Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Lonely Road

I've been developing "creative" work with digital software and programs since the late 1990s. I started with a Macintosh G3, a copy of PageMaker (remember those days!), a sheaf of drawing paper, and a digital scanner, creating signs, programs, and guides for community events, typically working for little or no money. After finishing design school in 2004, I successfully sought and worked at companies that needed my writing talents, my eye for design – or both.

In the fall of 2011, I parted ways with the agency I was currently working for, when I discovered it and I were both in a transition, and the transition was moving us down different roads. While I am quite skilled at writing about very dense or complex scientific and technical concepts, and I LOVE doing it, too (STEM classes were always my favorites, while I liked liberal arts courses, including philosophy, sociology, and history, least of all) I am not a software developer. And sadly for me, the agency I was working at – where I celebrated the end of my 20s with my new creative team and the most delicious almond cake in the world, mentored and managed some amazingly talented designers and copywriters and marketing specialists, and hired one supremely versatile, intelligent, and "on it" woman who is now kicking @$$ and taking names at the most competitive UX Master's program in the country – was moving away from creative work and into software, app, and SaaS design.

I seriously regretted not majoring in computer science at that time, and even solicited the help of my best front-end developer to help me catch up. Unfortunately, all the books and classes in the world failed to turn my skill level into his quickly enough to perform a job search where I'd be taken seriously, so when a different boutique digital agency in Pittsburgh headhunted me and invited me in for three rounds of interviews, followed by an offer for the highest salary I'd ever earned, plus a month of PTO and a 100% company paid benefits plan, I knew I'd be a fool to pass up that chance. I accepted their offer, gave my notice to my boss (with quite a bit of sadness), and started my new job, working as a creative director at a company two blocks from my house, in October 2011.

This company had two branches at the time. There was the city branch, which handled all of the design and web dev work. And, there was the suburban Pennsylvania branch, which handled sales, marketing, and financial stuff. I was to be working primarily under the principal at the city branch, but was deeply involved with activities at the suburban Pa. branch. My team consisted mostly of women – motivated, creative, intelligent, young 20-something women – and they liked to reward themselves with relaxing happy hours at the mouth-watering local restaurants after working hard. I would be managing them, AND designing, and writing, and developing website/marketing/creative direction and strategy, while growing the business and the team. The future looked rosy, and exciting as all get-out.

And then, as I headed into the second month at this new job, my boss called me into our weekly one-on-one, told me he didn't need to look at any of my employee status notes or plans for the upcoming month, because the company and I were parting ways. At that time, I didn't know they were going to replace me with an intern, nor did I know I'd handle the news by lying on the couch all weekend, and then, swiftly launching my back-up plan: to move halfway across the country to one of the largest cities in the world. Instead, I launched into auto-pilot mode, calmly accepting the news, giving the standard, "It was a pleasure to work with you, and I will certainly take this weekend to review the severance pay contract" speech. And calling my husband to coordinate him picking me up and helping me get home. And finally, cleaning out my office with meticulous precision, right down to wrapping up my speakers as if I were shipping them back to Best Buy in their original packaging.

I spent the first half of 2012 building up my small business again. Highlights included getting back into newspaper reporting, understanding how to design responsive sites, mentoring new grads, and experimenting with font faces and color schemes I'd never tried before. As I did that, I interviewed at a couple different agencies in Pittsburgh and reached out to all the rest. I also applied for positions within internal marketing departments and worked with at least 3 or 4 headhunters. No one was hiring.

Well, that's not exactly true. No one was hiring for MY specialties. So I changed strategies – I had to. I knocked off the search right before Memorial Day weekend to get married and entertain our best man from out of town. And I brainstormed, and sent out feelers to New York. Finally, in the summer, when I received word that there would be work for me in NYC, I launched into a frenzy of packing, scrubbing, organizing, and coordinating, as I prepared to leave Pittsburgh behind. It was bittersweet. I had fallen in love at our house, gotten engaged in our house, gotten married two blocks from our house, and enjoyed that first sweet, carefree month of newlywed bliss at our house. I had built my career into something great in that house, too, and starting in the fall of 2012, I would never see it again.

