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Google: Be useful to users - top 5 for 2013 and beyond.

 3:55 am on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

USEFUL [webmasterworld.com...]

It doesn't get much more brief than that. And I honestly believe @Netmeg's statement is BIG.

What do you believe are the top 5 attributes that make a site USEFUL in terms of content and UI? Let's be brief and specific.



 5:13 am on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Here's my quicklist [ which I'll amend when I see what other's pitch in with ]. It's for e-commerce and assumes relative positives to others out there in the competitive mix.

- offers deals [ better than others ]

- UI provides easy filtering, comparison and selection of choice

- mobile / all device friendly right down the funnel

- provides compelling blog content that get's a following with supporters

- landing pages highly relevant to query

Now I'm no SEO, but that's with a hack - marketing hat on, which I believe SEO's have to be these days ; much more than simply enablers for Google. But that said, I'm more than willing to be educated and to amend those choices with better inputs from other's around here.

Robert Charlton

 7:23 am on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Here's a quick list of what makes for a useful site from a more abstracted perspective, covering different types of sites. I assume that SEO, usability, and marketing are a continuum....

- a useful site offers users unique value, be it commercial, intellectual, entertainment, or utility. It is promotable because of its uniqueness.

- the site's content anticipates a wide range of needs that might be implicit in a search query. The site should serve a spectrum of likely visitors over an extended period of time.

- a successful site engages the user, and provides reasons for visitors both to stay and to return. It informs, amuses, connects, sells merchandise, offers help, saves or wastes users time. Increasingly, it may engage both on and off the core domain.

- site structure is a key element. Clear, intuitive site navigation and design lead the eye and user attention through the site... guiding visitors to areas on a page and to sections on the site. The navigation connects visitors and search engines to pages of most likely interest. The navigation should never provide too many choices, or too few.

- the site needs to be accessible on all likely static and portable devices, including search engines. It needs to recognize the limitations of search engines and display devices... and to make necessary accommodations to them.

I've tried to structure this list around the core description "useful". Whitey's initial list is an excellent beginning, and it provided inspiration for this one.


 11:59 am on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

If you have to provide the same information as many other sites, structure the info better.

Get rid of the fluff, be concise, use headings and bullets to your advantage, allow the user to easily find what they came for rather than being lost in many long paragraphs of text. Link out to relevant sites where appropriate.

You may find that users bookmark your page and use it as a starting point to find more info on the choosen subject.

I usually try to create a page to be as I would like to see the page if I would be searching for a given subject, and this approach has been working very well for me.


 2:33 pm on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

- Make it unique (in content and user experience)

- Make it EASY for me to give you my money

- Make it EASY for me to share your content with my friends, family, clients, co-workers

- Don't let the non-content (ads, nav, fluff) get in the way of the content; whenever a choice has to be made between revenue and usability, opt for usability.

- Give me a reason to come back, over and over.

If your niche or topic or product doesn't support multiple repeat visits/sales, then you are doomed to be a short term wonder (if that). If you want a more longterm business plan, then expand your niche, or get a new one.


 8:20 pm on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

-Answer the user's question/need

-Do real usability test to discover your real problems and not what you guess is wrong, every site & situation is different

-Don't make me think (never underestimate how lazy/dumb users can be)

-Revisit old pages and make sure they are still a good experience for today's internet users

-Don't blindly follow hype. Make sure you are doing what is right for your audience. For example not every site should waste bandwidth and screen space on 20 social sharing buttons. I chuckle when I see sex sites with social buttons.


 11:53 pm on Jul 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Navigation... navigation... navigation. Get the fundamentals right first.

Work out how you are going to lead the viewer through your site BEFORE you start building it. Poor navigation has killed many a good site.

You have about 15-20 seconds at most to convince the visitor to go further than the landing page. If they need to spend most of that time finding and figuring out the navigation, then you have probably already lost them.


 9:40 am on Jul 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

- Provide information on what the audience likely to convert needs. Evaluate organic traffic in your analytics package, consistently do keyword and competitor research and produce that content. Rinse and repeat.

It is not only the landing page or the on-page factors, its the on-other-page content as well that counts. I tend to think of the website architecture as a vast vocabulary that is used to describe your business or the need that your business caters for.

- Navigation that makes sense to the average consumer who is not so literate with computers, other devices or the web in general. Test your navigation structure with defined business objectives on your site and see if it works well.

- Test test test test - Sometimes you don't need to take drastic action, a small visual change or a better written copy can produce amazing results with your existing traffic.

Hate to see many client websites without clear marketing objectives.

- Find other ways to make users return to your site, apart from content - Grab their email and get in regular contact via Email Marketing. Again test test test test!

- Don't forget to test test test test! Some advanced Maths may be needed to draw conclusions from User Experience testing data.

Again as netmeg and Whitey (you're not an SEO when you don't have the knowledge) say BE USEFULL and PROVIDE SOLUTION(s) for your consumers' needs.


 3:29 pm on Jul 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

--Don't build for Google. Don't build it around phrases that make big money in Adsense. Build it around an evergreen topic that's not oversaturated that people are interested in and want to tell their friends about.

--Offer better deals if you're ecommerce, better info if you're informational, more honesty if you do opinions or reviews.

--Skip the cult of personality. Are your sites about delivering something to users, or about making you famous?

--Provide share buttons. I know this benefits you, too, but for visitors who actually LIKE to share stuff in social media, not seeing those buttons can be a turnoff. It's not like they take up that much room or slow the page loads much.

--Provide multiple ways for people to keep up with new additions to your site, even if you can't monetize them. RSS, feed emails, newsletter emails, a Facebook page/Twitter feed/whatever that features new pages as they get published.

