by Russ Ward (@russcward)
Recently I raised the subject of how web search is influenced by the concept of the cognitive constructs of the user and the semantics (words) and semiotics (signs and symbols) of the landing pages they select to go to. In this article I would like to explore the visible differences in how one web design can be very different from another but be trying to communicate the same subject.
As in my last post I also referred to the simple STOP sign and its meaning. Clearly we can consider it as a signifier to us that we do not need to read. In stating the obvious it is called a “sign”. The meaning of this sign is determined by its color, shape and text have a contextual communication that we immediately recognize.
On the other hand if I were to describe the sign in written form, I would be asking you to read an almost painful amount of text in order that you can codify my meaning.
For example – “Attached to a 2 inch diameter steel post embedded in the asphalt was an octagonal red colored metal plate. Layered in the form of a decal to the surface of the red plate, were the reflective letters ‘stop’ all set in capital characters. The opposite side of the metal plate was grey metal. This device is an accepted communication form for those traversing roads and highways to mean ‘come to a completed standstill in your vehicle before proceeding’”.
Ok I can tell you get it.
Words, signs, symbols and imagery in combination
In looking at the image in figure 1 you already know a primary thematic meaning of these three web pages. However we can see that three different web sites use all text or text and images or just images. In this case, the left hand page does not have an image and to confirm the continuity of the subject across all three pages reading the word “Toilets” in the black headline is required. These images have made us directly refer to their meaning –toilets without consciously processing the image. I refer these instances as “cognitive constructs”.
Of course there can be cultural differences in the cognitive constructs around the same subject. In this case Figure 2 clearly shows that the imagery does not directly fit a Western reference set.
As humans and in many instances other species, we recognize symbols and signs as a whole concept. We have learned the interpretation and meaning of these symbols across our entire lives.
Our minds are full of interpretations of millions of these signifiers from indents, paragraphs, zebra crossings, emoticons and automotive fuel and temperature gauges to more complex symbols like “No Entry”, “No Smoking”, “Biohazard”, “Radioactive Hazard ” etc. Some of these signifiers can be seen in Figure 3.
Yeah so what! There are no surprises and no new science here. Is there?
No not at all!
When we come to Web search engines, keyword optimization and relevance, almost the entire emphasis is of the search process is on the words themselves. We can see this across all of the major search engines today. When I search in Google, Bing, Yahoo or MSN I get word results for word search unless I choose “image” or “video”. Only recently have we seen some search engines provide users pop up windows with thumbnails of the web site landing page.
The results in a standard search return are just not optimized to help codify the meaning for the “context and relevance that combines images and text”. The current search engine technology expects people to manage their cognitive constructs to keep within “text base interpretations” of their search. If the result does not closely match the construct of the user then the user is likely to bounce off because of a poor cognitive match and look elsewhere to find what they are looking for. In another line of thought – this is simply pattern recognition and if we do not see the pattern we expect to see, we do not necessarily recognize what we are looking for or the result is out of context.
Having said that we can consider many things:
Until search engines can bring text, images, symbols and signs (semantics and semiotics) together in the same way our brain works, we will need to make an extra effort to be very deliberate how we consider search and marketing strategies.
Semantic and Semiotic Cognition continues.
When taking a user from a search result in search engine to a landing page via a link, the page content should best represent the users cognitive construct based on the search term interpretation that best fits the cultural or colloquial situation.
Makes sense right?
But ten’s of millions of web pages are not optimized for such search alignment, let alone even consider the match between the text, images and page layout.
In my next post, semiotics (symbols and signifiers) in relationship to websites.