Search Engine Usability — Stop Thinking of SEO

Search engine optimization is not just about bringing traffic to your site. Fundamentally you are helping to solve a usability problem for the search engine. Most marketers think of SEO the wrong way. Spend 15 minutes at a Digital marketing conference and you can hear dozens of people talking about SEO from the perspective of a site they manage. If you work in marketing, you should focus on ROI for your client, but that can’t be the only thing you think about.

Google is not out to make you money. Google’s goal is to acquire robotics companies… Just kidding. My point is that Google has money–a lot of money. That’s because Google is also focused on ROI. For Google.

Search Engines, almost across the board, make money by selling advertising inventory. So, how much a search engine can earn is tied to how many users and how many searches they have. It’s no surprise that their business goal is to keep searchers happy by showing what they are looking for. Help Google with that goal and you will rank.

Stop viewing SEO as a matter of you appearing in search results. Ask the question, if someone searches this and finds me, am I what they are looking for? If you are, why aren’t you ranking? Think about why you’re not ranking the way a UX team at Google would.

Framing the Search UX problem

It’s the same problem any good UX team thinks about when they build a product. If someone goes to your website looking for a blog post you wrote called, “How to Build a Car for $1.99,” and can’t find it by searching, “How to Make a Car for $2.00,” they are not going to be happy. The same goes for any search engine, thereby making your marketing problem Google’s usability problem.

From a searcher’s perspective, all you want is relevant results. Unfortunately, there are a few limitations:

  • Too many websites to manually index and tag
  • Words that mean different things, i.e Oklahoma (State, City, Musical, Song, Movie)
  • Misspelled words
  • Synonyms
  • Never before seen searches
  • Bad human memory. (“I can’t find tickets to that ‘Sergeant USA’  movie.”)

The Google Solution

In a paper written by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, while they were still at Stanford, about how they built Google, they seem very focused on giving users the best experience possible.


… we want our notion of “relevant” to only include the very best documents since there may be tens of thousands of slightly relevant documents. This very high precision is important even at the expense of recall (the total number of relevant documents the system is able to return).

They focus on the idea of relevancy and tackle the problem with a primitive version of PageRank.

This automation quality and relevance scores determining the results are  the core of how a search works today. These principals are used by every major search engine.

Take Aways

Even though you should focus on what Search Engines care about, at the end of the day, you have to make a living. So what should you do? Well, following the same user experience approach as Google isn’t a bad idea. Focus on relevancy.

That’s what keyword research is really for anyway. Long before the Google keyword tool (may he rest in peace), copywriters did research. You want to make sure you use words people are familiar with and use. To learn more, check out Copy Blogger’s free keyword research and content marketing ebooks.

I would also focus on UX  beyond the quality of your content and the words used. A slow site, bad font, poor color scheme, auto-playing videos, and sound, etc…, can create a user nightmare. If images have no alt text, or irrelevant alt text, it’s not only bad for SEO. If a site visitor has a vision impairment, it’s an empty cavern left in the heart of your content.   

Although human experience is over half the battle, it’s not all. At the end of the day, search results are just a mathematical equation and you need to be usable for both humans and bots. There are lots of usability problems that can you may be causing for bots (including search engine spiders). Take a look at this technical SEO Check List made by Bruce Clay Ink.


Recognize Bad Clients Early

If you’ve never heard of Pareto’s Principle, it’s an economic principle saying; 20% of something is always responsible for 80% of the results. Or more simply, that 20% of your clients will be responsible for 80% of your work.

When this number is commensurate with income, meaning 20% of your clients = 80% of your work and 80% of your income it’s great. Otherwise, it’s a nightmare. Most of your effort is only a fraction of your income.

The bottom line as a service provider. Don’t spend 80% of your time for 20% of your income. It’s all the better if you can catch the potential problems during the sales process before you start to work.

Sometimes The Warnings Are Clear

Last year, I had one of the funniest business phone calls I can remember, from a possible client, I was already leery to take on. Leery or not, I’d had hours of meetings with this would-be-client. I met with the marketing team and was asked to write up a scope of work. The handshakes had gone around and we were all ready to start as soon as I wrote up the SoW we agreed on.

Late on a Friday evening, I sent out the scope of work with the agreed information. A few hours later the CEO sent me a text to ask if we could set a meeting at his office for Monday morning to, “Answer some questions I have”. The history this particular person had about sending texts instead of email, phone calls instead of texts and meetings instead of phone calls was already a concern of mine, and this was not helping his case.