My first year in NYC has been hard. Really hard. I went from a city of 300,000 to a city of 8.3+ million. From an apartment of over 2,000 square foot to a space less than half that size. From a quiet, tree-lined street filled with late-19th-century Victorian houses and bonafide front yards to a new-construction 4th-floor walkup on the border of Brooklyn and Queens crammed with 11 other families and married couples. From a city where I knew nearly everyone to a sprawling metropolis where I knew barely a soul. And, from a job market I didn't quite mesh with, but which offered quirks and eccentricities I knew intimately to a job market that befuddled me like a never-ending maze.

I could be happy working at any number of jobs, truly. I could be happy at a youthful start-up or a laid-back but efficient large business. I could be happy writing technical copy or designing and managing a series of enterprise websites. I am proud of my large client roster, my huge number of technical and creative skills, and the work I've done in NYC so far. But I can't help feeling that I walk a lonely road.

Today, I share a city with determined Ivy League grads from the class of 2012 and 2013 who have completed nine internships apiece and have always known that they want to work as social media managers. I live alongside web designers with technical school degrees who love coding in Rails – and nothing but that. I network with managers who feel their plates are full with budgeting, proposal, and personnel challenges to solve. And then, there's me. I love doing so many different things that I feel as if I'm floating around without an anchor.

And sometimes, I wonder if NYC hiring managers think that too. If, like my grandmother, they want to tell me, "Pick one thing. Any thing. And do just that thing." Grandma was a Great Depression survivor who taught me how to stretch a dollar when grocery shopping, and Grandma was right. I'd like to focus on web/UI and specialize from there. Cool!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hire or Get Hired, Successfully

In my last entry, I discussed how the hiring system overwhelmingly preferred today is broken, and (ideally) gave you hope that you can design a better system. If you're reading this, you decided that you have 8 to 10 hours to spare this week, and can commit to implementing a hiring strategy that targets your specific needs, in this specific field, in your specific company or discipline. Read on – I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy this is.

Option 1: Source Candidates/Positions Yourself

For companies: This method is the easiest in some senses, especially because it is cheap – often, free. You need a computer, an internet connection, a telephone, and a Rolodex of business contacts, on or offline, and ideally both. If you own a company or manage a department at one, it would be very shocking if you lacked any of these items.

So what you do is: Define the role. List the non-negotiable skills and traits of the hire, and differentiate them from the "nice to haves." Do you really need someone with 20 years' experience developing in .NET for SharePoint 2010, or someone with 12 years' experience designing for Facebook? No you do not, because 20 and 12 years ago, those items didn't exist. Write a brief description of the role somewhere handy.

Then, go to your Rolodex. If it's offline, you will have people in your network who are either perfect for this position or know someone who is. Call them. Ask for referrals. Call the referrals. Repeat the process until you have a quality "short list" of 4-6 candidates. If your Rolodex is online, such as a LinkedIn profile, this is even easier. Message contacts who suit your opening or who may be able to help. Ask to be introduced to their connections. Rinse, repeat.

When your short list of candidates consists exclusively of people who you feel excited to meet, people you can envision as high performers and engaged teammates at your company, you're ready to begin interviewing. I hired one of the best people I've ever worked with using LinkedIn in 2009-2010, and more recently, this year. I can't endorse this system enough if you have the time to put into it.

If you're a job-seeker: Your Rolodex, paper AND virtual, is your best friend. Use your contacts to get connected to companies you want to work for. It doesn't matter if they have openings. If you're mid-level or higher, you're better off when they don't, since you can beat the competition to the hiring finish line by getting in the door before the job is even posted.

Now, research those companies inside and out. You'll probably need more than 8-10 hours to execute this task set, but that's okay. You can spend a solid week, or stretches of time over a month, gathering intelligence on your target companies. You will not be shotgunning your resume to every opening on the planet. No, you'll be targeting an elite group of companies you wish to work for, and then, you'll be writing marketing or prospecting letters to them. In those letters, you will design your own job. This Daily Kos article tells you how.

