Today I had the privilege to ask Kim Krause, the owner of Cre8asite Forums and founder of Cre8pc, a few questions. Kim runs a popular and well-respected forum at Creasiteforums.com. The forum is often referenced in this site and Kim stops by on occasion to share some of her thoughts on SEO and usability. Kim's current focus in the search engine-marketing world is bridging the gap between the seo world and the usability world. She is a known advocate to improve search visibility in order to convert that searcher to a buyer (or a desired action). So if we may, let's get to the interview.
[Roundtable:] Kim, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your forum, your services and your professional goals. Since this site is about forum coverage, can you give us some insight into why you started cre8asiteforums?
[Kim Krause:] Thank you, Barry, for considering me as an interviewee, and for your coverage of happenings at Cre8asiteForums. All of us at the forums appreciate your efforts and kind support.
Cre8asiteForums was once known as the Cre8pc Web Site Promotion club, which I launched in 1998 using the free club access provided by Yahoo!. Back then, I was working in web design and freelancing from home in search engine optimization. My target market was home and small business owners. I have a strong passion for them because many have little or no budget, but deserved a chance to get into search engines without being ripped off. Whatever I learned from my work, or from testing methods for the companies I worked for, I shared in that club.
When Yahoo! bought E-Groups (or whatever they were called) and changed their format from Clubs to Groups, we club owners lost certain control. For example, the unwanted advertisements that now interfered with posts. I also co-moderated a Home and Small Business Club, owned by Carol Daly of Creative Enterprises as well. Her group is flourishing and I'm still a contributor there because the needs of small businesses interest me.
In addition to the Yahoo! Group involvement, I frequented other SEO or marketing forums, and got to know people and the forum owners. From my Cre8pc Club, I met Bill Slawski (aka bragadocchio), now an Administrator for Cre8asite Forums. Mick Hansen (aka Mick), now a Moderator for Cre8asite, was also a member. At the time he joined, he was still living in Denmark and was about 15 years old. Adrian Lee (aka Adrian), also a Moderator at Cre8asite, was a long-time member of the Cre8pc club too. Those guys, plus a woman who was a member and later became a Cre8asite Moderator (no longer with Cre8asite), essentially kept things going when I needed a break and were keen to expand the forums when it was finally rolled into a Php based forum in August 2002. By this time Jill Whalen was contributing the Club. It was no longer Kim's little SEO club, but was ready for prime time. Club member Phil Craven (who now has his own forum), had the skills necessary to pull it off, and suggested taking the Club to true a forums format. We said we'd give it a try. Our beginnings were quite humble and there was no plan in place.
[Roundtable:] Looking down the list of forum moderators and administrators, I see that you have successfully enlisted a talented and well-known set of professionals in the SEM/SEO field. How did you get such great volunteers to help out in the forums? Did you have to reach out and ask them or did they come on their own?[Kim Krause:] I can't take all the credit for that. From the get-go, and it's still debatable whether or not it's the best practice, I sort of go with the flow of things. Meaning, I don't control the forums destiny.
By the time Cre8asite Forums was launched, many professional SEO's were like "family" to me. I "met" a lot of them in the discussion group hosted by Susan Goodson and Brent Winters of Web Position Gold fame (First Place Software). Theirs was a discussion for both the software, and for SEO/SEM in general. It's there that I met one man in particular, Ammon Johns, probably around 1998 or 1999. Ammon is also an Administrator for Cre8asite Forums. He and I were linked by our desire to help people with their questions.
I'd known Jill Whalen too. She was an Administrator for Cre8asite and helped get it off the ground. Both she and Ammon were easy choices to ask to moderate Cre8asite, or they volunteered. I don't even remember! They brought with them people they knew and respected, which is how we filled out the Moderating field so quickly. I wanted my "posse" of Bill/Adrian/Mick because of their immense talent and incredible passion for the whole web development field. Bill has a strong legal background, Mick is a beautiful artist, and Adrian is our CSS expert and Accessibility guy.
Jill brought to us Scottie Claiborne. When Jill decided to launch her own High Rankings Forum, Scottie straddled both of our forums for months. She's now an Administrator for High Rankings Forum. Our two forums are on very friendly terms. We share Ron Carnell, who moderates at both forums.
Sometimes someone will offer to Moderate. Most of the time, though, we choose candidates from our own membership. After awhile you can tell the people who love their work, have experience, are conversational and warm, and seem to click with us. We've lost some treasures too, like Diane Vigil and Jean Manco, our DMOZ expert. Being a volunteer takes a lot of time away from work and family and burn out is a fact we live with.
In addition to Moderators, we have Industry Reporters and our Guest Star members. These are folks who are members, and usually very well known in their respective field, but don't have the gobs of time needed to volunteer to Moderate. Still, when they come and participate, they present a wealth of information. We honor them with a special title.
