A couple of years ago I was trying to convince a friend that conversion rate is directly related to the information architecture, usability and user experience of a website. To some extent she agreed with my argument, however she insisted that search engine optimisation had nothing to do with HCI & AI. I found it very frustrating trying to explain one basic fact about search engine optimisation because she had a flawed perception of SEO. She strongly believed that search engine optimisation was purely a practice which targeted web crawlers. What she couldn’t realize was the fact that on-page search engine optimisation was basically a major aspect of an efficient information architecture.
Here is what Wikipedia says about information architecture:
Information architecture (IA) is the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems. Among these activities are library systems, Content Management Systems, web development, user interactions, database development, programming, technical writing, enterprise architecture, and critical system software design. Information architecture has somewhat different meanings in these different branches of IS or IT architecture. Most definitions have common qualities: a structural design of shared environments, methods of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, and online communities, and ways of bringing the principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
Websites that are properly search engine optimised are actually the ones that sport good information architecture as well as site architecture. Successful web design & SEO agencies understand the intersection of HCI and search engine optimisation therefore they make sure user interest and search engine interest are as aligned as possible. Furthermore, the by-product of a well structured site and good IA is good user interface.
So what is a good user interface & how do you design a good UI?
First and foremost, a good user interface is simple and minimalistic which effectively minimizes distractions & extraneous mental load by hiding complexities. This allows users to carry out tasks easily. Lets put things in context, for an e-commerce website “allowing users to carry out tasks easily” would mean that customers can Search for Product > Find Product > View Product Details > Purchase as easily as possible. If all those tasks are easily done, wouldn’t that boost your conversion rate?
I am a huge fan of the agile methodology so you won’t be wrong in assuming that I would highly recommend creating wire frames before mock-ups. Creating wireframes helps conceive the bare skeleton of a website’s user interface without investing a lot of time and effort. Furthermore, wire frames are ideal in agile development environments as they help determine the information architecture and visual design of a website through an iterative process in the initial phase.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines usability as “… the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in particular environments” (ISO DIS 9241-11). Usability is a “broad concept that refers to how easy it is for users to learn a system, how efficiently they can use it once they have learned to use it, and how pleasant it is to use” (Nielson & Mack, 1994). Nielson states that there are five attributes that contribute to usability:
1. Learn-ability. The user should be able to promptly start performing their tasks with the system.
2. Efficiency. Once the user has learned the system, a high level of productivity should be possible.
3. Memorability. The casual user should be able to return to the system after not having used it for some time, without having to relearn everything.
4. Errors. Users should not make many errors using the system, and if they do, they should be able to easily recover from them. Catastrophic errors should not occur.
5. Satisfaction. Users should like using the system and should be subjectively satisfied when using it. The system should be pleasant to use.
Not to forget that “good usability is inherent in good design because people think well designed things work better” (Boulton, 2005). Aesthetics is the major influence during the early stages of interaction. This is because people use aesthetics to judge appeal and perceived usability (Webcredible, 2009).
If you are lucky enough to design a website from scratch then get your usability experts and search engine optimisation engineers involved from the very beginning.