UX is a fancy name put onto practical things by consultants so they can charge for them. In practice there are three main points.
First, there is the matter of knowing what is common to all people. How the brain works, how the eyes scan, how people tick, what makes a screen understandable and so on. Principles of clarity apply regardless of what the domain is. Tufte’s principles for example apply here.
Second, you need to know what is special about your users. It’s not their brains or perception – that’s the same in everybody. What makes your users different are their habits and the job they are trying to do. You need to understand their purpose for using your product, how they talk about it, their points of reference and so on. Technically this is called ‘domain knowledge’. It’s most useful to think about the jobs individual users are trying to do.
Lastly you need empathy, the ability to see these points from the user’s perspective. You have to see it through their eyes in order to make the right decisions. You can use friendship as an example. You usually know what your friends like or don’t like. So try to become friends with your users. If that’s too hard, make friends with someone else in the same role.
Good SEO is about being honest and being real.
I believe this because I believe people relate to websites and brands in the same way they relate to other people. People want to feel they can trust you, they want to feel you care about them (especially if you’re asking them to give you money), and they want enjoyable measured doses of exposure to you.
These feelings and desires apply to websites as well.
SEO is not science, at least not in the way some companies sell it
Search optimisation bears much similarity to social etiquette. While you can expect a few norms, you also find many unknowns, variables and factors beyond your control. Just as how taboos today may be acceptable tomorrow, what your SEO agency implements for you could become irrelevant overnight.
Let’s look at keyword stuffing as an example. This practise became widespread in response to the search engine criteria of measuring page relevance based on how often topical words appeared.
IRL, you wouldn’t blindly trust medical advice from someone who simply says many medicine-related words and name-drops famous scientists. OK, maybe at first you’d listen, then when you find yourself sicker, you’d learn to probe, ask questions, glean context from the next maybe-doctor you meet to see if they really know their stuff and understand your situation well enough to give the right solution.
Search engines soon found their results sick with inappropriate links, thanks to completely irrelevant pages filled with desirable keywords. So they changed the algorithm that determines page ranking. “They” being the key word (lol) here – the search company, not SEO pundits, control the criteria for how pages are perceived by the engine, which is constantly reviewed and updated to reflect a smarter, more human way of making decisions.
Just like how you learn to ignore & avoid advice from quacks, search engines learn too. Keyword stuffing is now not only ineffective, it carries harsh ranking penalties for the offending site. You’ll find similar tales about other black hat and “cheap and quick” style SEO practises like cloaking, hidden text and sneaky redirects.
There is science behind good SEO, but it’s more like a philosophy
So if tailoring tricks for search algorithms is only a temporary fix, how can we achieve sustainably decent SEO rankings? This is where things get philosophical, because search engine algorithms mean to emulate how the human mind deems stuff relevant and desirable.
The world is huge. You could be a beautiful unique snowflake, or generic yet still great value. The same goes for your site, service, product or deal. We can’t control how people see us or how they feel about us, but we can control our output framing us in our best light.
This means understanding the ins and outs of who we are and what we offer, and owning how we express this to an intended audience. On the web, it looks like you talking about stuff relevant to you and your business, describing your benefits and advantages in terms your users can understand. And doing so with a tidy version of your natural way of speaking, because this is meaningful to a human audience – and who knows when search engines will learn to filter out a cheesy or sleazy sales pitch the way people already do.
But what do I know? I’m just a nobody with a blog
In my opinion, everyone has the capacity to carry out their own good SEO. The web and search are virtual layers built upon a market made of people. Humans control the demand that websites cater to, with a search engine acting as the friend who understands you and fetches things you may need.
Earlier this year, Google added celebrity profiles to search results, based on the knowledge that this is what people typically want when they enter a celebrity name as a search query. This is more than ‘data in, data out’ – the Google engine has considered the real desire for information in circumstances involving real people.
So I believe it’s useful to get well-versed in “knowing thyself” and accurately expressing thyself with respect to the people you wish to connect with. I’m not talking about putting on the hard sell, but exercising self-observation and emotional intelligence, and getting familiar with theory of mind and empathic design. Understanding how you personally respond to sites, design elements, advertising – any sort of stimuli, really – lets you empathise with the people that search algorithms continue to work for.
Of course, this may also turn out to be a temporary fix. Who knows how much longer we’ll be human with the singularity totally on its way. 😛
Tl;dr – Be yourself. Don’t cheese out just to hax a search engine cos they can change overnight.
Interesting article on “being human” as a UX designer.
I’ve encountered UX people who didn’t strike me as particularly good humans, consequently lowering my trust as a client in their ability to engineer experiences that would appeal to humans. If you’re not a nice person, can you really design what is essentially an avatar of what your audience should see as a nice person?
Orson Welles and Harlan Ellison were/are known for being huge a-holes to work with, but on the ‘customer facing’ side, they’ve produced some astounding works of art. Maybe there’s a base level of good UX that everyone is capable of – stock common sense principles you get in any textbook – and it only gets better from there depending on how well you think critically and apply those principles to the problem at hand.
Personally, I want to believe that being a decent human being translates to putting out decent work. Even if we can’t be so magnanimous and noble, maybe the effort that goes in can’t help but lend itself to empathic, thoughtful solutions. But that’s just my little dream.
Maybe you don’t need to be a cool guy to make cool stuff – but I’m sure it’s more fun to work with someone who can do both. 😉
This video is ridiculous and I don’t even like Harry Potter. But it made me laugh. YouTube’sMoodWall delivers.
You can read some sciencey thoughts about MoodWall at the Humintell blog – what stuck for me was the distinction between emotions and mood:
[Dr. Matsumoto, Humintell’s director] defines emotions as immediate, automatic, and involuntary reactions to events that are important to us. Moods, on the other hand, are states of mind that may make us more predisposed to having a certain emotional response.
For example, being in an irritable mood may make a person more predisposed to becoming angry more easily.
Thinking back to last week’s post on voice and tone, I wonder how empathic design & writing can help us understand moods better for those situations where we wish toinfluence a user’s mood and emotions. When is it productive to use happy talk, and when should you get to the point? How could a brochure site turn a skeptic into a buyer?
Many things to wonder. 🙂