Findability: New and Better SEO?

The findability flower shows all the aspects of findable websites.
Findability Flower by Aarron Walter

Findability is a term that has become a buzzword for a while due to a book called Building Findable Websites by Aarron Walter.

I’m always on the lookout for new concepts and innovation.

Thus I made a little time to find out more about findability, its meaning, roots, who coined the term and when.

The first thing I found out was that neither Aarron Walter nor renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen used the term findability first.

The History and Definition of Findability

It appears that the term findability and most notably ambient findability was coined in 2002 by Peter Morville.

He even published a book of the same title. First things first though. Let me explain what findability is about.

Website findability sounds like the new and better SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

It’s like on-site SEO without the bad rep of the SEO industry when you adopt the definition from Building Findable Websites.

To summarize it – Aarron Walter explains that building websites for findability encompasses not only search engine optimization but a holistic approach with usability and Web standards in mind.

That’s a concept I can fully support. One thing that Mr. Walter attempts to tell us though is:

SEO vs Findability

SEO is bad insufficient by itself. Instead according to Walter findability is including:

  • social networking
  • viral marketing
  • and more”.

See also the author’s comment below the post. Could it be all so simple?

This is a good move from a marketing perspective as almost nobody likes SEO of course.

The SEO acronym is a red flag in itself or at least is perceived by the majority as such.

When we go back to what Peter Morville wrote in 2002 we discover that findability and SEO are not contradictory but basically twin brothers. He acknowledges how

SEO contributes to a website’s findability along with usability and other important aspects of information architecture.

Now that might be the problem of it – not generating enough hype – so that Aarron Walter took a more aggressive approach.

Also Walter reduced findability to websites built with web standards while Morville’s definition extends to the real world.

Morville uses examples like looking for long term parking or restrooms at an airport which strike home very convincingly.

Jakob Nielsen used the term in 2006 for the first time as far as I can see.

Nielsen also limited it to website findability without denouncing SEO though.

Can We Just Rename the Ugly Duckling and Call it Swan Instead?

Am I angry at Aarron Walter for being explicit about SEO?

No, I’m glad! I am glad someone makes a strong point on renaming the “whole problem”.

In this sense I took the wrong approach with attempting to redefine SEO and having to deal with its never ending reputation problem.

Using another, better term is the by far more effective way of redefining something.

Sadly the renaming technique is mostly used by political think tanks to manipulate the public usually.

In this case the outcome of the manipulation is a positive one. People will acknowledge best practices and put them to use.

I don’t care how you do call it! Use the term SEO, findability or like myself probably SEO 2 as long as we have the same goals.

Our goals match while the methods do just partly.

Walter’s findability refers as part of web development only to the on-site or on-page factors of SEO.

This Kind of Findability is Not Enough

Fixing websites is not enough to be found, especially in the social Web environment, but the two disciplines match to some extent.

The single most positive aspect of website findability is the teaching aspect: Findability teaches

  • designers
  • Web developers
  • information architects

what they’ve condescendingly ignored for years: making websites findable.

Most of time I am the garbage man throughout the years of all these lazy

  • designers
  • web developers
  • information architects

and had to fix crap websites for years. I’m sick and tired of it. I want to do the real thing, the content the more advanced fun stuff not just fixing other people’s blunders.

Please clean up your websites yourself guys and don’t rely on the poor Mexican migrant worker with a sombrero to do it.

That said I still prefer the approach of Peter Norville.

So do not only read Aarron Walter’s book but also, or at first Norvilles “Ambient Findability”.

Btw.: Building Findable Websites only covers the on-site SEO basics.

When you really want to do web design for findability you need to read more than just this book.

Make sure to also peruse my blog here and check out some of the most important findability resources below.

Findablity Resources

This list of findability resources encompasses articles spanning over two decades.

Some of them deal with findability in real life not just on the Web. I update this list regularly.

From now on please refer to me as a findability expert!

Maybe this way I can outsmart the people who denounce search engine optimization.

Just kidding. Call me what you want, as long as you don’t mistake SEO for SPAM.

Also note how true holistic findability is about making your message findable no matter where it resides.

It’s not just about Google or your website or your favorite social media outlets.

You need to be findable wherever your potential audience is.