17 Jun 2014

Web Page Core: Prediction and Understanding Site Visitors

Selling information, ideas and products online has been an activity based on physical world tactics, and the going is still rough and sometimes inaccurate. Prediction is part of your Internet marketing strategy.

What is one of the first steps an SEO takes when working on a new Internet marketing strategy? Keyword analysis.  Why do they look for specific words to put into their PPC ads and page content? Information searcher activity.  We no longer talk to our neighbors when we want information.  We talk to our cell phones.  The words we use are weighed, measured and assigned monetary value.  The more often a word or set of words are used, the more likely this means it is a popular search query and the logic follows that everybody uses these search queries.  Marketers assign metrics to this data and stakeholders make financial decisions from these metrics.

Hand holding heartTo be loved, liked, favorited, linked and shared means to be found first.  That is the holy grail of online marketing and web site ownership.

Every SEO hired to market a web site is like a person alone on a remote island somewhere, with a stick in the sand writing “SOS” on the beach in the hopes their island will be seen and their paradise will be found.  The word “SOS” is a universal phrase for help.  It will be understood by a pilot flying over the island, but will not be seen by the ship quietly gliding past the island miles out to sea.  The island natives don’t speak or understand the human language. The SEO is going to need to understand something more about search and predicting not only what words to use, and who will see them, but how, where, why, when and in what format they are found.

This is why every SEO needs UX.

But, I am not going to discuss that here, today.

This is the second part of my series on the Web Site Core.   Did you do your homework?

Remove Your Parts

What happens if you remove the global header navigation of your website?  Go ahead and look.  What do you see?  Next, remove the logo from your header.  And remove the slider or hero image taking up the top half of the screen.

Is there enough information left on the top half of the page to describe to someone who has never been to your website before what it is about?  Not likely.  Is there information remaining that convinces them to stay?  Do you have what they need?

Let’s put the logo image back into place.  Is it a symbol or does it contain words?  If it is a symbol, can you predict how many people know the brand or understand what the symbol stands for?  Who can see it?  Do search engines see pictures?  Do blind people?  Did you make good use of the top left corner of your web page for marketing?  Does that top left corner help humans take action on your page?

Woman in poseIf you answered no to any of these questions, your web page core is out of balance.

Let’s put back the animated slider, non-animated image carousel, or hero image that is taking up most of the top half of your homepage.  Who and what can see the images?  Do search engines? Is there anything of value to search engine queries in this space?  Can a visitor with attention deficit issues focus on the content on the images?  Do blind users get any benefit?  Is there a call to action on the image? Do the images provide what all web site visitors need and want?  Is there information here that is understandable by everyone and accessible to everyone?

If you answered no to any of these questions, your web page core is out of balance.

As I wrote in part one, we can tell the difference between a person with a balanced body core and who is out of balance by various indicators, such as how they carry themselves or how healthy they are.  There is another signal for balance, and that is how well we know ourselves and how well we convey that to others.

The Web is Partly Us

When I started out in web design in 1995, web pages had gray backgrounds and people were finding each other in chat rooms, email distribution lists and forums.  Web pages were naked, the same as a newborn human baby.  We learned to make better web pages by watching how others made them.  We experimented. We played. We shared. We made mistakes.  Like babies and children growing into adults, all the play, experimentation and sharing of our toys created web sites, software, and internet marketing.  We created these things by validating what worked and what was acceptable by those who used our stuff.

We used email, chat rooms and forums as a way of talking to each other and one of the very first achievements we made was how to not only talk to each other by writing an enormous pile of words, but how to get along with each other while doing so.  This was my greatest challenge moderating email discussions in 1995 and forming an online forum in 1998. If someone did not know how to communicate with other people, that very basic limitation could be a gigantic hurdle on the Internet.  It still is, because we are not all healthy, balanced, and centered people.  We have bad days. Mad days. Sad days. Blah days. Self-centered days. Euphoric days. Drunk days. Boring days.

And yet, despite how we feel on any given day, we come to Web looking for something.

This is the part of the Internet experience that marketers don’t understand, and neither to user interface designers and content writers.  The Web is connected to us and we are not only not the same as each other, but we are never the same every day.  To help us get through the mere basics of a day can mean anything from needing a reason for getting out bed, to finding something that interests us, to being healthy.

Yes, we test.  We test colors, words, photos, clicks, and every tiny minor change on a web page and we use 5 people to test those things.  We do not, however, know anything about their day.  They could like blue call to action buttons today because they just had a great Italian dinner and glass of wine.

A website has to provide a reason for being there too. As website users, we can tell which websites have a mission because they can prove they have one.  Other web sites are put up for solely for search engine rank and are not intended for us, nor are they are good for us.  We created the same situation on the Internet as junk food.

In the wider scheme of where we are now with web design, why we use web sites and how we search for information, we do not understand why we are here on the Internet and where to go next. The underlying problem is not remembering who we are as actual thinking, feeling, and emotional people and yet search engines, software application and user interface design keeps making stuff they “think” will work because it was “proven” to work for a tiny segment of “users”.

Next Tuesday I will ask you to remove your web site navigation.  What happens to the intent of your web site now?


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