Not everyone will reply to you, of course. Which is why you might want to identify 8-10 companies you want to prospect. For tips on how to approach contacts and make connections, read everything you can get your hands on by Nick Corcodilios. And please, subscribe to his newsletter. It will change your life. (I am not affiliated with Nick in any way. I simply think he is brilliant.)

Option 2: Use Outside Help

For companies: You still want to tap into your Rolodex, but this time, you're not looking for candidates. You're looking for recruiters and setting yourself up to get noticed by headhunters. Call your contacts. Ask for referrals to recruiters (for entry to senior line positions, middle management) and ask them if they've worked with any especially amazing headhunters (mid-level to executive level talent). Rinse, repeat...yadda yadda yadda. Once you've gotten a solid list of contacts, start calling them.

Each recruiting agency or headhunting firm has a slightly different process for handling talent requests. I cannot list them all here, but I can say with confidence that many cities have a pool of absolutely outstanding headhunters and external recruiters. If you are looking for referrals in the Greater NYC or Pittsburgh area, contact me, and I will help you. (And of course, you're going to want to bone up on your Ask the Headhunter knowledge regardless.)

If you're a job-seeker: It's pretty easy to research and apply to talent agencies and recruiters online. Some companies require you to create an online profile, while others want you to call. Follow the instructions they provide, and use your best judgment.

But first, VET those recruiters. How do you vet them? The same way an employer would: you use your network. If you can tap into that network and get a referral to a recruiter, you are much more likely to be granted an interview, so make sure to attend Meet-Ups and networking events in NYC (or wherever you live) so you can make those kinds of contacts.

By the way, you can't ask to be headhunted. The headhunter doesn't work for you – s/he works for the company doing the hiring, so s/he will seek you out if you fit what the hiring manager's looking for. You CAN, however, increase the likelihood of being headhunted for positions in your field by maintaining an active online presence, and contributing regular, intelligent thought leadership to your profession.

That's all for now, folks.

Postscript: Why I Want Everyone to Succeed

If you're wondering why a designer/writer/punk rock nut cares so much about hiring, I'm happy to tell you:

1. We're all job-seekers sometimes.
2. I've hired at four different companies and am absolutely fascinated by the hiring industry and the processes of those working within it.
3. Because I specialize in creating great user experiences, I'm constantly brainstorming and researching ways to make the hiring process better for candidates, companies, recruiters, AND headhunters.
4. I want to make life easier for the overworked HR staffer who is probably writing a job requisition for a purple squirrel who codes in Rails, has portfolio filled with retouching jobs for Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford photo-shoots dating back 25 years, and speaks both Mandarin and German.

In sum: No one should have to do a job that is both never-ending and impossible, and the hunt for the purple squirrel – or, for candidates, the confusion involved in presenting as one – is both of those things.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hiring in this Upside-Down Market

How DO you hire – or find work – in an economy like today's, when all of the hiring trend talking heads (newspapers, marketing blogs, consultants on repeatedly claim two diametrically opposed truisms:

• There are tons of positions and few people available to fill them. (OR, "Sizzling job market ahead!")

• The unemployment rate stands at 9% (or 15%, or 26.2%) because no candidates are qualified enough to be hired for the few jobs available today? (OR, "Woah, tough market nowadays!")

The Hiring System: Slightly Scuffed, or DOA?

In my previous entry, I touched on some activities that probably don't work. They include outsourcing all hiring to your company's HR department (individuals who've specialized in payroll and benefits administration generally make terrible headhunters) and plastering the internet with job ads calling for 28 discrete skills that have nothing in common, and even less to do with the role that needs to be filled.

Most job ads wind up blasted far and wide. They are re-posted on Indeed, Monster, CraigsList, and at least two dozen career sites you and I haven't even heard of yet, or they are chopped up and regurgitated on websites special to the specific discipline or industry. In a city the size of New York, the number of applicants for just one position posted on one site can skyrocket into the thousands, on the first day the ad goes up, no less. You don't even want to SEE how many candidates apply when that ad's been up for a week, because if you're job-hunting right now, you'll discover just how low your odds of getting your resume in front of a human being really are. This sounds like a waste of time for everyone involved, doesn't it? 

