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Into the Mind of a Usability Expert (and SEO!)

An Interview with Peter “Dr. Pete” Meyers

Today, allow me to share with you a short Q+A I had with Usability expert and SEO, Peter J. Meyers.

Peter, a.k.a Dr. Pete has a unique background involving Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology. Truth be told, both disciplines, when applied together, remind me of neuromarketing–a subset of marketing that studies human responses towards marketing stimuli (a field that recently interested me).

Just to share with you, what led me to this interview is my interest in philosophy and the subjective applications it has on marketing and SEO that, in my opinion, pave ways for strategic and tactical executions. In relation to my subjective to objective way of thinking, through this interview, I basically wanted to understand and share the mindset behind Dr. Pete’s practical contributions to the world of Usability and SEO.

Jurgen: Many of us know that you’re an accomplished Cognitive Psychologist, hence answering many questions as to why Peter J. Meyers is a.k.a. “Dr. Pete”. On the other hand, many of those who know you would directly relate your expertise in Usability (and SEO) with your background in Psychology. How true is this? And if yes, how big of a boost does Cognitive Psychology give to the critical thinking and analytical requirements of Usability?

Dr. Pete: My background’s a bit unusual, but there’s definitely a connection. I double-majored in Computer Science and Psychology as an undergrad and, after my Ph.D., went on to work at an internet start-up for 8 years (eventually as Exec VP). When I founded my own firm in 2005, I decided I really wanted to bring my full expertise and training into play.

Cognitive psychology is all about how people (adults, really) perceive and process information, so it’s definitely a great fit for the usability side of what I do. Our basic perceptual and cognitive processes have a huge impact on how we react to information, especially when we’re in a hurry.

Jurgen: Most of your contributions in SEOmoz provide a holistic approach in presenting ideas and sharing information. In fact, this has led me to this interview and to your consultancy firm, User Effect. I was wondering, what exactly is it that you mean when you specialize on Strategic Usability on User Effect? How is this different from Usability as it is?

Dr. Pete: I wanted to make it clear that I didn’t see usability as a purely academic discipline. I’ve done client work for 13 years now, and my focus is on the tools and techniques that can drive ROI. Since I started User Effect, the idea of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) has become a lot more common, and I think that comes pretty close to what I do.

Jurgen: Being in the field of Usability and SEO, I can definitely tell that you also dive deep into data analysis, design critique, and Social Media. In your opinion, would you say that SEO, Social Media, Design, and Usability are blood relatives? Do you have anything to say to the hundreds to thousands of “Web Marketing Gurus/Services” offering compartmentalized approaches to web development and marketing?

Dr. Pete: The internet is still so young, and it’s easy to want to connect everything we do, but I think specialization is natural, and it’s just getting started. I hate to argue semantics, but I do think that SEO, design, and usability are unique in their own ways. Of course, they overlap – a “good designer” factors in the SEO and usability impact of their work, but I think it’s silly to say that “SEO is a subset of usability” or vise-versa. Most of those arguments are territorial and useless.

Jurgen: Being a psychologist yourself, and a man interested in many mind-related matters, I’m sure that you’re aware of the concept of Libertarian Paternalism? Is this a mindset you find useful when it comes to site architecture design? Do you think it makes way for efficient choice architecture?

Dr. Pete: I’m only halfway through “Nudge“, so you’ll have to pardon half an answer 🙂 I do think we have to gently push visitors in a direction. There’s a difference between persuasion and manipulation, and I think it boils down to the visitor’s intent. If we’re helping them get where they want to go, but nudging them to stay on the path, that’s fine. People need structure and they need help navigating the web.

Jurgen: Lifting from my previous question, what’s your take on designing to educate/lead the user against designing to satisfy human recognition/historical behavior? Do you think there’s an economy where equilibrium can be met?

Dr. Pete: I think the internet is still shaping behavior in a lot of ways. There are core cognitive principles at work, and there are habits (like reading left-to-right in most of the Western world), but the “historical behavior” of the internet is still being shaped in a lot of ways. It depends a lot on your niche, too – cutting edge industries and products often need to break new ground and get people to think in new ways. On the other hand, most of us should probably keep our links blue and underlined.

Jurgen: Just to take a break from all of the serious questions but still remain on topic, what do you do on your spare time? Are there any specific hobbies that you do that you think has a cosmic relationship with the work that you do?

Dr. Pete: Wow, I’m not sure how cosmic my hobbies are. With a 6-month-old and a business to run, I’m lucky if I get out of the house. I’m interested in a lot of things – I’ve always been a generally curious person.

Jurgen: Do you have kids? Anything you find from their day to day behavior that might interest web marketers like us? 😀

Dr. Pete: Yeah, a baby girl. I can’t say I’ve learned a lot from her about marketing quite yet. I’ve learned a lot about the baby industry, and it’s a lot like most industries. It’s amazing how much still gets sold due to fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Jurgen: Back to the seriousness of this interview, how would you define the three differently in relation to SEO? The three meaning, Art, Design, and Aesthetics.

Dr. Pete: That’s a topic for a lot of conversations, but I tend to see “design” as more pragmatic, especially on the web. Art and aesthetics can be very subjective, which is fine, but the goal of a site is usually more practical than to evoke an emotional response. Design has to balance that against standards, human behavior, and generally just getting the job done. Plenty of sites are effective that aren’t pretty, but, on the other hand, there’s an entire emotional side to human responses that we’ve ignored until pretty recently.

Jurgen: The only thing that’s constant is change. Trends come and go, devices constantly change the way we solve problems, technology always allows us to innovate and progress. With all of these things happening as we speak, how do you, a Usability Expert and SEO, adapt?

Dr. Pete: I keep learning – constantly. Eventually, I may have to specialize more and more, but I enjoy being cross-disciplinary for now, because it really helps me understand the broader picture. Ultimately, though, you can’t do everything. My on-page and technical SEO is very strong, but I’m barely an amateur at local search, for example. I try to play to my strengths, and I try to make friends with other experts who know what I don’t.

Jurgen: Saving the best for last, do you have a motto or a favorite quotation that pretty much encapsulates your view of Usability (and SEO if possible)?

Dr. Pete: I suppose this is more of a business philosophy, but it seems these days like everyone is chasing after the “low-hanging fruit”, and it always reminds me of something a developer friend says: “Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two”. Once you get past the basics, doing usability and SEO right takes time and/or money. People need to stop looking for easy answers and start committing to their businesses and learning from their customers.

To summarize and end this post, I’ll share two important things I highly concur with Dr. Pete mentioned and a quote that has truly fascinated me to always move forward.

Dr. Pete mentioned curiosity and constant learning, two things I believe you can’t survive without in the Internet.

And the quote, from Ian Wright:

“Only the curious have a tale to tell, because they see what they want to see.”

Thank you Dr. Pete for making this interview happen! Personally, I’d have to say that there are a couple of things you’ve shared that practically shifted my mindset for the better.

Category SEO
Jurgen Estanislao

Jurgen is a Certified User Experience professional experienced in Integrated Marketing Strategy, Product Innovation, Experience Design, Human Factors, and Usability. ...

Into the Mind of a Usability Expert (and SEO!)

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