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Tuesday, Jul. 8, 2008 at 5:54 am

2.0 Technology, Search Engines, Conversion, and You

By Brendan Regan
July 8th, 2008

jane_and_robotI 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.

It was a great set of presentations about AJAX, JavaScript, and making sure the major search engines can easily index your websites. In other words, making all the great technology you worked so hard to build play nice with the major search engine robots.

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.

First, I was blown away and happy when the Live Search representative, in the midst of everyone talking about JavaScript and sitemap files, reminded the room that the IT changes the developers applied to increase their organic search rankings should be tested to see if they increased conversion. Score one for Microsoft!

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.

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Comments (7)

  1. 2.0 Technology, Search Engines, Conversion, and You…

    In other words, making all the great technology you worked so hard to build play nice with the major search engine robots.But it had nothing to do with FutureNow’s mission of helping businesses market better, conversion rate ……

  2. The “above the fold” theory is a battle that most developer/usability consultant and graphic design teams apparently struggle with. Recently I had this same argument, and asked where the information came from that supported the designer’s claim that there should be no vertical scrolling. Of course, no source or study was referenced. What about the argument that a visitor may have his/her font size set to Max (very large in FF) which would override the original design concept anyhow? Shouldn’t our designs allow for vertical expansion for this precise reasoning?

  3. Another good example! Maybe the reason why visitors don’t always scroll is because we don’t engage them with intuitive, quality content that leads them towards achieving their goals :)

    I feel like the 3-click rule, the no-scroll rule, and the everthing-above-the-fold rule all came from a lack of understanding about why certain designs don’t hit their KPIs.

  4. SEO can only act as the enabler for driving traffic, the crux should remain with the content of the website. One shall never over optimize the site for the sake of optimizing. If we sacrifice some good interface designs for SEO concerns, it is user experience that may suffer in the end.

  5. Interesting article. You have written a lot about SEO even after saying that you are not much familiar with it.

  6. Wow! Cool article. Really informative. PageRank udpdate is somewhat near a week. So.. I’m concentrating on last time Link Building :)

  7. The goal of 2.0 is to make everything clean and efficient. Complicated unorganized websites will soon be a thing of the past. No one wants that.

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