Is Your Snazzy New Site Cloaked in Invisibility?

Too Often, Design Ignores Search Friendliness

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson
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Imagine spending millions of dollars to come up with an amazing product, then cloaking it for invisibility. Perhaps the U.S. military can find good reason to do that, but for any company hoping to capture major market share, invisibility is tantamount to business suicide.

So why is it then that so many bleeding-edge, ultra-cool websites -- products in and of themselves -- are designed to be invisible to search engines and ultimately potential customers? Why is it that companies spend oodles of money to end up with a site that can only be found by employees, friends and family?

I'm a believer that "findability" is a usability issue. If your site can't be found by a motivated user in search of your product or service, it is a WOI (Waste of Investment), the opposite of ROI (you should know what that stands for). If a potential customer can't find it, it's useless to him or her. And if it's useless to a customer, well, you get the picture.

So why are many sites cloaked? The only reasons I can think of is a lack of knowledge about best practices for search or negligence on the part of creatives who believe designing for visibility somehow restricts doing great work. I know the latter is exactly opposite of the truth. Designing for visibility doesn't restrict creative excellence, it enhances it.

As an example, look at the recently launched snow.com, which we built for Vail Resorts. Our objective with snow.com was to take a user from that a-ha moment of "I want to go skiing!" to getting them on the slopes as quickly and smoothly as possible.

It makes use of engaging flash, video, pageless design and rich media. It presents customers with compelling, relevant content and efficient navigation. And behind it all, the site is enabled by seamless technology -- things like real-time snow reports, live cams, and planning and booking functionality. And yet from a pure creative standpoint the site is certainly no Ugly Betty (from my obviously biased perspective). Most important, the site was built for search from the ground up.

Websites should use "informed design," based on insights from linguistic profiling and search data: Designers should know exactly where target customers are, how they search, speak, think and plan. Every word, every bit of navigational nomenclature, every section of content and other areas of the site should be designed to widen the site's footprint in search and make it findable. Every detail important to the search engines should be addressed: hierarchy, naming conventions, meta data, optimized copy, alt tags, graphics vs. html, etc. These all should crafted to make the site more visible on search engines. And of course, never lose sight of that fact that it also needs to work easily for the customer.

So the next time you spend a second, or penny, designing the best website ever, make sure your masterpiece isn't the new stealth bomber -- or bomb. Instead, put your stunning creation on display for the world to find and see: design for visibility. ~ ~ ~
Stephen Thompson is exec VP-executive creative director at iCrossing.
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