Saturday 14 August 2004

and what of the consumer?

THE CRAPTASTIC ADVENTURES of SES San Jose 2004 got me thinking: What about the poor sucker consumer? Do we on the non-sales side of technology have an obligation to educate and inform?

There is no doubt that most readers here who have ever built a web site for a client have also had to put effort into educating and informing that client. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a struggle.

The problem is complex: The client may have just enough knowledge to be dangerous but inaccurate; the client may be extremely confused because there are no standards by which to measure a web design & development agency; the client may have been hooked into the crap that the slimy SEOs serve up as if it all led to instant, creamy success.

Which all begs the question: How do we simultaneously educate our consumers when we’re still in the process of educating ourselves and each other? Which begs another question: Is it our duty to educate consumers at all?

All this just provides more support for the statement I made the other day – we can’t stop asking the same questions. We also have to ask new ones, and different ones.

I honestly don’t have any clue as to the appropriate answers here, but I’m seriously concerned. How the consumer views web design directly affects our ability to do our work to its highest and best, and get paid both the respect and dollars that quality work in turn deserves.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 02:40 | Comments (7)

Comments (7)

  1. How the consumer views web design directly affects our ability to do our work to its highest and best, and get paid both the respect and dollars that quality work in turn deserves.

    This really resonates with me this week, Molly. I have a client who wanted their table-based site “freshened” a little, and wanted a new standards-based site rolled out in October or November. So I started work and got the first pages ready to go live the first week of July but then the client, whom I’d worked with for weeks talking about accessibility, cross-platform issues, etc., turned the whole thing over to a graduate student who “just wanted to make a few changes” and didn’t care about any of the rest.

    At the end of the day, I’ve done a site I don’t want to put in my portfolio, with just about every WebCliche from the 1990s but (so far) a hit counter. All of my skills and talents in design, photography, office politics and everything else came down to nothing because the site was actually designed by some kid who wanted junk and wouldn’t be persuaded.

  2. When I take my car in for repairs, and when I go to pick it up after they are finished, I don’t want to know the intricate details of what they did to fix my car, and/or make it better. However, they do give you a quick summary of things they did; “I tuned the wheels so they will drive straight and give you less steering problem.” or “The spark plugs were worn, so we put in a new high quality one that will make your driving experience smoother.” I’m not an expert with cars (as you can tell), but it’s good to know that the car was fixed and I can expect a better experience driving it.

    That’s the way it should be with web design. Give a summary of how the site will be better, don’t give the details. If the client is willing to learn more, give them more. I guess it all depends on how willing the client is to learn about the site that you designed for them.

  3. Give a summary of how the site will be better, don’t give the details.

    That would be great except that “better” is subjective. If clients think that having drop down menus are better than boring well organized information accessed by text based non-javascript navigation, then it’s doubtful that they will ever think otherwise unless they are educated… It’s also unlikely that they will ask you to explain why you aren’t giving them what they think they want if they are choosing between your design and one full of pictures of text and hit counters.

  4. “Do we on the non-sales side of technology have an obligation to educate and inform?”

    If you are selling your services then you are still on the sales side of things. Maybe not as much as an SEO, but how a site converts and how its messages spread should likely be part of the design when possible. (Of course this is just my opinion and I am perhaps the worlds worst web designer.)

    There are many many many good resources out there to answer SEO questions and many good people.

    Most people do not need to learn all the “super secrets” because there really aren’t any.

    A person who focuses exclusively on SEO often makes a website that does not render in many browsers and does not convert. As far as SEO goes, this is about all I think anybody (even SEOs) absolutely needs to know:

    SEO Tips:

    Linking: Try to get lots of links to your site with your keywords in the link text. Try to get links from many different sites.

    You want to use at least a few variations of your link text to avoid penalties because when ideas spread naturally often people link to them using various link text.

    If you can create an idea that naturally wants to spread then it is a great advantage to you.

    Page Title: Major keywords at or close to the begining of the page title. Page title is a page by page and not a site by site thing. If the site owner wants their site title in every page title it is usually best if the site title goes at the end of the page titles on the inner pages.

    Meta Keywords: Not that important. Can be used for misspellings and synonyms not located within the page copy. Yahoo! currently uses this tag to help include a site within a subset of results but this tag has no effect on relevancy.

    Meta Description: A sentence or two to a paragraph of keyword rich text. Use various versions of your keywords. Make sure it reads well to human eyes since part of the meta description tag ends up in many search result page abstracts.

    Page Content: Try to use a header and subheaders to help break up the content. In some of these headers and subheaders you want to use your keywords to help search engines determine what the page is about (I think it also helps improve scanability).

    As far as other page content do not stress keyword density too much. Write for human consumption :)

    Internal Linking: try to use keyword rich and text links when possible. If you use images for navigation you may want
    -text links at the bottom.
    -use descriptive alt text on your images (although most designers probably do that anyway).

    The bulk of effective SEO (especially for competitive words) is getting others to link to you with your keywords in the link text. As far as SEO goes, in the long run it is far better to create great ideas that naturally want to spread than it is to try to figure out the exact algorithms.

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