Yes, You're Probably Wasting Your Time

Absolutely. Applying online is a waste of time for every job seeker, even those who write personalized cover letters and convey enormous levels of enthusiasm for the company. Worse, online applications prove time and again that they're an even bigger waste of time and resources for the poor souls in company HR departments. These overworked folks, tasked with payroll, and benefits administration, and company policy oversight, and more, are frequently forced to feed candidates through a wretched applicant tracking system (ATS) – examples include Taleo and Brass Ring – which inevitably winds up filtering out the people the hiring manager wants to talk to, while ensuring that the finest keyword-stuffers of Kings and Queens County wind up standing on line to be interviewed. As the economy was recovering (but nowhere near "great"), I did some consulting for a company who was trying to squeeze more effective recruiting out of a tough-to-use ATS. Even the people who work there were mystified as to how it actually facilitated hiring.

(Incidentally, the majority of applicant tracking systems are basically a UX's wet dream – and worst nightmare. To develop or improve one is to engage in an up-close study of information and interaction design DONT'S from top to bottom. The UX who cracks that system and improves it by even 50% should win a Nobel Peace Prize, period.)

Now that we know what doesn't work, how do we figure out what does? And how do we make sense of the hiring process in the context of the preferred but highly fragmented system engulfing so many organizations today? Surprisingly, navigating the hiring process smoothly depends less on the size of your company and more on your individual needs. Same deal when the script is flipped: how you might get a job as a candidate depends less on your field or skills and more on how effectively you're marketing yourself.

Put Your Strategy to Work for You

So how do you hire for a job – or get one – when the system is "broken" as Ask the Headhunter principal Nick Corcodilios puts it? The answer is deceptively simple. You need a strategy. And more importantly, you need at least one solid working day, or an equivalent number of hours handy to set your strategy up in a way that works. If, as a hiring manager, you can devote 8 to 10 hours of time toward developing and executing your strategy, you'll probably wind up inviting some of the best candidates you've ever met to interview with you. And if you're a job seeker, you may just find yourself discussing the job of your dreams with a hiring manager who's sold on you before you even conclude the interview.

...More to come in my next entry.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Specialize. But Be a Generalist?

Ask any two people working in media, advertising, or web services whether a generalist employee or a specialist is more valuable, and you're bound to get different answers, with competing and contradictory reasoning. Generalists are better because they have 360-degree views of the business, can work in more areas, and can save the company money. Specialists are better because they do one thing extremely well and understand every aspect of it. It depends on the job – some need a generalist, others need a specialist.

Content generation, more than any other discipline, has become a lightening rod for the generalist vs. specialist debate. Some companies want new hires who specialize in enterprise migrations for Sharepoint 2010 – and will only consider candidates with that background. Other companies post ads with "everything and the kitchen sink" requirements – the preferred hire is a graphic designer, a front-end developer, a copywriter, a social media guru, and it helps if s/he has an MBA or a master's of user experience design. In the spring, the New York Times reported on a widespread hiring phenomenon – employers who use "everything and the kitchen sink" job ads to chase the elusive "purple squirrel" candidate, and often, wind up not hiring anyone at all.

Having worked in-house in marketing departments, client-side at agencies, and as the "one-stop marketing shop" for dozens of freelance clients, I can say with confidence that The Grey Lady is correct when it comes to current hiring trends. Moreover, the article hints at a sobering reality for many businesses – their leadership has no idea what direction they want to go in, what path they need to take to stay competitive and relevant. It is better to make no changes at all, the leadership figures, than make a move and risk making a mistake.  Job descriptions are often shunted to company HR departments, when they should be written by department managers and others in charge of hiring, muddying the already vague or non-existent strategy for so-called "hiring" companies, one job description at a time.

