What does it profit a charity to have the coolest web site design of all time if it can’t be found via a simple, context-related search on Google or Yahoo? Such is the case of today’s example: the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies and the key phrase “Muslim-Christian Dialogue.”
Last week, while in Jordan, I sat in on a panel chaired by individuals representing the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (riifs.org). Being the geek I am, I prepared questions based upon the same design concepts and conversion goals one might have for an informational para-church ministry and/or a sermon/Bible-study based site: on-demand delivery of informational product based on user inquiry.
As I researched, I noted the site did not rank in the top 100 results returned by major search engines for contextual searches common to site like this. Meaning – whatever model they had for disbursment of their doctrine wasn’t working.
During the panel, I tried to soften the question by suggesting that my wife, who is interested in this topic for a book she’s authoring, wasn’t able to find their information. The reply by one of the panelists was … and I wish I was making this up:
“Maybe her searching skills are not proficient enough …“
I didn’t know whether or not to laugh out loud or correct the ill-informed panelist as my wife, who holds a Masters degree in Computer Science from the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering, has 20 some-odd years of experience with web data delivery as a Solaris/systems administrator and programmer for a number of prestigious research institutions and projects in the U.S.
Meaning, she knows her way around a search engine from the perspectives of a user, programmer and provider
Keeping my cool, I asked more directly why it was that their site wasn’t even on the radar with simple searches for “Muslim-Christian Dialogue” – a phrase that sits atop their home page. he second response was even more laughable than the first:
“You will need to check with your ISP as sometimes they block such sites …“
Not sure what impact RoadRunner has on Google’s ability to index a page – but I do know when I’m running into an academic type who fancies himself as a web guru.
So a double bonus today: we have two “fast five” lists, the first being on attitude:
- You are not your user
- solve their problems, don’t tell them yours
- don’t assume all your users are idiots (regardless of gender or ISP)
- engage in user testing – where non-geeks attempt simple, common tasks
- when a problem and/or encumbrance by a user is reported – do what it takes to provide them a clear path to operational/work-flow success
On that last point, think Amazon.com – the premier example of conversion goals in action. When they hear of something that gets in the user’s way – even if it sounds stupid – they fix their site to accommodate the customer.
Such service-centric approaches will always result in successful, happy users.
Now regarding the riifs.org site itself:
- Don’t use graphics to represent text – especially in the header.
- Read “Week 2” of Dive Into Accessibilty by Mark Pilgrim – pay special attention to doctype and meaningful headers.
- Offer RSS feeds of new content and press releases.
- Don’t assume that all search engine inquiries are going to come from individuals who know the complete, exact and correctly spelled name of the institute.
- If one of the conversion goals is to modify western thinking, then make sure important pages such as press releases aren’t presented entirely and solely in Arabic.
Bottom line, a lot more questions about Christian-Muslim understandings could have been answered had those producing the RIIFs website engaged in some simple user testing based upon established conversion goals.
Then again, that would mean taking on a user-centric approach that reflects understanding among different Internet users – rather than attitude that is prone to throwing them under the bus.