--Make feedback easy, and solicit it. This not only helps you tailor the site to visitors, but makes them feel important to you.

And the final rule is one I have trouble with: ignore Google's rules and do what works for visitors. For example, if you believe your visitors would enjoy a guest post or a giveaway or a page with 350 links to widget resources, do it even if you're afraid Google will think it's some kind of linking scheme. From the beginning I've told myself to build on the assumption that someday Google will flat out ban all my sites - I don't believe that at all, but it's a good mindset. Ultimately building for Google just isn't sustainable.


 5:08 pm on Jul 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

Good internal search engine
If you care about traffic (specially mobile) then provide a visible and useful search tool. Many will reach your site via Search Engine results, if what they see it's not exactly what they want then they will hit BACK to try some other search, but if you provide the right navigation they will surely try YOUR internal search.

Think twice about it, some users got to your site because it has related stuff and will not instantly go back to the search engine, they will tweak or change the search but this time INSIDE your site.

Also, imagine some visitor likes something from your site, trying to share show it to a friend they will easily enter your domain name and use your search instead of browsing the site on their phone, that unless they bookmarked the right page.

Provide a contact form that's friendly and visible on mobile devices.


 6:23 pm on Jul 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

Re internal search:

My wife and I have been publishing information sites since 1996, and only a tiny fraction of our readers have ever been willing to use internal search (even when we've had a big search box at the top of every page). I think a lot of people have the idea that you use search to find a site, and once you're on the site, you use navigation links.

Ditto for social buttons. We used to have Facebook "Like" and Google+ "+1" buttons, but very few readers used them. Our readers preferred to send us (and continue to send us) "thank you" e-mails.

The moral here (IMHO) is that the techniques for being "useful to users" vary not only with the type of site (e.g., e-commerce or information), but also with the audience.


 10:39 pm on Jul 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

The moral here (IMHO) is that the techniques for being "useful to users" vary not only with the type of site (e.g., e-commerce or information), but also with the audience.

That makes sense. So another piece of advice would have to be to keep trying things until you find what works for your particular audience(s).


 5:51 am on Jul 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

I personally think one of the "brand signals" Google is looking at is the number of times someone searches for your url.

Say you sell "blue widgets" and your site is called bluewidgetdepot.pumpkin or whatever tld you want. If people aren't searching for "bluewidgetdepot" or "bluewidgetdepot.pumpkin" then Google is going to find it hard to justify ranking you for "cheap blue widgets", "blue widgets" or "best blue widgets" or whatever.

This is where social comes in to play. It gives people a sniff of you and your site before Google has even started ranking you. With a lot of social chatter going on around your site, people may actually start searching for your url/domain name. Google will then find it hard to ignore you.

As an aside I think this is part of the reason that some exact match domains are still good. Because if you get the right kind of domain you already have people searching for you. Of course this EMD has to be backed up with content, links and relevancy but I still think done right a good EMD will out perform a PMD or a new companies branded only domain.


 7:25 am on Jul 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

What do you believe are the top 5 attributes that make a site USEFUL in terms of content and UI? Let's be brief and specific.

Just 2 for me:

1. The visitor should find what (s)he want and that too as soon as visited the site.

2. The site should allow / offer to do the visitor what (s)he want to do as soon as (s)he finished 1st step.

Example of selling widget:-

1. The visitor should see the exact product and it's information.

2. The visitor should be able to buy it. Extension:- s(he) should be able to see the related product ONLY if (s)he doesn't want to buy that product. It means keep your related product list BELOW THE BUY BUTTON. Don't confuse your visitor.

Hope this is brief and specific.


 3:25 pm on Jul 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

Time for Q/A...

provides compelling blog content that get's a following with supporters
Since you stated it's for e-commerce, I don't think this is always possible. If you sell maple syrup diets it may have some merit, but if it's mouse pads or paper clips - who is interested for what?

- Maybe, one can use the e-commerce blog to post Questions and Inquiries that prior visitors may have asked. This does add useful content, but is not always "compelling", nor gets a following with supporters.


 10:45 pm on Jul 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

Since you stated it's for e-commerce, I don't think this is always possible. If you sell maple syrup diets it may have some merit, but if it's mouse pads or paper clips - who is interested for what?

I understand what you are saying.

I think the basis has to be "what is your unique value proposition?", and build off of that.

If you have a clear value proposition, then it should be easier - although not necessarily easy - to come up with an idea.

But really, that is why so many companies sponsor charities, or contests, or something else; to create something "newsworthy" about their brand or product.


 5:10 am on Jul 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

Another way to make a boring topic newsworthy is with humor. Also not always easy, but something to consider.


 10:56 pm on Jul 19, 2013 (gmt 0)

A useful site for me is:

- knows what I want

- knows how I want it

- knows when I want it

--is easy as hell to get what I want

"Useful" is not a one-size-fits-all site requirement. Which is my most web sites fail usability.


 12:52 am on Jul 20, 2013 (gmt 0)

I think the basis has to be "what is your unique value proposition?", and build off of that.

Given the restrictions on what TOS for WebmasterWorld we're unable to share much of this according to verticals, coupled with webmasters protecting their clients interests.

But if the first point of call was unique value propositions that are "sustainable" , and the second was "comparable" [ to others/benchmark ], the list might surround these things :

- UI tools e.g. calculators , comparative measures, images [ 3D ], live communication aka an endless list of "usefulness"
- At the higher end of the scale, business' that could develop and defend those tools through patented/trademarked/copyrighted UI advantages, that translate into market share/branding may have a longer shelf life.

If 5 tips against these could be added, so much more value could be brought to the equation. I wonder what folks see amongst their benchmarks that inspires them to improve. Creativity is endless. Thoughts?

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