CUA of the Month – April, 2009

Thanh Nguyen
"Usability and SEO go hand in hand – what's good for the users is good for the spiders. Many clients say they want SEO and actually mean usability."
Thanh Nguyen
Director of Usability

The Search for Usability Finding a User-Centered Approach to SEO Design

by Doug Gorney

For Thanh Nguyen, it's all about the search.

When we caught up with Thanh, she and her colleagues at BusinessOnLine were hard at work on a redesign of, the American Red Cross website. "We're integrating keyword research into the site structure – massaging the links not only in terms of what users look for, but what the search engines look for. It's an essential element of web design – where usability and SEO meet and guide the user from the information-seeking phase to actually accomplishing their goals. This approach to integrating User-Experience, Web design, and SEO is what sets my firm apart. No one else does it."

"I love working at something I was trained to do," says Thanh, who comes to usability from the field of cognitive science. While at the University of California, San Diego, Thanh specialized in human-computer interaction, conducting ethnographic research and contextual inquiries. Usability had become Thanh's passion by the time she graduated and began work as a developer and designer at BusinessOnLine, an online marketing agency.

"As a developer it was my job to code and develop page layout, but I used my experience and knowledge from my studies to take it a step further and really build solutions that were intuitive and took the user's needs into consideration. My passion for the user and the results we achieved by designing with users in mind prompted BusinessOnLine to create a position dedicated to this aspect. I moved away from coding and focused exclusively on ensuring that minimum standards, best-practices, and learned conventions of usability were being employed in every website we delivered." At that point, Thanh realized it the position was going to be challenging. "There was no usability department here," she noted. "They wanted me to build it!"

Thanh was going to be a real usability pioneer. She was charged with defining BusinessOnLine's usability process and creating the direction for the department. And, she realized that for BusinessOnLine, usability would mean much more than simply creating user-centered web designs.

"BusinessOnLine is an online marketing agency and User-Experience is one of our core competencies along with Web Design, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media, and Analytics. The challenge for me was to integrate usability across departments. To make all of it user-centered really meant institutionalizing usability from the start. I wanted to make sure, usability was a process, not a stop gap solution that comes at the end of a website development."

Rail Europe is a good example. Operated by the French National Railroads for American travelers, Rail Europe engaged BusinessOnLine for a website redesign to improve the user-experience and hopefully increase conversions. Working with her designers at BusinessOnLine, Thanh and her department made wireframes of the new site and conducted user interviews and research studies to test elements including what appeared to be highly effective new search terms.

"It looked like everything was on track," says Thanh. "But if there's one thing you learn in usability, it's not to make assumptions." Thanh and her team pressed on with a card-sorting analysis, digging deeper and they realized that many of their American test users were using "train" as a search term – not "rail". "That one piece of contextual usability – finding the right search term for this market – made all the difference in how the site would be structured that would optimally benefit users and spiders.

And because Thanh kept SEO in the background through the entire development process, search engine spiders (applications that keep search engines up-to-date) did not have to take weeks to figure out the new Rail Europe site, as they usually do. On top of that, their Google rankings did not suffer either.

"A lot of clients don't really know what usability is," says Thanh. "Being a Certified Usability Analyst adds credibility to our practice, and creates a sense of trust with our clients. I make it a point to discuss usability principles with clients and to articulate how implementing these concepts can have tangible results, including lifts in conversion, leads, and revenue."

Thanh took all four of HFI's certification-track usability courses and received her certification in 2006. "Even though I'd had a lot of user-centered design experience by that time, I learned a lot of new design and research techniques. What really made those courses valuable, though, is how they put research into practice. They show you heuristics, then, go into the research that supports them. When you've grounded design methodology in cognitive psychology and HCI (human-computer interaction) research, that's solid proof."

Thanh always keeps the binders from her HFI courses right next to her in her office. "Any time I'm at a loss for an idea, or I need validation, I'll pull them out."

Demand for user experience design has boomed with the advent of Web 2.0, Thanh notes. Many clients are coming to BusinessOnLine because today's digital business strategies demand an understanding of the users, their preferences, and the way they use the web to accomplish goals. That's turned Thanh into something of a usability evangelist. She is regularly invited to speak at design, marketing, and usability conferences; including the Online Marketing Summit, MarketingProfs, and Online Marketing World, and her client work has been featured as a MarketingSherpa case study. Additionally, she is a published author contributing articles and resources to various industry publications. Attendees always ask her for materials and white papers, and in addition to the ones she authors, she often refers them to

She also spread the usability gospel at BusinessOnLine, integrating the contents of her HFI binders into the training materials of new hires. "If you're on a search for usability, I tell them, then, this is a great way to start."

