Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Ultimate Form of Usability for Your Website is Being Found

Your business website isn't usable unless it can be found.

On Monday I spent the day at a search engine optimization (SEO) / findability workshop hosted by Cendesic where the discussion of business websites and their ability to be found by clients through web searches was center stage. The ultimate form of usability in any business website, in my opinion, starts with its findability. In other words, its ability to be discovered by clients through keyword searches.

In this day and age it still happens - far too often I've seen businesses, whether big to small, take a "build it and they will come" approach to their websites. It simply doesn't work because if the search engines don't know you exist, how will you be found unless you use traditional forms of marketing to blast your URL out to the public? That form of marketing can get very expensive.

Most web searches are not very specific. In the minds of the end-user, they are usually typing in keywords that relate to a problem they are facing. They are looking for answers to solve their problem. Also, it is estimated that almost 3/4 of all big-ticket consumer purchasing decisions begin with a web search.

So, how do you make sure you appear front and center as the problem solver for your potential client's most recent dilemma and how to you make sure your information, which will help them make a purchasing decision, gets to your intended audience ahead of your competitor? The answer is SEO. Here a few tips you can do today to make a difference:

  • Content is king - even though this may be a cliche' marketing term, it is very relevant in SEO. Your content is the heart of your website and provides you the opportunity to leverage the keywords your clients are likely to use when they conduct an web search. If your content matches their idea of a solution, you've accomplished more than most business websites on the web. Make sure you write good, quality content for your website. Keep it updated and relevant.
  • Build high-quality links to other websites - this is easier said than done and requires some creative thinking. What you want to do is create a reciprocal link where you link to a site and they link back to you. You want the site you link to to have a large volume of web traffic. For instance, I was quoted in a article on blogging in the Idaho Statesman. Unfortunately, the author of the article did not link to my company's website. Had he linked to my website and I posted a small news item in my website or my blog linking back to the article on the Statesman website, I would have likely seen an increase in web traffic. It doesn't have to be just articles on newspaper websites. It can be niche web directories or websites that offer complementary products and services.
  • Make use of your META tags, especially keywords - if you are not familiar with this, META tags are code in your web pages that provide a title for your web page, a brief description and keyword phrases that describe the content of the page. "Phrases" is the operative word. When you select keyword phrases to describe your content, be a descriptive as possible and narrow it down. For example, "shoes" is not a very descriptive word, but "running shoes" or "cross country running shoes" is more descriptive. This plays into the Long Tail theory. You are likely to find most of your customers in the long tail of a search where it is narrowed down to a niche area versus a wide open area that is not so descriptive. If you just optimized your META tags and your content for the word "shoes" you'll be at the bottom of most search engine results pages, guaranteed.
  • Post to blogs and forums - in a Web 2.0 world how can you not afford to be a part of the conversations that are going on, especially in areas where your business is an expert in? Blogs and forums give you the opportunity to link back to your website, provided you do it in a respectful manner. If you simply post comments to blogs that say "visit our website" with a URL and not contribute something meaningful to the conversation, you'll end up drawing some negative attention. Keep it professional and add value to the conversations. Remember, if you link back to these blogs and forums in some way from your site you create a reciprocal link.
Remember, your company's website is not usable unless it can be found. It's the ultimate form of usability especially if your website is intended to help your end user accomplish a specific task or overcome an obstacle in their daily business processes and routines. These are just a few suggestions to get started. Unfortunately, they are not as in-depth as I would like them to be. This blog is really not the place for it. So, I encourage you to conduct some research on your own to help boost the usability of your website by making sure it can be found. SEO is the answer.

You can begin your research by visiting a recent blog post I made on SEO and user-centered design. The information in that post will be handy once you start getting visitors to your website. Some other sources include:
Good luck!

Note: in your research you'll notice that the term "search engine marketing" and "search engine optimization" are used interchangeably.

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