What use are usability experts?

I feel a rant coming on… The other day I was preparing an email to a client about why it wasn’t a good idea to have lots of ‘click here’ links all over her site and thought to check a few of the usual places like the W3C and accessability sites to give her as references. My eye was caught by a description line in the search results which took me to a book review about usability. I won’t name the author as I’ve heard him make perfectly sensible points before but some of the stuff apparently in this book had me shaking my head in disbelief.

Now remember that I’ve been building sites since 1994 and have spent much of that time insisting to anyone who’d listen about the need for logical well structured navigation and ease of use, while as an SEO I insist on that as well as well-structured text in digestible chunks using attractive and comprehensible language. What I don’t advocate is dumbing down.

This author however clearly does, if the summaries and reviews are to be trusted. One of his suggestions was ‘halve the amount of text on the page, then halve it again’. Astonishing. Presumably he doesn’t want any search rankings – text is fundamentally what search engines index. Presumably he also doesn’t want well reasoned and informative content either.

We are informed that people don’t read web pages, but only scan them. Certainly a lot of scanning goes on, but when you find something useful then you read it. The scanning is largely part of the human search routines – we are presented with multiple possible sites when we make a search and we then visit them, scanning quickly through to see if they are relevant to what we’re looking for. But we are looking for good quality sites that have useful information, not for dumbed down summaries with no real value.

Another headline of the book was ‘don’t make me think’, along with the suggestion that it doesn’t matter how many clicks you have to make as long as it’s a mindless choice. What an appalling indictment of the assumed intelligence of users and a dreadful waste of the largest collection of information the world has ever seen! It seems to me as if a lot of this is driven by a view of the internet as just a massive selling machine with SEO seen as just a way to cheat your way to easy money. Given the true value of international communication and the hopes that were invested in the net in the early days, I fervently oppose such a view. Make your sites as good as they can be with your SEO’s help and you’ll have lasting value that will deserve to rank well.

While I’m on a roll, does anyone take Jacob Nielsen seriously? At the start he made some useful observations but now most of what he says seems more designed to maintain his guru status, and his examples have always been awful. He keeps telling us to keep it simple – good within reason – but then says do it like Amazon!! Only one of the most hopelessly cluttered sites around. It sells a lot of books because it sells them cheap – not because of the design.

Which brings us back to navigation – make it logical, not mindless. And never mind the usability gurus.


What use are usability experts? — 1 Comment

  1. Hey bill, hows things.
    Just thought I would jump in on your rant of the day

    Text is important but most text is rubbish. The comment about reducing text probably didnt apply to the NLP framed, dramatic invective you use and is directed at morons who use slogans; “all your *** needs”) I still dont know what my gardening needs, internet marketing needs or anything else are), company focussed information (I dont care if you are the greatest thing since sliced bread – I want to know what you can do for me and at what price or I want to find information quickly).

    Also very often these usability idiots say a lot of naff stuff that can kill your website. If you want a good one I had a client who put ids on every link of every page:
    External links go to the domain
    Four forms of internal navigation pointing to query strung versions of the domain
    External links having query strings attached to them

    All in all the great ship SS duplicate content set sail on that day all because the usability company wanted to track how people were using the website. Apparently this is standard practice!!!! I don’t care how much the usability company learned their positions plumetted and the client is losing about £200K per month

    Yep usability experts can make your site completely dead from an SEO perspective. Usability is simple experience in use in a website:
    Make your links intuitive so users can navigate the website easily
    Have headings that look like headings
    Have body copy that relates to the title and header tags
    Use design to seperate the page into seperate components
    Keep images to do the job of images and not of text and make the path from arrival to purchase easy.

    Hmm sounds a bit like SEO!!!