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to

Privacy policy

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

This Privacy Policy governs the manner in which Human Factors International, Inc., an Iowa corporation ("HFI") collects, uses, maintains and discloses information collected from users (each, a "User") of its website and any derivative or affiliated websites on which this Privacy Policy is posted (collectively, the "Website"). HFI reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of this Privacy Policy at any time by posting such changes to this page. You understand that you have the affirmative obligation to check this Privacy Policy periodically for changes, and you hereby agree to periodically review this Privacy Policy for such changes. The continued use of the Website following the posting of changes to this Privacy Policy constitutes an acceptance of those changes.


HFI may use "cookies" or "web beacons" to track how Users use the Website. A cookie is a piece of software that a web server can store on Users’ PCs and use to identify Users should they visit the Website again. Users may adjust their web browser software if they do not wish to accept cookies. To withdraw your consent after accepting a cookie, delete the cookie from your computer.


HFI believes that every User should know how it utilizes the information collected from Users. The Website is not directed at children under 13 years of age, and HFI does not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under 13 years of age online. Please note that the Website may contain links to other websites. These linked sites may not be operated or controlled by HFI. HFI is not responsible for the privacy practices of these or any other websites, and you access these websites entirely at your own risk. HFI recommends that you review the privacy practices of any other websites that you choose to visit.

HFI is based, and this website is hosted, in the United States of America. If User is from the European Union or other regions of the world with laws governing data collection and use that may differ from U.S. law and User is registering an account on the Website, visiting the Website, purchasing products or services from HFI or the Website, or otherwise using the Website, please note that any personally identifiable information that User provides to HFI will be transferred to the United States. Any such personally identifiable information provided will be processed and stored in the United States by HFI or a service provider acting on its behalf. By providing your personally identifiable information, User hereby specifically and expressly consents to such transfer and processing and the uses and disclosures set forth herein.

In the course of its business, HFI may perform expert reviews, usability testing, and other consulting work where personal privacy is a concern. HFI believes in the importance of protecting personal information, and may use measures to provide this protection, including, but not limited to, using consent forms for participants or "dummy" test data.

The Information HFI Collects

Users browsing the Website without registering an account or affirmatively providing personally identifiable information to HFI do so anonymously. Otherwise, HFI may collect personally identifiable information from Users in a variety of ways. Personally identifiable information may include, without limitation, (i)contact data (such as a User’s name, mailing and e-mail addresses, and phone number); (ii)demographic data (such as a User’s zip code, age and income); (iii) financial information collected to process purchases made from HFI via the Website or otherwise (such as credit card, debit card or other payment information); (iv) other information requested during the account registration process; and (v) other information requested by our service vendors in order to provide their services. If a User communicates with HFI by e-mail or otherwise, posts messages to any forums, completes online forms, surveys or entries or otherwise interacts with or uses the features on the Website, any information provided in such communications may be collected by HFI. HFI may also collect information about how Users use the Website, for example, by tracking the number of unique views received by the pages of the Website, or the domains and IP addresses from which Users originate. While not all of the information that HFI collects from Users is personally identifiable, it may be associated with personally identifiable information that Users provide HFI through the Website or otherwise. HFI may provide ways that the User can opt out of receiving certain information from HFI. If the User opts out of certain services, User information may still be collected for those services to which the User elects to subscribe. For those elected services, this Privacy Policy will apply.

How HFI Uses Information

HFI may use personally identifiable information collected through the Website for the specific purposes for which the information was collected, to process purchases and sales of products or services offered via the Website if any, to contact Users regarding products and services offered by HFI, its parent, subsidiary and other related companies in order to otherwise to enhance Users’ experience with HFI. HFI may also use information collected through the Website for research regarding the effectiveness of the Website and the business planning, marketing, advertising and sales efforts of HFI. HFI does not sell any User information under any circumstances.

