Hans Sprecher

Findability: SEO, UX Cage Match

Hans Sprecher, @honzie

17.5.2011

My current company prides itself on being a one stop shop. Rather than outsourcing design, development, SEO, paid ads, and analytics to half a dozen companies, clients can come to us. This is very good, since the basis of economics is the economy of time: rather than learn to do everything, each person learns a set of skills. Then, they trade these skills and resulting products amongst one another. In anything larger than a small enclave, a way of tracking these trades is necessary. A common result is some fiscal system. Cold hard cash.

Yes, things are way more complex than that. Luckily, I'm a web developer, not an economist. So I don't lose too much sleep over my simplified version of the world.

My point is this: if you don't know how to do something, it often makes sense to outsource the task to someone who can do it quickly. If you find a group of people who do multiple things that you need, this probably represents quite a good value add.

Findability

Two of the things we do at my shop are content strategy and SEO. Content strategy ensures that each website we produce contains the correct amount of content, organized in the correct way. Content strategy also ensures that the content on our websites is the content that people actually want and need when they are browsing.

Then there is SEO. Search engine optimization is a critical step in ensuring websites show in search results. Google's unknowably complex algorithm weighs many factors when determining what sites to show in the search results. It even ranks sites according to some things it knows about the searcher, including location and past search history. There are two key ways to indicate to Google the quality of your website. (OK, there are many more than two, but I'm only talking about two here).

First is content. Google likes sites with lots of quality, relevant content.

The second is incoming links. It helps if these links are contextual links coming from quality, relevant content on other people's sites. Extra points for links coming from .edu top level domains.

Hence, the Conflict

Users prefer concise, honed content. I've often thought that most webpages should be a H1, a short paragraph, and then a brief unordered list. If you can't express yourself with those three elements, you're probably writing War and Peace. This stripped down content architecture is awesome for users. It is reminiscent of the business school tactic of creating elevator pitches. On the web, imagine your user is going to give you five seconds. What do you tell them in that time?

Of course, this simple content strategy drives SEOs nuts. They want content, preferably 250 words per page. They wish to sprinkle it with contextual links, headers with keywords, and honed alt text.

Sometimes, I imagine I am working for BMW, designing cars. On the one hand, we want them to be light, simple to use, and ridiculously fast. This is the content strategist's side. In the other factory, the team parallel to the SEO team is working hard to create a plush and luxurious interior, adding weight, but adding to the users comfort. Luckily, BMW makes both an M3 (insanely fast) and 7-series (insanely luxurious). They combine both these worlds in the M5—that's their grand compromise.

The Grand Compromise

So our websites (and cars) walk the line between two extremes: usability and searchability. On the one hand, people must find the site in the first place, which requires optimizing for machines. Equally important, once the user comes to the site, they must be able to find the data they want and convert. A conversion means different things for different sites, but it is the end goal to have each customer convert in some way shape or form.

The end result is called findability. This means that users can search for the site, enter the site, and find the information they need once they are there. It is a middle path. A zen way to code websites.

Some Tactics

Here are some ways to ensure that your site is findable:

Thoughts? Hit me up on Twitter @honzie.