Do these companies truly not know what types of employees they seek? Do they assume that casting an extremely wide or painstakingly specific net will eliminate most of the work of hiring? Do they care that they are wasting candidates' time – and the very limited patience for BS (rightfully so) that most recruiters, placement agency heads, and headhunters possess when dealing with indecisive "client" companies? Calls for both the narrow-focused specialist and the "jack of all trades, master of the sum" result in the same end, since the number of candidates who have 10 years' experience developing editorial calendars for Facebook and Twitter is close to the number who are expert writers/content strategists/web devs/art directors/social media "gurus" – zero, or close to it. And it's not only content creation positions that fall victim to this madness. I see software companies engaged in this frantic dance all the time, like the ones whose HR departments claim to want graphic designers/LAMP stack programmers/social app development "gurus" AND the ones seeking candidates with 10 years' experience developing for Sharepoint 2010. (Think about that for a minute...)

Perhaps, in the end, the senseless "I know 'good' when I see it, but until then, I'll do nothing" method of hiring obscures a much more straightforward, if damaging economic trend, highlighted in this content marketing article by Jay Baer. Perhaps the American worker, whose productivity has reached an all-time high just as his wages have reached an all-time low, has come full circle, working yet again in an era where expectations are impossible, work hours are all-encompassing, and pay is not enough to live on – only this time, he is expected to work the jobs of 4-5 people, and smile while doing so.

There is no need to hire a content specialist, says Baer, because it is no longer a career – it is a skill, and everyone can do it. The IT guy, the designer, and the secretary, assuming the organization has one, since administrative work is not a career, notes Baer, it is a skill. (A quick review of jobs the NYC headhunters I'm working with are filling, and a quick review of jobs available on NYC external recruiter websites shows otherwise, but they are generally much too busy to offer rebuttals to the HR talking heads and hiring trend prognosticators.)

What happens in the future, when every worker must do everything, or when every worker is doing 10 peoples' jobs? Does the economy grind to a halt? I am no economist, but all signs – from the actual unemployment rate of 25% to the staggering number of people receiving government benefits because they are not hirable or healthy enough to work by 2013 standards – already point to "yes." Where do you turn when you find yourself in this situation – or merely think you're in it? I may have some ideas in my next entry.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Like A Mother F*cker: Johnny Thunders, On His Birthday, in NYC

Loves Leopard, Solos

...A perfect description of Johnny Thunders' guitar sound. Or songwriting talent. Or unique voice. Born in a Queens suburb and christened John Anthony Genzale, he introduced Bowery punk to the world in the early 70s by playing fast n' furious guitar licks in the New York Dolls. He went his own way in The Heartbreakers (and yes, HIS band was first; Tom Petty's came a few years later), bringing the Dolls' Jerry Nolan and expert axe-man Walter Lure with him. He wound his way over massive hills and plunging valleys in the 80s as he tried to shed some personal demons. He died of end-stage lymphocytic leukemia – or was murdered, depending on how you interpret the evidence – at St. Peter's Guest House, in that great "city of the dead," New Orleans, in April 1991. His guitar sound became a "punk 101 how-to guide" for up-and-coming axemen everywhere – Mike Ness of Social Distortion is an obvious heir, but so are The Backyard Babies of Sweden.

New York Doll
Besides a monster sonic legacy, Johnny left behind one stepson, two troubled bio-sons, a beautiful daughter from his second marriage, a devoted sister, and dozens, nay, hundreds of friends who gathered last night at the Bowery Electric to remember him. Among the friends my husband and I shot the breeze with last night were Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls and Walter "Waldo" Lure, dutiful co-frontman of The Heartbreakers. I was exhausted from a rough week. My husband held court, swapping stories with the elder statesmen of punk about their teenaged bad behavior. We got the lurid details of the ceremonial ass-kicking of Cleveland's own Cheetah Chrome. And then we went in to watch the Thunders birthday show, at which point his grandson was introduced. The little guy was probably no older than 10, maybe 11, and when I saw him, my throat ached because he looked exactly like the grandpa he never met. We left exhausted and happy and sad, with snarling guitar solos ringing in our ears, and caught the next train to the boros for Ramen and reflection.

And now, I am listening to the original – NOT remastered, thank you – cassette version of L.A.M.F. ("Like a Mother F*cker," later, "Down to Kill, Like a Mother F*cker"). If you only get one Thunders record – and from my POV, that is a mistake, as you should attempt to own as many examples of Johnny's work as possible – get that one.

