Findability, New and Better SEO?


Findability is a term that has become a buzzword for a while due to a book called Building Findable Websites by Aarron Walter (not to mix up with Aaron Wall, author of SEO Book). Now as a true SEO 2.0 ;-)

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 Aaron Walter nor renown usability expert Jakob Nielsen used the term findability first. It appears that the term findability and most notably ambient findability was coined in 2002 by Peter Morville who even published a book of the same title. First things first though, so let me explain what findability is about.

Website findability is the new and better SEO so to say or, on-site SEO without the bad rep of the SEO industry if you adopt the definition from Building Findable Websites.

Basically Aarron Walter says that building websites for findability encompasses not only SEO but a holistic approach with usability and web standards etc. That’s a concept I can fully support. One thing that Mr. Walter attempts to tell us though is:

SEO is bad, findability is good.

This is a good move from a marketing perspective as nobody likes SEO of course, the term is a stain 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 websites 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.

Now am I angry at Aarron Walter for being explicit about SEO? No, I’m glad, 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 it’s 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 do you call it, SEO, findability or like myself probably SEO 2.0 as long as we have the same goals. Our goals match while the methods do just partly. Findability refers in web development only to the on-site or on-page factors of SEO which is not enough to be found, especially in the social Web environment, but they match to some extent.

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

Findability teaches designers, web developers and information architects what they’ve condescendingly ignored for years, making websites findable.

Now as I am the garbage man of all these lazy designers, web developers and 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 SEO 2.0 fun stuff.

So 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, adding some Microfomats and the likes, if you really want to do web design for findability you need to read the Web Design for ROI, a book that will change your professional life forever.

Findablity resources:

From now on please refer to me as a findability expert, maybe this way I can outsmart the SEO haters ;-)

Last updated: March 17th, 2014.