Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the inaugural World Information Architecture Day (WIAD) in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the topic of information architecture and search engine optimization (SEO).
Normally, I teach SEO professionals about information architecture: what it is and is not, how to determine the best IA for websites, and so forth. At this event, it was the other way around. I was educating, or perhaps re-educating, information architects about SEO.
Search engine optimization has never been sprinkling magical pixie dust on a website.
Teaching SEO can be frustrating because one must deal with negative stereotypes (“snake-oil charlatans”) and erroneous, preconceived notions about SEO.
How many times are we faced with a prospect who thinks SEO is about sprinkling magic fairy dust on a website so that it ranks #1 in Google all of the time for every targeted keyword phrase?
Oh, apparently we have the magical ability to make this happen…last week.
To be perfectly honest, I often prefer to work with people who are completely ignorant about SEO so I don’t have to deal with the stereotypes, preconceived notions, and Google gullibility.
Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that the stereotypes, SEO myths, and gullibility exist. Acknowledging and challenging the negative stereotype is par for the course.
I have said it before. And I will say keep repeating until the world grasps this fundamental SEO concept: SEO is optimizing a website for people who use search engines.
Like the term “website usability,” the term “search engine optimization” is easily misunderstood. People honestly make statements such as, “I am the user,” and “Optimize for the average searcher,” and “People use my website all of the time; therefore, it is user friendly.”
Usability is about task completion and involves the following items:
Efficiency Effectiveness Learnability Memorability Error prevention User satisfaction
It is easy for people to believe that search engine optimization is optimizing a website for search engines only. Too easy, I think.
In reality, SEO has always been about searchers and search engines. Ignoring one at the expense of the other is a mistake…a big mistake.
So how do we make people aware of what the SEO process really is? I posed this question to one of my clients. Here is his 2 cents:
“Even though staff learned about SEO responsibilities that were not directly a part of their jobs, at least they have an awareness about how their contributions can positively or negatively affect SEO. That awareness is invaluable.”
I believe his comments show great insight. Don’t expect everyone to know how to do SEO after a short presentation. Don’t expect everyone to instantly become an SEO expert after a few hours in a certification course. Expertise comes from knowledge and experience.
Nevertheless, I think it is reasonable to expect a fundamental awareness of SEO, knowing that SEO involves meeting the needs of both searchers and search engines. And also knowing that SEO is not the process of sprinkling magical pixie dust on a website.
I expect that fundamental awareness from anyone working on a website: designers, developers, usability professionals, user experience designers, writers, advertisers, information architects, and so forth.
That awareness is invaluable.
SEO Knowledge & Aptitude
Here is a proverbial tough pill to swallow: not everyone has the aptitude for SEO or different aspects of SEO.
SEO professionals should understand how people search as well as why people search.
Search engine optimization has a human element as well as a technical element. Some SEO professionals are gifted technical SEOs. This is the group to turn to for assistance in managing duplicate content.
Some SEO professionals are expert copywriters. Some SEO experts are skilled at usability testing and might be the group to turn to if a site has search engine traffic and low conversions. Some SEOs are knowledgeable about how people search. And some SEOs are knowledgeable about why people search.
I wouldn’t ask an search engine optimizer who specializes in copywriting to program redirects. Nor would I expect a developer/programmer to be skilled at information architecture and usability testing.
I expect SEO professionals to have more than awareness. I expect them to have aptitude and knowledge.
If an SEO professional does not have a specific SEO skill needed for a project, I expect that person to reach out to an SEO who does…without feeling threatened. SEO should be a group effort. Everyone is on the same team.
I know. I know…easier said than done. Stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions can be difficult to debunk. So what did I share with the audience of information architects?
Part of an SEO’s job is:
Labeling website content so that it is easy to find (unique aboutness) Organizing website content so that it is easy to find Ensuring search engines have access to desired content Ensuring search engines don’t have access to undesirable content (or at least limiting access) Accommodating searchers’ navigational, informational, and transactional goals
Information architecture decisions can positively and negatively impact SEO on web search engines as well as site search engines. Information architects have a role in SEO. Have the awareness.
Even better? Have the knowledge to hire an SEO professional when one is needed. Have the knowledge and humility to recognize that you might not have the aptitude and talent for optimizing. Understand that SEO knowledge does not necessarily mean SEO aptitude. Understand your role in the optimization process. Be knowledgeable enough to recognize a “snake-oil charlatan.”
Information architecture guru Peter Morville wrote the following in the foreword of When Search Meets Web Usability:
“Shari Thurow is among the few specialists brave enough to jump the gap between search engine optimization and web usability. As a result, she has learned how and where to place stepping stones and build bridges. She can speak the language of link analysis and relevance ranking algorithms, while also understanding user psychology and information seeking behavior.”
Yep, I build bridges. But I cannot make anyone cross a bridge. Awareness is the first step. Take that first step, information architects. You won’t regret it.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.
Related Topics: Search & Usability
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