by Ash White / 11.05.09
So you built a website. The design is beautiful, the content is filled in, and it has been submitted to all of the major search engines. Maybe you have even purchased a bit of ad space on Google or another PPC network. So why is no one visiting your site? Turns out that there's a lot more that goes into bringing visitors to your site (and keeping them there) than what many people initially realize.
The concept of findability, an umbrella term that encompasses the techniques and methods one can use for driving traffic to a site and making the content easy to navigate, is often overlooked in the design and development process. However it is important to remember that in addition to attracting visitors in the first place one must also give visitors a reason to stick around and eventually come back. This all directly affects a project's bottom line in that the more findable one's content is, the more like it is that conversions will be made and that the project will succeed.
Whether you are selling a product, collecting donations, or supporting a cause, fresh and relevant content is key when trying to attract new visitors. Not only will this please the search engine gods each time they reindex, but it will encourage visitors to keep coming back and to spread the word about the site.
Ideally page content should be keyword rich in order to maximize SEO. Be careful though, as most search engines will look for patterns in keyword placement in an attempt to detect keyword spamming, a black hat SEO technique that could quickly get you blacklisted.
Information Architecture and Usability
Having good content probably won't help too much if visitors are unable to find it on your site. This is where information architecture comes in. IA is the practice of organizing functionality and content into an intuitive structure that allows users to easily find desired content. This could refer to the ease of navigation of a site, the presentation of its content, and also the way that relationships between entities are represented.
If your IA is solid, most users probably won't even notice it. The goal is to create a seamless browsing experience that instills users with a sense of confidence that they are finding what they are looking for.
Measuring the usability of a site can be difficult, but there are many tools available today that can help with analyzing visitor behavior and usage patterns. Services like CrazyEgg and Google Website Optimizer allow site owners to monitor findability problems and to identify what content is the most important.
The way that graphical elements and text content are laid out and organized on a page is an important concern when designing a site and goes far beyond just having a "pretty" design. A talented graphic designer will be able to direct visitors' eyes to various elements along a strategic path in order to effectively communicate a message or a highlight a call to action.
Drawing attention to search boxes, RSS feeds, newsletter subscriptions, etc is a critical way to help users find what they are looking for and to discover new content down the road. This will help gain returning visits and will encourage visitors to spread the word.
Markup and Accessibility
It might not seem obvious, but the quality of HTML markup can be important for findability as well. Helping define the importance of the content of a page through the use of standards-compliant, semantic markup makes it much easier for search engines to accurately parse and rank content. By defining the semantic information hierarchy of a page, one can minimize search engine guess-work.
Building pages to be usable by those with disabilities is an important part of the development process on its own, but also helps with findability by easing search engine indexing. This also give you the option for strategic use of keywords in places like image alt tags, which are also crawled.