I feel we're blessed. I don't remember how Stock came to the forums anymore, but he gave us the Cre8asite Directory and later, he, Bill and Barry Welford set up the Cre8tive Flow blog. Yes, our forums has its own blog! At one time we started to form a company and it ended up that many of us collaborate on projects together. James Saunders' Site-Report.com is one such example. One of our members offered to redesign our logo on holidays and that became a new tradition (same as Google), and he is now a Moderator. We have budding authors who are also Moderators and success stories from members like Caissa, a member who owns ChessCentral.com, and was chosen as our Cre8asite example of the Year 2003.
[Roundtable:] Over the months, I have noticed you added new forums to the Cre8asite Forums. One such forum is named "Measuring Your Success". Can you please explain the decision process in adding this forum? Do you have any personal or professional ties and interest in such a forum?
[Kim Krause:] Most everything that happens at Cre8asite Forums is done by consensus. Behind the scenes, it's wild. So wild that I think some of us fear we're going to scare away newly appointed Moderators when they see how silly we all are. But anyway, the way most things work is someone has an idea. It can come from a Community member or a Moderator. It's tossed around, and debated. Our technical people, like Stock (aka Grumpus) and Dave (IloveJackDaniels) tell us if something is technically feasible. Moderators with experience in other forums often know from experience whether something will work or not. Everyone has a say, and if we're lucky, we'll all even stay on topic!
In the case of "Measuring Your Success", we're pretty big on helping online businesses from start to finish. We already had site planning, marketing and promotion, usability and everything in between, but we had little in the way of ROI, conversions, or measuring and tracking stats of all types. Not as well known is our strong advocacy for pioneering work, such as persuasive architecture and desirability. We like to explore possibilities at Cre8asite, even outside the realm of SEO. One of my favorite threads was about how to use sound in web sites in positive, non-invasive ways, to enhance the user experience.
I badly wanted Bryan Eisenberg from Futurenowinc.com for "Measuring Your Success". This was one of the few times when I pretty much ran out, without a mass vote from the Team, and invited him to help us. The success of that topic is owed to the Cre8asite Team and members like John Soellner (aka DCrx), who are interested in key performance indicators, analysis, standards and converting clicks to sales or traffic. Moderator, Barry Welford, has some fun instigating threads there too.
[Roundtable:] I know your current focus is on usability and leveraging your search engine traffic for the bottom line goal. Can you talk more about that?
[Kim Krause:] Two things happened that spun me around in my work. First, as an SEO, I was disappointed at the condition of some of the web sites I was hired to submit and optimize. It became clear that my clients were frustrated because though their sites were ranking quite well, this prominence wasn't converting to sales. Was it possible, I wondered, they were blaming me for this failure?
The second shot came while I was working for Verticalnet, which developed both software applications and B2B web sites. Despite how polished and professional their Internet products were, from a user standpoint, there was trouble. They had a search engine department, with a full-time dedicated staff, submitting and tracking hundreds of thousands of pages, most of them dynamically generated. Enormous sums of money were dumped into advertising and search engine promotion. But from where I sat, in my Usability Testing chair, I was watching band-aid solutions and confronted with killer deadlines, both intended to meet customer demands (or stock holder pressure). And despite the overtime, and skills of the people I worked with (who were extraordinary), the company folded and is now a mere shadow (but growing again) of its former self.
What went wrong with that company, other dotcoms that went bust and my clients? Poor planning and not understanding the nature of the Internet beast. The biggest lesson I learned from the Software Quality Assurance department I worked in was every web site or Internet application has a goal and everything you do has to support that goal. Anything that is not ultimately traceable to meeting project objectives is where the money leaks out, in some way.
Jill Whalen was the first person to understand what I wanted to do. I think she was seeing similar troubles. We joined forces about 2 years ago. She focuses on the search engine marketing, and I focus on the user-centered side of a project. She also added other related fields for a true holistic approach for her clients, by tossing in link management or copywriting expertise. What we look for is the big picture, and how each piece supports the main goal, which is for most web properties, generating revenue.
Now I'm partnered with other SEO companies and am starting to branch out into web design companies. I've developed test plans that allow me to both evaluate a site, and also teach the client what to look for. I've always been a teaching type, and that hasn't changed. The more information I can share with a company, the more control they have over their destiny in the long haul, if they apply the suggestions or check out the resources I give them.
Lately the urgency I've been picking up on is due to the change in the search engine environment. If you have to pay for every page that you submit to a search engine, do you also not want it to pay you back? Otherwise, it's like sticking a big billboard in a dense forest and not caring if anyone will ever find it, or see it - let alone take an action as a result of the advertisement.
A page not only has to rank well, and be found in search results, but it also has to invite a desired action. It should offer something the searcher seeks. It should explain, quickly, its purpose and why it merits the visitor's attention and money. If the web site user isn't satisfied, or feels confused, or worse, the page isn't delivering what the search engine description stated it would, these aren't the search engines fault. It's not the fault of the SEO either.