Disclosure of Information

HFI may disclose personally identifiable information collected from Users to its parent, subsidiary and other related companies to use the information for the purposes outlined above, as necessary to provide the services offered by HFI and to provide the Website itself, and for the specific purposes for which the information was collected. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information at the request of law enforcement or governmental agencies or in response to subpoenas, court orders or other legal process, to establish, protect or exercise HFI’s legal or other rights or to defend against a legal claim or as otherwise required or allowed by law. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information in order to protect the rights, property or safety of a User or any other person. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information to investigate or prevent a violation by User of any contractual or other relationship with HFI or the perpetration of any illegal or harmful activity. HFI may also disclose aggregate, anonymous data based on information collected from Users to investors and potential partners. Finally, HFI may disclose or transfer personally identifiable information collected from Users in connection with or in contemplation of a sale of its assets or business or a merger, consolidation or other reorganization of its business.

Personal Information as Provided by User

If a User includes such User’s personally identifiable information as part of the User posting to the Website, such information may be made available to any parties using the Website. HFI does not edit or otherwise remove such information from User information before it is posted on the Website. If a User does not wish to have such User’s personally identifiable information made available in this manner, such User must remove any such information before posting. HFI is not liable for any damages caused or incurred due to personally identifiable information made available in the foregoing manners. For example, a User posts on an HFI-administered forum would be considered Personal Information as provided by User and subject to the terms of this section.

Security of Information

Information about Users that is maintained on HFI’s systems or those of its service providers is protected using industry standard security measures. However, no security measures are perfect or impenetrable, and HFI cannot guarantee that the information submitted to, maintained on or transmitted from its systems will be completely secure. HFI is not responsible for the circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures relating to the Website by any Users or third parties.

Correcting, Updating, Accessing or Removing Personal Information

If a User’s personally identifiable information changes, or if a User no longer desires to receive non-account specific information from HFI, HFI will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update and/or remove that User’s previously-provided personal data. This can be done by emailing a request to HFI at Additionally, you may request access to the personally identifiable information as collected by HFI by sending a request to HFI as set forth above. Please note that in certain circumstances, HFI may not be able to completely remove a User’s information from its systems. For example, HFI may retain a User’s personal information for legitimate business purposes, if it may be necessary to prevent fraud or future abuse, for account recovery purposes, if required by law or as retained in HFI’s data backup systems or cached or archived pages. All retained personally identifiable information will continue to be subject to the terms of the Privacy Policy to which the User has previously agreed.

Contacting HFI

If you have any questions or comments about this Privacy Policy, you may contact HFI via any of the following methods:
Human Factors International, Inc.
PO Box 2020
1680 highway 1, STE 3600
Fairfield IA 52556
(800) 242-4480

Terms and Conditions for Public Training Courses

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

Cancellation of Course by HFI

HFI reserves the right to cancel any course up to 14 (fourteen) days prior to the first day of the course. Registrants will be promptly notified and will receive a full refund or be transferred to the equivalent class of their choice within a 12-month period. HFI is not responsible for travel expenses or any costs that may be incurred as a result of cancellations.

Cancellation of Course by Participants (All regions except India)

$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date.

Cancellation / Transfer by Participants (India)

4 Pack + Exam registration: Rs. 10,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (4 Pack-CUA/CXA) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.

Cancellation / Transfer by Participants (Online Courses)

$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date. No cancellations or refunds less than two weeks prior to the first course start date.

Individual Modules: Rs. 3,000 per participant ‘per module’ processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (any Individual HFI course) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.

Exam: Rs. 3,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the pre agreed CUA/CXA exam date before three weeks from the examination date. No refund or carry forward of the exam fees if requesting/cancelling or transferring the CUA/CXA exam within three weeks before the examination date.

No Recording Permitted

There will be no audio or video recording allowed in class. Students who have any disability that might affect their performance in this class are encouraged to speak with the instructor at the beginning of the class.

Course Materials Copyright

The course and training materials and all other handouts provided by HFI during the course are published, copyrighted works proprietary and owned exclusively by HFI. The course participant does not acquire title nor ownership rights in any of these materials. Further the course participant agrees not to reproduce, modify, and/or convert to electronic format (i.e., softcopy) any of the materials received from or provided by HFI. The materials provided in the class are for the sole use of the class participant. HFI does not provide the materials in electronic format to the participants in public or onsite courses.