Usability, Content, and Calendaring

Over the past few years, SEO has become recognized as a critical component to a marketing campaign, instead of black magic ran by hackers.  Building your website content around your keywords makes sense, and hopefully we’ve all moved beyond keyword oriented pages as we build out sites.  Your keyword and brand should form the foundation of your site’s information architecture, but usability and a steady stream of good content need to form the core of your user experience.

Bing Blog has a great write-up for site management, “Usability, Content and Calendars: 3 Areas To Understand And Focus On”, with an overview of how to integrate these components. Content is straightforward, develop real, well written content, meant for human consumption. Usability is critical and often ignored, follow web conventions, make your site easy to learn and efficient for the user to get to where they want to go. Avoiding errors also means giving users meaningful responses to invalid entries. If the user leaves satisfied, you’ve done your job. Extra bonus, search engines like Bing and Google measure bounce rates and more advanced indicators to figure out if you’re making the user satisfied. If you optimize your site for robots and not people, the engines will knock you down for not satisfying them.

Calendaring is overlooked, and I’m guilty of that. When I launched this blog, I had an entry every week, and since then have abandoned and picked it up. A standard calendar of content creation is critical to keeping your content fresh and updated.

Including in your content, you can develop blog entries, but you also need to revisit your website content. Content should be updated regularly, not allowed to go out of date, and reflecting your current business. Out of date areas can aggravated, and if you alienate a Harvard Professor, a potential lawsuit, who attacked a Chinese Food Operation over a $4 discrepancy caused by an out of date menu.

Focus on your users, make your site usable, and have a regular content update calendar. With an up to date website filled with good, usable content, the traffic will flow. Your increased conversions will also help make your online advertising more effective. An organized website strategy that is integrated across channels will lead to success in all areas. There is no black magic anymore, but a little white magic never hurts.

Planning a Twitter Post: Usability Matters in 140 Characters

So Twitter is an interesting medium, because the rules are all informal. The speed at which information flows means that active Twitter users either use Tweetdeck and monitor the conversations all day, or log in periodically and miss whatever didn’t just happen. How often you can repost the same Tweet is a fine line between spamming and letting the information vanish.

The Nielsen Norman Group describes the 5 iterations their announcement of two usability conferences went through, a very detailed process for planning an announcement.  Rather than blasting it every hour and losing followers, they are focused on a tight message that is under 130 characters for easy Retweeting and viral effectiveness.

I feel pretty hypocritical, seeing as how I’m just using Twitterfeed to feed my blog posts, but a real solution is on the to do list, and safe to say for a client I would never simply dump a headline written for the web and Usability/SEO to a twitter feed.

When doing early tests with Pack Your House, which was actually going out via SMS, we would routinely spend 3-5 iterations for each message, because you can’t send people repeated messages without upsetting them or running up their tab.

An interesting thing you’ll notice through the iterations, he dropped extraneous words, not vowels.  He communicated his information without resorting to short hand that his targets might not understand, carefully adding emphasis and scanability to his Tweet rather than confusion.

The Twitter system opens up some tremendous marketing channels for getting messages out, but usability will help determine the success or failure of this channel.

Mobile Web Like Web in 90s (Usability)

Usability is generally ignored on the web today, not because it isn’t a big deal, but because the “common” design patterns are all reasonably usable.  Users are comfortable with the interface, nobody really does remarkably stupid things.  In the late 90s and early 2000s, that wasn’t the case.

Today, the mobile web is the talk, and apparently, we have the same usability problems that we had 10 years ago…  While users have an 80% success rate attempting a task on the web on their computer, it drops to 59% on their phone.

“Observing users suffer during our  … sessions reminded us of the very first usability studies we did with traditional websites in 1994,” writes Jakob Nielson (free plug, I found this article from his website, Use It.  Indeed, the Web 2.0 “Design strategy” of two columns over 3, most common operation front and center, and large fonts show that the Web 2.0 “revolution” largely involved Flash being replaced with sensible Javascript and Designers finally listening to usability guidelines, either intentionally or accidentally.

The oddest thing about the computer/IT industry is that it doesn’t maintain institutional knowledge or learn from the past.  When basic web-forms were decried as a throwback to the 3270 Mainframe model, you would think that the old Mainframe hands would be considered experts, but in an industry where 18-25 year olds can be productive, there is no interest in expertise.  As the mobile web becomes more and more important, usability may make the difference between success and failure.  The idea that I should go to my computer to check a map seems as ludicrous as the idea that I should use the phone book!