I recently attended a presentation put on by the good people from a great new SEO blog called Janeandrobot.com. Their mission is great: “Design for people, be smart about robots, and you will achieve long-lasting success.”
They’re bringing a balance back to the sometimes-crazy world of SEO enthusiasts.
I’m not an SEO expert, but it’s an interest of mine. I attended with a friend who’s a talented web/software developer, so I enjoyed seeing him “nerd-out” in his element of very, very technical folks.
But it had nothing to do with FutureNow’s mission of helping businesses market better, conversion rate optimization, and Persuasion Architecture…or did it?
I walked away with a few impressions, and hopefully useful insights, about the material that we discussed. By the way, some real heavy-hitters in the SEO world were represented: we had an ex-Googler, Microsoft Live Search, SEOmoz.org, and Amazon.com represented.
Second, it was mentioned that search engine robots don’t like it when you hide your site’s category structure inside a dropdown menu. Picture the dropdowns on many of our sites that are shortcut ways to drill down into site content. They often say things like, “I want to…” and then the menus contain options like, “Get a price quote,” “Talk to a salesperson,” “Read customer stories,” etc. These dropdown options are usually (and should be) redundant ways to navigate without using the site’s top/global navigation or its left or right-hand navigation links. I started thinking about this common web design “convention” and where it came from. It came from some so-called experts and design gurus a few years ago telling us users will only click three times. You need to get them to what they want in three clicks.
Fallacy! It wasn’t ever tested to see its effect on conversion rate! Might work for some, but how many?!? I file this one with the “users won’t scroll below the fold” nonsense.
Us younger web design folks thought to ourselves, “Well, if we have to get visitors to everything they might want in three clicks, the only way to do that is to put a million links on the homepage, or to put them in dropdown menus.” So we ended up doing something that wasn’t that great for visitors, and was never tested or proven to be more persuasive to our customers.
And now, the SEO “revolution” has brought attention back to the fact that search engines rank our sites based on how good of an experience we give visitors. Search engines want to see your site’s information architecture in a readable, no-frills format. Maybe our visitors do, too!
So while I don’t always agree with the amount of frenetic attention site owners give to Search Engine Optimization efforts, it’s nice to see that the SEO game is forcing us to clean up our web pages, clean up our code, and question design decisions that are perhaps past their prime. It even appears to be causing folks to focus on making changes for the sake of conversion, not just for the sake of getting more traffic to our sites.