Focus on the User (Part 1)

Do you care about what people find when they search for you, and lawyers like you, online?

Is your blog or website losing traffic? Then you should care about Google’s Quality Guidelines.

Google has recently updated their Webmaster Quality Guidelines and their rich snippets guidelines.

And while they’ve added more information, tips, warnings and instructions, their core message is the same: Focus on the user.

But what does focusing on the user really mean?

Who are these users?

Before we can focus on them, we need to know who these users are. For our purposes, a user is:

A person who uses the internet.


But the people we’re really talking about here are the people we want to find and use our websites, aka, our target audience.

And in my experience, most people don’t spend enough time thinking about their target audience. Typically, when people consider their target audience, they only generally think about potential clients. And while there is no question that potential clients may make up an important segment of your target audience, there are many other people that will use your website too. And you need to focus on these users too.

Design and Content for Users

Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

Designing your site structure is basically like outlining your site. What parts of your site will be useful to your users? Make those parts and pages easily accessible. As an example, Lawyerist provides global links to each category page, the about page, the archives page and the contact page. Which makes sense. Visitors to Lawyerist are likely to want to view content by category. If they land on a Lawyerist page by clicking from somewhere else, they can quickly learn about Lawyerist.

Many lawyers that have custom websites built don’t pay enough attention to how visitors are likely to use their sites. To focus on the user ask yourself:

  • How are visitors likely to arrive to my site?
  • What types of devices are they using to access my site?
  • What are they likely to want to know when they get there?
  • How can I design my site in a way to help them find what they’re looking for?
  • Can users easily get to every page of my site from the homepage?

Obviously, there is no perfect design. Furthermore, design is a skill. Not everyone is good at it. If you’re wondering whether you should design your own website ask yourself if:

  1. You have a background in art or design.
  2. People regularly (and without prompting) compliment you on your fashion sense, decorating skills, or artistic taste.

I’d also add:

  • Do you have specific experience designing for the web?
  • Do you have a background in web user experience?

Designing for the web with a focus on users is tough. It’s not something you’re going to learn overnight. And you’d be surprised by the impact that poor design and user experience really has on the effectiveness of your website and how a person feels about using your services.

If you’re interested in learning about designing for the web, one of my favorite resources is A List Apart.

Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map has an extremely large number of links, you may want to break the site map into multiple pages.

Whether it’s XML or HTML, a site map gives users a 30,000 ft. view of how your site is organized. Even with the best navigation and site hierarchy, some users will have a difficult time finding exactly what they’re looking for on your site. This is where site maps come into play. Sitemaps also help search engines learn about pages they might not otherwise find. For reference, here’s Lawyerist’s XML sitemap.

Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.

Too many choices can paralyze your users (maybe not paralyze, but cause them to bounce). Cramming excessive numbers of links in navigation items, sidebars and footers is bad for users. While there are no hard-and-fast rules about the number of links a page should contain, Googlers have provided the general guideline of keeping it under 100 links per page.

Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.

Probably the single-most important guideline there is just to create great content. But just like web design, great content development is tough. It takes skill. It takes experience. It takes a lot of time. And like design, it’s subject to the severe cognitive bias of its creator.

Who cares what you think about what you create. What do your users think? Are you even listening? Have you even provided a means by which they can easily communicate what they think about your content?

Is what you’re doing online enhancing or harming your reputation?

It’s easy to say create great content. It’s another to actually deliver it, regularly.

As Nick Eubanks puts it:

Does your content really deserve to rank on page one for your target keywords? Is it one of the 10 best, most informative, most useful pieces of content on the internet?

Do you think that regurgitating local news stories or talking about what a great lawyer you are really is the most informative & useful stuff you can publish?

I’m also frequently asked about how to measure whether content is “good.” Here are a few tips:

  • Do people compliment you on your content?
  • Do people subscribe to receive your content via their feed readers and/or email?
  • Do people share your content with their friends on social networks?
  • Do people quote you and link to “stuff” you’ve published on their own sites?

No? Either your content just isn’t very good. Or you’re not getting it in front of the right audiences. More often it’s the former.

Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.

How are people likely to search for you? Here’s an obvious one: your name. But of course people search in amazingly diverse ways. 15% of the searches Google sees everyday they’ve never seen before.

Here’s another newsflash: not everyone searches like you do. So ask people how they search. Ask them:

  • How would they look for answers to questions that are related to your practice?
  • How do they describe what it is that you do?
  • Where they go to learn more about what you do?
  • How did they find you?

When you’re talking to prospective clients for the first time, make note of what questions they ask you. It’s likely that future prospective clients will have similar questions. Develop content that helps to answer these questions.

Consider the role that locality might play in the ways that people search for you. If you’re wondering whether there is search volume for a particular set of queries, check out Google’s Keyword Tool, Ubersuggest, don’t hit enter on Google and explore related searches:

Don’t become obsessed with these tools. Focus on the user when deciding what words to use on your pages.

And if the people who are helping you with your website design, development and SEO aren’t focusing on your users, stop working with them.

Next time, we’ll dive into specific user issues as they relate to search quality guidelines.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Gene says:

    Well put Gyi. I’d say there are hundreds of factors taken in account by Google’s algorithm to determine if your website is user friendly and content is great. You give excellent tips for the non-technical user, the very tips that result in good algorithmic scores behind the scenes.

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