Ruud Questions: Kim Krause Berg

by Ruud Hein March 13th, 2009 

The only way you haven't heard of Kim yet is if you just started out.

Kim is the mama of search, the mommy of a whole generation of site builders, SEO experts and nowadays even usability folks.

With great care but ever greater determination she helps lead the forum she started: Cr8asite Forums. It's one of the oldest forums and best respected site building and optimization forums out there, one with an A-Z approach rather than focusing on one aspect. (Disclosure: I'm a moderator at Cr8asite Forums).

She's a woman with self-evident staying power and has transformed herself from a site builder to an SEO — and from SEO to respected usability expert.

I work at a company. I had a hard time getting management with the idea of SEO. Now you mention usability. I'm going to have to talk with them again, explain it all. What am I going to tell them without sounding like a dictionary or a lost hippie? Usability is… what?

You describe a situation so common as to be almost comical, if it were not so serious. Even in todays web savvy environment, the number of top brand corporations that dont have employees skilled in both search engine marketing and user experience design is inexcusable. Pushing an online application out or web site before its been properly tested can hurt a brand, which in turn affects revenue. Ive been forced to take some radical steps to get the ear of management.

One such case was when hundreds of thousands were spent on a web redesign. A company was brought in to sit down with us and discuss our requirements. I pushed for SEO and usability and yes, there were rolled eyes and a quick, get to the next topic impatience.

My position was as the User Experience/Usability Software QA Engineer, but my background in SEO was also brought into play. A half million dollars and months later, the new outsourced site was a breath away from rollout to the public. It had failed my in-house testing because it didnt pass all of our business requirements.

One requirement was to promote a new software application developed by my company that was intended to take the company into the software development industry as their debut product. I was told to shut up and be quiet, essentially, but my Director believed in me, so he called one of the company top guns into his office. We had a meeting, just me, the top gun and my Director.

I sat the top gun down and asked him to find the new software application call to action on the newly designed web sites homepage. It wasnt there. There was nothing anywhere about this highly advertised new application.

The top gun shook my hand and then fumed out of the office and demanded the company start over again. But, that was an enormously expensive lesson and had they bothered to listen to me and my co-workers far earlier in the process.well, you know how that goes.

This happens all over the world today. Theres a build it and they will find it on the search engines mentality. As if some magical fairy dust from Google will make a company rich and famous.

So to answer your question, Ruud, usability is a tiny word for a gigantic process intended on meeting the expectations of end users and company business requirements. Failure to meet the needs of either group may end in financial disaster.

In easy terms, usability supports marketing and it works the other way around too, where marketing supports user experience design.

You can lead a horse to waterdo you pull the water away? Make it accessible and desirable to drink? Put it somewhere where its easy to remember when the horse is thirsty again?

We LOVE websites that thought of our every need and desire. Well tell everyone about our experience. And you can just watch your conversions soar when everyone talks about your company.

A responsible SEO doesn't just fix a client's problems; you educate them so new content, new pages, will at the very least be search engine friendly from the start.
Is such a thing possible with usability and if so, what are some of the things we should almost automatically be doing when creating new content, new pages on our sites?

At the risk of sounding like a broken recordtheres a step in there that nearly everyone forgets or ignores or they simply arent aware is necessary, and thats Requirements Gathering.

Some SEO companies ask for a Target Market Analysis, which is wildly helpful to both SEO and Usability because it helps the company define and refine their personal mission and whom its for. From there, SEO picks what it needs to market, optimize and create content.

Usability gets down to brass tacks by sorting out the information architecture and how it must meet both user, accessibility and SEO objectives. Usability persons make a company consider their mobile market. They determine accessibility standards and legal requirements. American State and Federal sites and the UK each have specifications for accessibility.

Requirements are a guiding light during the build process.

No new page gets to live on a site unless it can prove it fulfills a business requirement.

One area of usability, persuasive design, offers a path to powerful, keyword rich content because the focus is on the value proposition. Searchers may type in Dell monitors on sale $200 and $600 and pages that offer price comparisons with persuasively written content come up in search results as landing pages on brand name web sites.

These landing pages must then DO SOMETHING extremely valuable on demand without missing a beat. Otherwise, the time and money invested in writing the content, creating the page and stressing over the keywords and anchor text are money down the drain.

Which single thing can we do that almost without fail will increase usability the most?

This suggestion I have works for all my clients and they cant believe how easy it is to fix and see immediate results:

Create confidence and trust.

From a homepage, answer the 5 Ws plus H questions " Who, Where, What, Why, When and How about your company, product or services.

