humans.txt – Which Parts of Your Site to Hide for People Which Not

hiding*

Recently I’ve read a very good guide for humans on the robots.txt file which most people including me neglect. Why block content from bots at all? I prefer to optimize for people not bots and thus

I imagined what would need to be added to a hypothetical “humans.txt” file.

Which parts of your site would you need to hide? Which site elements would need not be visible for sure?

 

Clutter everywhere

It’s amazing how much unnecessary and often downright harmful stuff website owners push onto the unsuspecting public. Cluttered interfaces, annoying ads, polluted URLs and lots and lots of redundant things nobody wants to waste their time with.

Sometimes websites appear to be built for search engine bots not for humans.

That’s why we need a humans.txt file to block all that crap from appearing when actual people view websites. This should be a good not only from the user experience perspective. Clean websites also lead to more conversions and happier customers. Remember that people buy things, not bots.

 

Give people what they need not what Google or Facebook wants

One of the oldest so called “black hat SEO” techniques is to show different content to people and to Google spiders. I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s purpose was to trick Google (or other search engines) to believe that a page was more relevant than it looked on the outside.

What I want to achieve is the direct opposite but by using almost the same means. Hide everything that is annoying or otherwise distracting on your site from people. Robots don’t care so you can offer that “big data” to them.

In essence it’s about giving the people what they need instead of giving Google or Facebook what it wants and annoying visitors while at it

Conventional SEO has been about trying to please Google for more than a decade. It’s time to cut out the middleman or rather “middlebot” and to please people directly without all that clutter meant to satisfy the market dominating search engine. Apart of that

we try to accommodate too many third party sites while having less time for building our own.

Social media sites are another example. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ essentially just steal attention from our own site. They compete with us for attention. The attention span is ever dwindling these days. Do you want to waste the precious time of your readers?

 

What to hide from humans?

Ads. Most sites out there won’t make more than pocket money from ads while they will be ostracizing their visitors. Especially blogger fall for the promise of “making money online” from Adsense. Crap. Only Google earns money on Adsense. You lose more money then you could possible earn.

Here’s the painful truth: you won’t earn much with Adsense or any other  ad networks as a standalone blogger.

You need to build up a publishing empire before you can earn enough to make a living with ads. Then you have to exploit other people to write content for cheap or free to get there. I know many “successful” blogs that don’t pay contributors or only pay peanuts.

Stop building the business of third parties while sabotaging your own. Ads cost you more money by way of lost trust and attention than they earn you. I have experimented a lot with ads. I even had a profitable single-writer blog monetized by ads once so it is possible but you have to write very specifically about products that sell and optimize for Google successfully. The times when that business model worked are basically over.

 

Pop-ups. While annoying pop-up ads are mostly a bane of the past many bloggers tend to literally overshadow their content by huge opt-in layers begging to sign up for newsletters. Marketers prove that opt-in pop-ups work by citing statistics.

True, some of those interrupted by your pop-up will sign up. How many of those who haven’t will close the tab to never return to your site though? Analytics can’t give you data about people who do not show up anymore. Also

the people who sign up because you shoved them a sign up form in the face are not highly likely to read your messages.

Expect a low “open rate” along or below the industry standard of 20% (only one in five subscribers opening your mail). Don’t get me wring, getting mail subscribers is still the number one audience building strategy you need to adapt. Yet, to to get people to subscribe you need to embrace a holistic opt-in focused design and offer additional incentives for those who subscribe. Pushing them won’t help.

 

Animations. There is a renaissance of animated gifs going on. Flash still exists despite it’s agony over the recent years. HTML5 and SVG animations are on the slow rise. No matter the technology –  it might be event CSS only animation or old school JavaScript – it’s in most cases annoying and often redundant. The same message could have been conveyed without the distraction caused by movable objects.

Animated elements ideally only appear when prompted by the user and do not start by default.

Pinterest has a simple and clean solution for animation, it adds a “play” button to them so that you have to start them manually. Also ideally animations do not loop forever. Tumblr is infamous for looping gifs. It works for some audiences and some topics (funny cat content) but for most others it doesn’t.

 

Rich media. You probably won’t believe me but there are still sites that auto-play video or sound on unsuspecting visitors. I don’t solely refer to the above-mentioned Tumblr blogs. It happens on good old websites and even modern start-up homepages. There are several reason why such a  feature (or rather bug) is annoying but let it be said that people like to have the freedom to choose what they view and listen to on the Web.

The Internet, unlike TV is on demand, not just passive consumption.You only view and watch what you want.