It was 10:30 and I shouldn’t have, but I responded asking him to email me the questions he had. Since he was one of several people on the email, I would have thought a reply all was in order. I said I’d do my best to answer them over the weekend and save us both some time. I was pretty busy on Monday with (paying) clients, and I had already spent two days in one week at this potential client’s office. So, I offered to set up a call to go over everything and make revisions, if needed.

I Didn’t Read the Scope of Work, Let’s Talk About it.

Apparently, this was not going to fly! In the next ten minutes, I received 15 texts explaining to me how I would fail if I didn’t cater to client needs better than this. I then got a call from this guy. He was ranting about how he liked to do business face to face and couldn’t believe I would be so unreasonable. It was now 10:45 pm on Friday, but I told him to ask me any questions he had about my SoW and I would answer them.

The priceless response was:  “So I must have a list of questions before the meeting?” — I started laughing a bit, hearing those words from the man who needed a face to face meeting so I could answer his questions. We talked for about an hour and I was able to read the answers to his three questions from the scope of work he clearly had not read. For the record, this guy was the CEO of a 60+ person company – not huge, but more than just a small startup. The meltdown was kind of surprising.

This Was a Long Time Comming.

You may think I sound a little unreasonable, but this was not the first sign of trouble. I had 4 hours of meetings by phone, 7 hours of meetings in their office and 2.5 hours of transit time all for a project that, in a perfect world, would have taken less than 40 hours of work. So far every indication I had been given was that this project was going to be made to take 120 hours.

I kept getting the feeling that I was going to either not be paid, or deal with a ton of “scope creep”. I’m also not entirely trusting of a CEO who would set a meeting for Monday morning at 11:00 Friday night.

I now know two other people who almost worked with this client and were screwed over in one way or another. Both of the problems my friends had stemmed from bad communication practices (late night texting as a substitute for email as an example). I feel I made the right call. I wish I had the time I spent back. But I was better off than the project had moved forward.

Sadly, I think most of us end up having to learn our lessons the hard way. But here are some great articles on this topic, Beating Busters: How to Identify and Avoid Bad Clients and How to Avoid Working With Clients You Want to Avoid Working With. These kinds of articles help me not second-guess myself.

Edit: This post was deleted at some point during a database optimization mishap. On April 4th, 2019, this post was republished on the original date. Some of the contents were changed, due to spelling, grammar and personal growth. – Mason Pelt

Header Image by Matt From London

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Using Navigator To Review Images In Photoshop

The Navigator tool in Photoshop is one of my favorites and it seems to be largely unknown. Most of the time,  I see people review images by zooming in to view the image at full resolution, moving around to look at different areas, and zooming back out to see the entire image. The problem with that is you can easily get lost in the image and end up missing flaws that should be fixed.

The Navigator prevents you from losing your place, as it were,  by showing your location within the image while you zoom in & out and move around. I tend to use the Navigator on a second display, but it is a panel and it can be moved, resized and saved into any custom layout you choose.


This image is currently fit to my laptop’s screen and is being viewed at 22.67%. That resolution leaves a lot of room for errors when working.  I usually zoom in to at least 100% and generally zoom in much more. But there is still a lot of room for me to completely miss problems in my image.


To bring up this magic tool, go to Window > Navigator to bring up the Navigator panel. Your position on the image is displayed by a red box. This box can be clicked and dragged to move your view of the image when zoomed in.


The real power comes when you move by precise quadrants, which keeps you from missing any problems with your image. To move up and down, section by section, use the Page Down and Page Down available on a Mac keyboard as fn + the up or down arrow keys.  To move view right and left, use Control + Page Down or Page Down on a standard Mac keyboard fn + the up or down arrow keys + Command. 

 Take a look at the final image and all many of my other photos on Flickr.

The Path
The Path Taken: White Rock Lake, Dallas By: Mason Pelt On: 01/04/2014


How To Find Royalty Free Music for Your Video Online

royalty free music for your videos

Anyone doing professional  ( or even personal) videos knows that licensing music can get expensive and that sometimes just getting record labels to respond to your emails can take an act of God. So to get that perfect sound for your videos, do you just toss licensing out the window and buy the song off iTunes? No! You’d  get a take down notice in no time. And while I think big media would be better off to go the way of Amanda Palmer… it’s not happening!