I could write forever about my favorite punk guitarist of all time, but instead, I will leave you with links and a couple quick tidbits about this legend gone too soon.

Key Listening: L.A.M.F, Track Records, 1977. (Please try to get the original cassette recording. The vinyl from '77 sounds like crap and actually led to The Heartbreakers unraveling. The remastered 1994 version is quite passable if you like a slicker sound.)

Best Tracks: "Born to Lose," "It's Not Enough," "Chinese Rocks," "Pirate Love," and "One-Track Mind." (Please also check out the original "One-Track Mind" single [Right] and the "Chinese Rocks" video [Below].)

"Hey, is Dee Dee ho...Oh, hi sis!"

Watch this Axeman: Johnny played a cameo role in What About Me? a 1993 indie film created by Rachel Amodeo, who also stars as the title character, Lisa. Mr. Thunders, who died before the film was released, plays Lisa's concerned older brother, giving you a glimpse of his tender, sweet personality off stage. (Loved ones say that he was "Johnny Thunders" with "problems a-plenty" on-stage because fans expected it, but at home, the mask came off and he was a shy, loving dude.) Despite being in the end stages of leukemia, he's still looking and sounding swank. Johnny also composed the soundtrack, which fits the film like a glove. If you never saw NYC before 9/11, this film also preserves the pre-gentrification L.E.S. in amber. Other cast members include:

  •  Richard Hell (who still putters around town today, and is responsible for me meeting my husband...more on that some other time, but thanks, Mr. Meyers!!)
  • Jerry Nolan (who, like JT and Arthur "Killer" Kane, was another Doll gone too soon), and 
  • Rockets Redglare (notorious L.E.S. drug dealer and two-bit actor rumored to have murdered Nancy Spungen). 

It's fun for the whole family, if your family is like mine! 

Must-Have Solo Recording: "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory", from Johnny's first solo record. So Alone, Warner Bros., 1978.

Born Too Loose: Want more Thunders? Watch this gripping and spooky bio-documentary, Born to Lose: The Last Rock and Roll Movie by Lech Kowalski. And, see if you can get your hands on a copy of "In Cold Blood" by Johnny's/The Dolls' official biographer, Nina Antonia. (You'll find a taste of what the book might contain in this 2011 Classic Rock Magazine retrospective and this 1984 Melody Maker Q-and-A-format interview with the man himself.)

Happy Birthday, Johnny. Hope your party's great up there, wherever you are. We miss you.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Blue Light Is Bad For You: Lifestyle Design

In just 5 or 6 brief years, we transformed from a nation where some people have internet access some of the time to a nation where almost everyone has the internet in his or her back pocket. Most of us are quick to recount the upsides of this: the greater efficiency of scheduling and completing tasks, the convenience of answering emails on the fly, the comfort of never getting lost so long as one has a 4G network and link to Google Maps at the ready.

Seldom do we discuss the detriments of ubiquitous internet access via miniature devices – and even less frequently do we examine the adverse health affects of these devices.

Over the past 20 years, several landmark studies reinforced the role of melatonin (a hormone released by the pineal gland) in regulating human sleep-wake cycles while proving beyond any doubt that blue light – the type of artificial light emitted by laptops, Kindles, Androids, and iPhones, among others – is a leading cause of sleep-wake-cycle dysfunction in modern society.

Simply put, reading your Kindle, your email, or the online version of the Atlantic Monthly right before bed potentially delays your sleep for hours by suppressing the body's natural production of melatonin. A 2011 New York Times article summarizes findings from one study, concluding that the use of blue light-emitting devices right before bed potentially leads to disturbed sleep onset and insomnia.

So, what is a hard-working, plugged-in 24/7 person to do? The obvious answer – limit blue light before bed – isn't always possible when deadlines or global task coordination looms. Why don't we turn to technology then to solve an issue created by it? Just the other day, I found a program called F.lux. It downloads and installs in seconds, and you can tailor both the type of light your computer emits and at which time the light is emitted to your location and personal needs. Give it a try, and see if you rest easier over the coming weeks.