So when you have to add and load an audio or video file don’t do it automatically and don’t force everybody to load it. Some people have a slow connection or don’t want the “rich” media experience on their mobile. Instead they want quick directions, a phone number or mail address. Why put huge obstacles in their way?

 

Sex and violence. Just recently I followed a person on Twitter who covered mostly personal development and spirituality topics. One of her tweets led to an article on happiness science found on Huffington Post. The days when HP was an alternative publication are long gone.

It’s an AOL owned content farm competing with BuzzFeed and the likes for attention. So while reading the positive and empowering article on how to be happy using scientific research I came across another recommended article dealing with rape and incest.

I was so appalled by the sensationalist headline already that I had to close the tab entirely.

I couldn’t read the article on happiness anymore as understandingly I wasn’t happy any longer. I don’t read the publications of the “bad news” industry trying to inundate us daily with the worst and most blood-thirsty “information” they can find or fabricate.

Psychologists even advise you not to read all the depressing news in order to stay sane. They are showing a completely warped picture of reality anyway. On a sidenote: sex is a wonderful thing and has nothing to do with violence. It’s a private matter though. It’s nothing I want to see unexpectedly on your site.

 

So how would the actual humans.txt look?

Assuming we needed a humans.txt file it could look like this:

User-agent: human
Disallow: /ads/
Disallow: /pop-ups/
Disallow: /animations/
Disallow: /rich-media/
Disallow: /sex-violence/

Of course we do not need a bumans.txt, it’s just a metaphor meant to help us understand the problems with most sites.

Also ads, pop-ups and animations are not necessarily in separate folders you could hide or block. CSS could help here. You could hide the crap from users using the visibility:hidden attribute. Ideally you do not put them up in the first place. For rich media you can disable autoplay or you place them on a separate page visitors can view or listen to on demand.

 

So now that we know what to hide from visitors what site elements are crucial to make our sites work properly for people viewing them?

 

Contact data. Recently I optimized my decade old legacy site I coded myself in HTML, CSS and PHP back then. It wasn’t that difficult in the end. You can view it on mobile phones now. It’s not perfect yet though. One problem was the contact data I had in the lower part of my site.

On a smartphone screen it’s below the fold so that you have to scroll to see them. You have to know that you need to look for them down below and then you have to make sure you not only scroll the content section which is separate. You get the point. I have to

figure out how to make the phone number and mail address at least viewable from the start.

Ideally I’ll show them on top without breaking the site design for desktop or laptop users. People need to be able to connect with you easily, especially on mobile phones. So your mail address and phone number need to be visible at all times without the need to look for them.

 

Your slogan. Instead of a “welcome to our homepage” every site needs a succinct but very specific explanation of what it is about. It’s the the slogan or motto of the site. Most people don’t know what a site is dealing with until you tell them.

For years I assumed that the name SEO 2.0 of my blog is self-explanatory.

I was very wrong of course as more than two thirds of people do not even know what the acronym means let alone what the 2.0 is all about. In recent years I adopted a slogan/motto using common words most people can understand.

Not everybody knows what a blog is or even social media but many more do than what SEO is. My slogan is not perfect yet. I’m in the process of improving it right now. It’s a bit too broad and fails to convey my unique value. I work on that. Yet it explain in simple terms what SEO 2.0 is about technically. This way almost everybody can fathom what my blog is about in a few seconds.

 

Opt-in form. Most blog and website owners seem to forget email marketing and then frantically try to implement it after it’s too late and the design is done without any opt-in forms. So you end up with huge overlay pop ups annoying the hell out of your visitors, see above. You need to design your site with audience building from the start. That means to include an opt-in form above the fold ideally at the center of attention.

You don’t have to hide the content to make people sign up.

Instead you design your site around the need to make people aware that they can subscribe and the reasons why they should explaining your unique value proposition. This may sound like a lot but if you’re really good at writing you might be able to put the value proposition already in your slogan or motto.

 

It’s us vs the corporations

Please note how both Google and Facebook do not encourage you to show your contact data, slogan or sign up form in the visible area. They are interested in luring your visitors to their third party services to look up your mail address or to use their proprietary tools to message you. They don’t care for what you’re about but for your data and content instead. They don’t want your visitors to sign up to your own newsletter or join your community.

Google and Facebook want the your visitors on their third party platforms.

We build their business not our own. It’s always important to remember that social media and search are only there to serve us. We’re not here to serve Google or Facebook, to rebuild our sites according to their guidelines or even to create extra pages on their sites. Business is about us and our audiences not billionaire owned corporations.

 

* (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by Peter