What’s worse is, because of the stringent enforcement of ownership (not necessary in compliance copyright law),  even if you meet the standers for “fair use” found in Title 17 U.S. CODE § 107 YouTube, and many other sharing sites  like it, will use Content ID match that doesn’t take into account fair use.  A lot of times fighting for “fair use” with an automated system is more trouble than it’s worth. So what are you to do?

Coppyright flag on youtube

 2 Great Solutions For Finding Royalty Free Music Online

AudioJungle – Pay by track original music at very low prices for personal and web use, and optional licensing for larger projects where the end products is sold.  I’ve used this for many professional projects with no problems. They offer a very wide selection of music at a very low-cost with a simple licensing plan that can be found here.

Audiojungle Screenshot

SongFreedom – a subscription (or pay per track) library offering some fairly big name artists such as Jason Mraz, Amos Lee, and Train. Because of the caliber of artists, if you are distributing on YouTube, odds are high that you will have to appeal a copyright claim and show YouTube your licensing agreement.  Not as cheap as AudioJungle, this site is  still very reasonably priced at just $49.99 per song for Standard Licenses and only $199.99 per song for Commercial Licenses. Full licensing can be found here

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 8.55.33 PM


NOTE: Royalty free is not free. It just means you only need to pay for the item once per end product. You don’t need to continue to pay based on the number of people who see or use it.

YouTube Audience Retention Now Shows Organic and Paid

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 8.03.24 PM

For those who don’t know, YouTube recently started showing some new Audience Retention data. You now see separate retention for organic and the different types of TrueView Advertising. One of the things I notice is that YouTube seems to only give you an Average View Duration for organic.

This is a new feature, so I can’t speak to what YouTube showed in the past, but to see what is going on now, I broke out Excel.  I manually calculated the information by pulling the Audience Retention in 5 second intervals and averaging that amount for both paid and organic.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 8.48.54 PM

Looking at the average, I calculated for organic (82.69230769%) and  rounding up, I end up with the 83% YouTube gave me. It seems like a safe assumption that YouTube is only showing organic Audience Retention. Now that we know that, let’s see what the average between paid and organic would be.

Before YouTube gave us this magic line, I had always presumed that Audience Retention took into account paid advertising. I haven’t found any information on this, but  none of channels I manage have showed a change in retention. I can assume YoTube never counted advertising views in there retention statistics.

How I Process My Photos As Of 2013

I’ve had a few people of late ask me how I process my photos. So, I thought I’d wright a quick blog post explaining my process–what software I use and when. I do all my photo work between Lightroom and Photoshop.

For the people who assume I use Photoshop for everything and just use Lightroom as a catalogue, I don’t; I do 80%-90% of my work in Lightroom, but I send well over 50% of my images to Photoshop. Even though I use Photoshop for over half my images, I tend to just use it for quick simple things that Lightroom  can’t do or can’t do well.  I haven’t used Photoshop as my primary image editor since I stopped working for a company that did  fashion catalogs.

As an example of my workflow, take a look at this photo I took during the Dallas media dubbed icepocalypse.

Image directly out of the camera
Image directly out of the camera

I took this photo of a road construction site while driving home. To look at it now, it’s nothing special. When I imported to Lightroom I considered this photo to be a disappointment. It looked nothing like what I was expecting.

Image after Lightroom edits
Image after Lightroom edits

After importing to Lightroom, I started fixing the blown out highlights, lens distortion, saturation and overall exposure to turn the photo I came back with into what I was seeing when I took it. Then I started playing with the HLS editor to give it that magical Narnia looking touch, but  with all those color edits, I started to bring out distractions in the images–mostly having to do with the graffiti in the bottom left of the photo.

Image after Photoshop
Image after Photoshop

On to Photoshop to quickly remove the graffiti with an adjustment layer and 3 minutes with the clone stamp tool. Now that I have removed that distraction from the image, I took 30 seconds more to remove some noise, then saved the photo back to Lightroom as a PSD.

How Blacklist Word from YouTube Comments

For those who haven’t heard YouTube just rolled out a new comment system.  They still have a few bugs to work out, but I’m not here to complain. I’ll let the guys from LittleshyFiM explain Everything Wrong With Google+ Youtube Update in 1 Minute or Less and leave my comments out of it. Hopefully Google get’s most of these problems fixed quickly.