Leaving any of these out creates suspicion and decreases credibility. We forget that the Internet is global and our visitors are coming from all over the planet. Time and time again I test ecommerce sites that sell products and it isnt until I reach the end of a purchase task that I learn theyre not prepared to sell or ship outside the USA. This question is vital and should be answered early on.

The two last questions of these Q&A's are always aimed at the common web surfer out there; the stay at home dad who wants to make a living, the office worker who thinks she can make an extra buck online – maybe even a living. Are these just dreams or is it something they can do? If so, what should they be doing at the end of the next work day; figure out what a business plan is and write one?

LOL! I did this myself and had no business plan. If I knew then.so yes, a plan is vital.

Places like the local Chamber of Commerce or any small business organization can help and its typically free. My approach was to shut up and listen. Then, make sure my BS Radar was on full-force because the schemes and bad information that can lead any new person down the path to destruction are lurking in every nook and cranny of the web.

Work by day and teach yourself at night. Network. Freelance small jobs or start with something small to build credibility and gain experience. Volunteer at forums.

Even those of us who have been online working since the 1990s have to start over when we launch a new site. We have our reputations that help, but we quickly learn that we have to walk uphill blinded wearing turkey feathers to get a little link love or traffic, just like every other new site has to.

As an asideas someone who has witnessed the talent pool come and go over the yearscertain people stick out right from the start. They seem to have a light on. When they write, theyre polite and never pushy or demanding. They ask questions, apply what they learn, return to make adjustments and, still out in the open, will admit mistakes or share their triumphs. They have a sense of humor. They show great passion for their niche. They never self promote. Rather, they earn trust by being part of a team or community first.

The folks from the question above have each gone ahead and setup their blogs or what not. Naturally the next day the money isn't rolling in yet. How do they go from zero to something? What is the single next action you recommend they take?

I advise them to not waste another minute freaking out. Get answers right away! A usability report or site audit is affordable and depending on whom you hire, will give you actionable suggestions immediately for a very fast turnaround in your online destiny.

Even better, hire the company that offers a combo usability/seo/ppc/sm approach. Your business plan should include usability and marketing and each of the supporting cast, such as accessibility, SEO, social media marketing, pay per click, link management and copywriting.

It takes a team today. Find someone you trust and invest in them! Some usability people are connected to top SEOs so when you outsource their help, you get more bang for your buck. And dont be afraid to ask for custom work to fit your budget.

Help is out there and so are people who want you to be a success. I hate for anyone to give up. Where are my pom poms?

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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9 Responses to “Ruud Questions: Kim Krause Berg”

  1. Carrie Hill says:

    Great Interview!

    Kim is one of my all time favorite people in the industry. She's always helpful, open and available if I have a question – delivers a TOP QUALITY product when I hire her to do a job – and goes above and beyond to educate all of us on the intricacies of Usability.

    I'm in the process of hanging out my own shingle and I just went and did the "5 W & H" test on my own site – I think I have some work to do, Kim – so thanks to both of you for the reminder.

  2. I was honored to be chosen and delighted by your questions. Thank you so much, Ruud.

  3. Good questions, good answers.

    What I liked was the pint to put the central 'non selling proposition' (NSP :) on top. As I am surfing the web from germany this is a point to format bold, red, blinking and underlined :)

    What I missed a little bit were the important related hints towards a) landing pages and b) reduce as much as you can (to avoid clutter).

  4. MiriamEllis says:

    What a fun interview. I especially loved the anecdote about the top gun and the missing CTA. That was great, Kim. Nice one, Ruud!

  5. I have also experienced this with many companies they just don't get seo. With a website the field of dreams effect doesn't work if you build it they will not come. You need to get proactive and get in the ground level to get a website that will get found and sell your product once users get there.

  6. I find it crazy how a company can spend that much money on website design but forget to think about SEO. How else are people going to get to your website?

  7. These are issues which needs to get addressed if companies want to be competitive in the online environment. Perspectives are changing, but not fast enough, which leaves a lot of space for the smaller players to cement their claim 1st!

  8. I agree @MarketingMan and @Nick :) The financial waste we hear about from banks and government bailouts is upsetting, but I see the same thing happening in marketing, web design and software development companies too. I keep reminding my clients about requirements and testing, not to slow them down or drag down a process, but to save them money!

  9. Jesse says:

    I know a guy who just built a huge social networking site for seniors, they have dumped hundreds of thousands into this site and don't want to pay anyone for SEO. This story is all too common. I own a web design agency in Denver and only recently in the past 2 years is anyone really considering SEO seriously, but not being serious about it yet. A few clients understand, but most think it's a up sell or something optional and believe traffic will end up just coming. It's a strange world out there with a lot of strange ideas. Thanks for the article your right on target.