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November 6, 2008

What If SEO Was Spelled TSA?

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By Christopher Hart

As many of you know, I am the Director, Eastern Region Operations for Bruce Clay, Inc. Besides getting a super cool title, I do a lot of traveling. Those who travel frequently — or those who follow me on Twitter, @chris_hart — understand when I say that travel does not always go as planned and is not always an enjoyable process. On one of my trips, halfway between exhaustion and delirium, I thought to myself, “What if SEO was spelled TSA?”

Throughout my travels I visit many different airports, but there are a few I frequent more often than others. More than once, I’ve had the attendant checking me in ask who I am right after I’ve handed them my ID. Then they point to the sign that says it will cost me X to check a bag.

Hello? You have my information in your computer. Can’t you see that I have done this a ton of times? Why are you treating me so poorly? Does my commerce not matter to you?

Just like my poor experience at the airport check in, ask yourself if your site’s users are getting the same poor experience when they reach your Web site.

Users go to many sites during their travels on the Internet, so when you get a user that frequently comes back to your site, SHOW THEM SOME RESPECT! When allowed, track them so they can be identified, and say hello with a smile. Let them know you are glad they are back. Ask how their last visit was, what you can continue to provide them with, and what they looked for the last time they were on your site. If they’re a first time visitor, ask how you can help them and do not assume that because they got to your site they will find what they need.

Remember SEO means optimizing your online digital business initiative for your users’ experience. You want to make them happy.

When I am at the airport, what is the first thing I do? I look around to see where I need to go. Sometimes things are clearly marked or I may even remember how to get around from my last visit. But airports are always under construction, things are always moving, and there aren’t always very clear labels.

Imagine how a site’s users feel when they get to a site and what they were used to finding in one location has been moved to another. We all know you have spent hours in meetings arguing your views through countless PowerPoint slides in order to impress upon your boss the need for a well optimized site. But as your customer, I really don’t care what’s going on behind closed doors if you show me that you don’t care about the poor experience forced upon me.

Just like misdirection in the airport, ask yourself if your site’s users are having an easy or difficult time navigating your Web site.

Take the time to tell your users if information has been moved and where to find it. Use your newsletter to tell them, post messages on your site, properly redirect the old URL locations to the new, and use your analytics programs to find out where they are going so you can better help them get to the right locations.
There are countless parallels that I can continue to make between airports and SEO here:

  1. Long lines are equal to poor server performance and slow page load times.
  2. Asking the information center for help is the same as when the user goes to your search field.
  3. Getting on the plane, finding a clean seat and being met with a smile are the same as when you send a thank you e-mail and follow up with a call to your users after they have made a purchase.

SEO is not restricted to just trying to generate traffic or rankings, but involves all aspects of your online business. Traffic to a site with poor usability will result in low conversions. If users get to your site and do not find what they are looking for, then user satisfaction with your site will be low and so will your conversation rates.

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3 responses to “What If SEO Was Spelled TSA?”

  1. paisley writes:

    I totally agree. However since where i work we have SEO as a billing item, we end up doing the tweaks for visitors under “website review” or “landing page optimization” and not just for PPC.. We use the bounce rate to finely tune the website where they find what they are looking for..

    great article… thank God i do SEO and don’t work for TSA…

  2. Robert writes:

    While I agree with the concept. SEO is Search Engine Optimisation? What you are referring to is total online marketing. While very much related, and lets face it there is no point in SEO if you’re not going to market and develop a site worth finding, there is a distinction between the two.
    But yeah, no point in doing one without the other is there?

  3. Colleen writes:

    Quite an appropriate blog with World Usability Day coming up on November 13th. =)



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