All problems aside they did add a few nice features. As I write this I work for  TouchStorm (I have since started a YouTube Channel Management Agency that does better quality work than TouchStorm)  doing YouTube optimization for a pretty big brand. A brand that doesn’t want it’s image tainted with profanity, racial and sexual slurs. S00… Part of my job is monitoring comments and removing said offensive dialog from the conversations taking place on the brand’s channel.

The new comment system problemed tho it may be, made a large part of that task easy.  I now have the ability to blacklist words, blacklisted words are added to a que for you to manually audit. If You’re blocking profanity don’t skip the manual auditing, Just in case Dick Van Dyke or Willie Nelson leave a comment on one of your videos.

Setting up a Blacklist of Words on Youtube

In your youtube dashboard go to Community and click Comment settings and list any words you want to blacklist.

Working With a Video Production Company in the World of YouTube?

NOTE: This was originally published in September 2012 on the Mean Creativity blog. As that site is no lounger maintained it was re published here. My rates and types of projects have changed, but not my billing philosophy.


I work mostly with small companies and start ups doing what we will abstractly call “marketing”. Most of the time, I end up doing online marketing and media production. My background is as a photographer, cinematographer and editor; so I tend to make original videos and photos big parts of a social and search marketing strategy. That’s not just because I have a production hammer and think everything looks like a nail as a friend once accused me of. It’s because video is a huge part of online marketing.

It may just be my clients, but I feel like a lot of people are just clueless about how to work with a video production company. Every time someone comes to me wanting video I have to give them the third degree just to get the information I need to give an estimate. So I wanted to write a quick post explaining some of the problems I’ve run into and what my solutions have been.

How Most Video Production Companies Bill?

Most people who work in video (myself included) don’t like tracking time on set. Instead of billing hourly, most of us work on a flat day or half day rate. Most of the time, gear is billed as a fee of 5-10% of the value of the equipment. Editing is typically as a package–something like 20 hours of editing for a discounted rate. Then, after the first 20 hours, editing would be charged at a normal hourly fee around 20% greater than the package would have equaled if you were adding the number of hours. There are fees for writing, prep days and casting as well.

What it takes to do a video right.

So if someone calls me wanting a 1 minute interview with 4 of their clients in 2 locations talking about how wonderful they are, I’m thinking, “Okay 2 locations, 3 hours at each place it’s a full day. Well we’re shooting on a DSLR  and with lenses the kit fee is $800. Lighting and audio gear comes to a fee of $800 and you’re going to need some stands, gels and that type of thing coming to an other $150ish. I’ll need to pay a production assistant something like $120-$450 depending on experience. With the cost of hiring a camera operator (or paying me to run camera) and a 10 hour editing package comes to around $2,300. But it may be a little more or a little less depending on the project.  Add a half prep day $500 for me to get everything scheduled. This also helps compensate for my time on the phone and replying to emails.
That brings the cost for the video to around $4,750.”

Oh I’m sorry is that too much?

We could go cheap on the lights, maybe cut some gear, shoot in only 1 place (so that the full day becomes a half day) and if the client is clear about what they want and behaves themselves on the number of changes the edit could be done in 10 hours to get the rate to a about $2,900. But that’s still a lot to a start up with say 750K in investment. I’m asking for .25% of all the money they have.

So, as a video production company, I can’t bill less and maintain the quality we both want. I spend an average of a half hour a day on 5 separate days on the phone or sending emails before we even have a contract. I’ll spend at least 3 hours getting the crew and gear ready.  Then I’ll spend a day or at least part of the day on shooting and 2 days out of the next week editing and encoding to send you the video.

The Workaround!

We have some costs set in stone in terms of gear, but those costs are the same if the gear is used for 1 hour or 10. So, let’s say we’ve cut everything we can cut and gone with the $2,900 video and you’re still not sure about it. I say, “Let’s shoot more!” Once you cross the threshold of 4 hour,s you’re paying the crew for a full day. It doesn’t matter if it takes 4 hours and 15  minute or 10 hours, we bill the same amount. Let’s work to come up with 1 or 2 simple video concepts, we could do 4 or 5 if they’re really simple like these product videos I did for Wasp Barcode.

So now you’re spending more than you were spending before. This won’t fix the problem if you simply don’t have the money. If you’re more concerned about bang for your buck, this is the best way: Spend an extra $1,000 or so for more editing and an extra prep day for me to help you come up with concepts for the videos and go over production logistics, but come out with 3 videos. For you $2,900 may be too much for 1 video, but $3,900 may be the perfect price for 3.