Consideration for the user is at the core of both of the approaches I am about to describe. Also key is that this design approach further acknowledges the search experience as connected to a user’s journey throughout the Internet, and in this case, to an enterprise Web site.
Using Search to Inform Personas
Using search data to help inform personas can be one of the most crucial factors in the success of a Web site, helping to further various brand or direct response goals. A persona is a fictional amalgam of a customer or user profile that the site is going to serve. Most often, multiple personas are used to develop the site strategy. A persona is created by many different methods, including focus groups, stakeholder interviews, questionnaires, various types of data mining, interviews, studies, etc. One of the biggest mistakes marketers make in the persona development phase is leaving search data out of the equation. Simply put, knowing the core linguistics of your target user can drive marketing, content and strategy on a large scale, in a way that is both engaging to your target, and also pulls in like-minded users through search and social.
The days of guessing about keyword research are over for serious enterprise marketers. Doing the upfront research on how your target users search, and the specific language that they use, goes well beyond downloading CSV files of keywords in a keyword tool (though thoroughly tested keywords leading to desired conversions can also help inform personas). The bottom line is that search data should be used to ask the right questions upfront, in a way that will show long-term success not just in search, but also for your Web site. With so much at stake in persona development (in terms of the outcome of a Web site), leaving search data out is a massive opportunity lost.
A Relational Approach to Site Architecture
The standard approach to Web design could be considered top-down, or like a pyramid where the user's journey theoretically starts at the top of the pyramid from the main entry point of a site, and filters through various paths to take various actions. When the experience of users entering in the middle of a site from a search engine is considered, it quickly becomes evident that the top-down approach is severely lacking. Should search even be considered when altering from a hierarchical approach to design? It depends. But with most enterprise sites gaining 20% to 50% of their traffic from search, it should be a primary consideration for most. I sometimes say that the experience of entering the middle of a top-down Web site from search is like being dropped out of a helicopter in the middle of the jungle. It’s disorienting and confusing, and all your user is thinking about is how to get the hell out of there. The same goes for Web sites that make the false assumption that all of its users will enter from the front page of the site.
The atypical but more successful approach is relational, in the sense that its considers the orientation of a page for users filtering both from the top-down experience, and drilling in from multiple points of entry, including search engines. If you also picture the relational approach as a pyramid, users may enter from any point of the site and still have a connected experience, rather than being forced in from the top of the pyramid. The bottom line is that the results show an improved user experience, and this also reflects across various visibility and direct response goals as well. In my company's experience, it is not uncommon to see from 100% to 600% percent improvement in various goals between approaches.