Get F.lux computer lighting program for OsX, Windows, Linux, and iOS.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

User Experience and Search

As we dive deeper into the second decade of the 21st century, it's hard not to gasp in awe at the sheer speed of technological development. Like its flashier high-tech cousins — mobile, artificial intelligence, and robotics — search, too, has evolved rapidly over the past decade, but fewer people are talking about it. At marketing firms and ad agencies across the country, last decade's search engine optimization methodologies prevail — while untapped marketing opportunities in the form of user-focused web strategies still await them. Companies can no longer be assured number-one Google rankings with common SEO tricks alone, like placing plenty of key words in site meta-data and body copy, or conducting link-building and Web advertising campaigns. Today, as the semantic Web is close to becoming reality, Google and other search engines take more than just keywords and links into account.
Search algorithms continue to evolve, and these days, the search engines rank sites on the quality of content they provide, as well as their usefulness to humans. A good site user experience is an excellent facilitator of Web site quality and usefulness. Sites that are easy and pleasurable to use get visited more frequently, get shared more often through organic and social means — and because they're coded in a streamlined and elegant fashion, they're more likely to rank at the top of Google search results, which means you diversify your marketing efforts and spend less overall on implementing and maintaining expensive campaigns.
The user experience shouldn't be the entire focus of a search marketing strategy — or any marketing strategy at all. Even the most elegant, streamlined designs will not generate traffic and income for your business if they aren't accompanied by targeted content and a sound marketing strategy. But user experience matters, too — because without it, increases in Web site traffic are meaningless. You won't increase your leads, your customer base, or your profits if people can't find or don't understand what you're selling.

What is User Experience — and Why Does it Matter?

When we talk about user experience, we're really discussing several overlapping disciplines that come together to create great Web site designs — and facilitate great search engine marketing campaigns. The following aspects of the Web site design process involve the user experience, and ultimately affect how powerful and successful a search marketing campaign can be:
  • Information architecture: A site's legibility, for both human users and search engines, starts and ends with information architecture. This sub-set of user experience design describes the systems and strategies encompassing the organization of information on a Web site. It provides the foundation for content strategies, site maps, social media programs, and other tools in the search engine optimization arsenal.
  • Interface design: How a Web site design is executed certainly affects search marketing. For example, opting to design a site entirely in Flash, with no text anywhere to be found, negatively impacts even the most earnest of search marketing efforts. A site with some interactivity controlled through jQuery — or Flash elements optimized with SWFObject — provides a much better bet for search success. Visual design, too, helps the entire Web marketing team enjoy a successful campaign, because strategically applied design elements help define interfaces and interactions that best suit search.
  • Content creation: When you're trying to generate qualified traffic — or, the type of Web site visitors who will ultimately wind up becoming leads, customers, and dollars — content counts big in search. If the content of choice is words on page, your writing team helps you determine how relevant your topics are to your industry, which topics will attract the most targeted traffic, and which keywords in the copy will increase visitors and clicks to your site. If the content of choice is video or another type of multimedia, your content team helps you decide how to script it, storyboard it, tag it, and most importantly, promote it across various interactive channels to increase your Web site traffic.
  • Production standards: The production team, arguably the lynchpin of the Web site user experience, plays a vital role in ensuring clean, semantic markup code that plays nicely with the search engines. A front-end production team well-versed in current HTML, CSS, and scripting standards ensure source code is clean, free of inline styles, does not rely chiefly on large, text-free graphics, and is fully optimized to facilitate traffic and conversion increases.
Search engine marketing offers plenty of vital focus areas for search engine optimization and interactive marketing experts. But it cannot occur in a vacuum. The entire interactive team must create experiences through the eyes of the users — human beings and search spiders — to ensure success.

Free User Experience Resources

Would you like to learn more about designing and developing for the user experience? Try this UX introductory guide from Smashing Magazine. If your interest is piqued after exploring that, check out these additional pages:
  • UX design resources from world-class UX consultant Whitney Hess, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University's HCI program.
  • Usability resources from Information & Design, an Australian resource.
  • Usability templates from, a government resource.
  • — a collection of usability guidelines and pro-tips from Jakob Nielsen, founder of Nielsen-Norman Group, a UX consulting firm.