviews to your budget.  You may believe your website is meeting your needs and if so, this is a serious mistake.

It may not be meeting anyone else’s.


  1. Daniel - forgetmenutz.com January 19, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    This is something to think about carefully. Visitors can be gone in an instant if they don’t get what they want.

  2. Danielle January 21, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    So many ineffective websites out there. I am instantly exiting a site when prompted to “Sign Up” when I just want that “thing”. That piece of information I’m searching for or a product I want to purchase. I don’t want to make a commitment every time I visit a website. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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