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Q&A With Ann Smarty On Usability Planning & Website Iteration
Well-known SEO consultant and search writer Ann Smarty recently launched a new project that many white hat SEOs have welcomed with open arms: My Blog Guest. The project helps SEOs find guest-blogging opportunities, and site owners to find bloggers to write for them. I sat down (virtually) with Ann and discussed the usability planning and iteration that goes into such a project.
You’re seeking feedback from users on how well My Blog Guest is working for them. What other means can you use to get feedback? Are there analytics metrics you focus on or read in a particular way?
I haven’t used any software for usability testing so far because (1) I am unsure which one to use because I am a usability newbie and (2) the site is very new and I haven’t yet implemented all I had planned to, so there’s no much to test with the software so far.
How did you develop the design?
Let me share how the site started.
I’ve done a lot of guest posting both to promote my own business and from behalf of my clients and I saw the potential usefulness of such a project.
However I had no idea which form [to give the site.]
First, I thought it would be a marketplace (a la Text Link Ads), where a publisher can register, pick sites he would like to provide content for and “order” content spots with them.
That seemed easy to implement but when I started writing the project description for developers I came across a few essential questions and issues:
- Guest blogging is more about networking; will this “marketplace” prevent the bloggers from making contacts?
- Guest blogging is all about placing content for free, about providing quality and getting exposure and links in exchange; will the marketplace poison this nice concept and turn the place into the buy-sell thing?
So I decided not to make it as a marketplace. But what then?
A social community? I didn’t want too much clutter—a social community could degrade into too much talking and too little action.
So after a bit of thinking, I decided to make use of a good old forum platform. I made up my mind to start with only few basic features because I had no idea what the members might need, and then [to] add features moderately in the process of the site development. (For the same reason the site is not beautified at all.)
I started with:
- The forum itself
- User profiles that included some basic “Power” calculation algorithm, to help members predict how much help in promoting their content they will be able to each other
- Tags that could reflect members’ interests and/or site topics
What plans do you have to iterate?
The features suggested by the members (and already implemented) include a “quick-start guide” after signing up (to help them understand what it is all about and what they can do after signing up), and categories to better organize new sites (and help members track them more efficiently).
It is funny that when I was starting the project, I called it “The community of guest bloggers” and listed some benefits of guest blogging.
It had never occurred to me that it might be unclear to some people what the guest blogging actually is. I got plenty of messages asking me about that—people only stopped asking me that question after I added little blue link “What is it all about” to the home page.
This short example perfectly illustrates that not all people know what you seems perfectly natural and widely-known to you, and that every single little detail matters a lot.
This is why beta testing is so important and this is why I plan to do a lot of it.
Have you viewed any users trying to use the site? If not, what do you think you’ll see when you get around to it? If you have seen them, what’s on your to-do list to make the site more usable?
All I currently use is Google’s content drill down (and also goal conversion to track registration but that’s more about promotion than usability).
I did my best to create clear user paths to avoid any confusion:
- Quick start guide
- Add social media accounts
- Add your tags
- Add your sites
- Enter forums
I do hope this all worked out well.
Did any other online communities serve as inspiration for creating the site? If so, what usability / member retention lessons did you learn from them?
I tried to use create something between a forum and a marketplace (with enhanced searching and tracking options), but I guess people view it rather as a forum and use the forum feature most of all.
This drives me to another important conclusion that when you are creating something new, try adding some (or many) features that are well-known and widely-used in the given sector. People will appreciate that and will feel more at home.
Do you see any overlap between what you’re doing to SEO the site and usability?
Currently the site is not SEOed at all. I don’t rely on Google for getting the word out. I don’t thing “guest blogging” is searched much anyway. What I rely on is word-of-mouth.
But to answer your question, I don’t think this overlap should occur [because I forced it] anyway. If it does need to be forced, I would be doing a poor job [since SEO and usability mesh naturally].
Thanks Ann. Note: You can read my review and tips on using predictive heatmapping tool Feng-GUI to help identify what users are looking at and iterate the layout and graphics.
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