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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

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search engine optimization

Hospitality: beyond SEO, beyond usability

For too long, webmasters have thought of search engine optimization as if it were nothing more than a form of advertising, and usability as if it were nothing more than accessibility. SEO became a set of clever techniques to get visitors to your site, and usability became a set of rules that might be reluctantly followed.

Now things are changing. The old SEO techniques aren’t working as well or as long. To get high rankings for many competitive keywords, the most important “technique” seems to be, “Have pages that people want to link to.” As far as usability, it turns out that pages that are hard for the disabled to use are probably hard for everybody else to use. Not only are they not accessible, they’re not very usable.

These problems with websites – people can’t find us, people can’t use us – can easily get masked. Most webmasters reason to themselves, “We have visitors, we must be doing something right.” But it’s difficult to know how many more visitors you would have had – how much longer they would have stayed, and how much more they would have recommended your site to others – if you had done things differently. If your site pleases you and your boss, you may hear no complaints. But your potential visitors are not you or your boss. They haven’t even visited yet. You may not know much about your potential visitors at all.

Both findability and usability have a bad name in some circles. People see web pages where the keywords limit the writers, and where usability rules limit the designers. We need to go beyond that. Content that isn’t interesting or natural, or design that isn’t attractive or even bearable – that’s not usable. That’s not optimized. Not if visitors can’t stand to use it. As Stephen P. Anderson notes, researchers have found that attractive things work better.

Instead of findability or usability, let’s try another word – hospitality. Our visitors are truly our guests. Our websites need to say, “Howdy! Glad you’re here. Can I get you anything? Are you finding everything you need?”

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Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 Search, Usability 2 Comments