[Roundtable:] Recently a new form of SEM education came about in the form of something known as "Search Engine College". I see that you're an instructor at the Search Engine College lead by Kalena Jordan. Can you discuss your thoughts on Search Engine College, in terms of how it will help the industry, how the college will grow and why there is a need for such a college? Also, how did you get involved in Search Engine College?
[Kim Krause:] Kalena invited me to be an instructor. She's seen my work and we also "met" online in forum discussions. I designed a self-study course on web site usability for her school (http://www.searchenginecollege.com/) . It's a basic course, with an emphasis on site requirements planning, information architecture and conversions support via design.
The prices are very affordable, making the courses accessible to anyone with a web site. Most of the courses cover SEO/SEM and PPC. By adding a course on usability, Kalena is promoting the customer side of web site development, as well as the marketing side.
The latest bombardment of poor attitudes towards SEO's and companies that provide SEO/SEM services shows a strong need for education. People are being duped by unscrupulous marketers and losing money, or worse, their pages are suddenly banned from engines. Even a basic course by the Search Engine College is enough to educate anyone in charge of purchasing SEO services for their company or making recommendations as consultant. It goes back to what I said before about education being empowering.
One of my new students has a family run business. They do everything for their web site, from design to marketing. It's cheaper for them to learn how to do a lot of this on their own instead of outsourcing. And, you know, how much I (and likely others) wish their Managers knew what the heck they were talking about when ordering their subordinates to do something. It's always bad when Managers stop learning. Nothing stays the same, especially on the Internet.
The Search Engine College offers courses by people who do stay current in their respective field. It's a drop in a bucket for a company to "send" an employee to pick up an online course rather than travel off to a seminar. I see great things in the future for this school and the long-term positive result of churning out knowledgeable students.
[Roundtable:] The latest I heard, is that you are currently self-employed. Can you please give us some history on your work experience and what led you to the position you are in today?
[Kim Krause:] Oh my gosh, my story is already a book in the making!
I started at the bottom. In 1995 my husband and I separated. We remained on friendly terms, despite the grief of ending a marriage. We mediated our divorce, and parted ways on equal terms, meaning I didn't ask for anything financially. We were devoted to raising our kids together, and we knew we could it without interference from the US legal system.
My choice left me, as a stay at home mom for a few years, jobless, with no financial support. A friend gave me a 386 PC and my husband and I shared our house as roommates while I nursed our youngest child and when not, I taught myself HTML. Once I made a web site or two, I applied for a job, which I got because despite my lack of technical background, I had animated their company mascot and made an HTML thank you note to the man who interviewed me. I was hired because I was creative. I was given a web site called Internetwork.com to design and maintain.
That company was later sold and I was laid off. By then I'd moved into a small condo. Webmasters didn't make much then. The CEO of the company I was with said we should all be making $5.00 an hour!
By the time of the layoff, I was already freelancing on the side in SEO and maintaining and optimizing 13 web sites for that company. I managed to feed us, but nearly lost the condo during the dry months of freelancing. At the last possible moment, Unisys called. They hired me to work on their three global Intranets and paid much better too.
Then I was laid off from Unisys. Verticalnet was the local Internet darling. Both they and CDNow were within commuting distance. Verticalnet hired me the day I walked in for an interview. I started out in user interface design and was later plucked and dropped into the QA department, to be trained in software usability testing.
That's where I caught usability fever. By then, I was a single mom with a townhouse. I worked so much I didn't date anyone for four years. I was freelancing in SEO and web design as well.
Then, I was laid off from Verticalnet in May 2002.
Now you know why I'm self-employed. I'm too scared to work for large companies.
Within 3 hours of being laid off by VERT, I was hired as a consultant/project manager for a small company who built an Internet based Call Center application for AT&T Worldnet. This same little company hosts Cre8asite Forums for free, as a friendship gesture to me. I left them last year to do more usability work, which I like better than project management, but I still do small projects for them.
Last year I bought my own house, with a pool for the kids and got a dog. Never did date though. I ended up falling for a friend I've known for 13 years who had upgraded my old 386 to a 486 and believed in me when I didn't.
I recently launched the UsabilityEffect.com web site. In addition to presenting my services, I'm using it to store resources and web sites related to the subject of usability. The Cre8pc.com site is now in its 8th incarnation.
I haven't laid off myself yet. Can a person even do that?
[Roundtable:] To close, is there any final words or tips you would like to give the readers?
[Kim Krause:] The usability effect is what every web site hopes to achieve, though I'm not sure all web site owners are consciously aware of this. When someone says to me that they want to develop a way to dynamically generate hundreds of pages that will act as doorways to their site, I never hear them say what they hope the user will do if they come across one of those pages.
To me, usability isn't whether your links are blue or purple. It's the link label I care about, because this is what will trigger someone to keep exploring and digging deeper into your site.
SEO/SEM, copywriting and usability are tightly braided together these days. You can't go wrong with any of them as long as user needs are routinely addressed and are always a strong priority.
[Roundtable:] Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Your contributions to this industry have been felt by many of us. I would like to thank you, on behalf of the SEM community, for all that you have done to help grow and improve the industry.