Learning Outcomes in Web Design

Recently, I was sitting with a client in her cubical, working on their website, hunched over my laptop in a nose-to-the-grindstone position, when I sensed a shadow looming over me. I looked over my shoulder and a well-dressed, management-type man inquired, "What are you both working on so diligently?" I told him we were designing systematic change in the buyer’s desires. His face went blank.

I hesitated, and said, "It's about managing change in the buyer’s perception."

He instantly started laughing and sneered, "Why don't you design a site to manage the weather?"

I took a deep breath and asked, "Have there been any changes in your market lately?”

He sighed, sat down, and said, "Of course. Change is the only constant. Customers, suppliers, employees, stockholders, technol­ogy, demographics, governmental regulations, public opinion; they all change constantly. But you can't control change; all you can do is react to it."

The purpose of this article is to provide readers with a strategy-driven approach to the "real-life" practice of website design. If websites don’t invoke change in the user’s behavior, then what is the business objective of the site? If you are wanting more out of your website than a business card, then this article is for you.

In this article we'll discuss the following topics:

  • The importance of outlining learning outcomes
  • Ideal website structure
  • Resources and activities selection
  • Effective assessment strategies

Learning Outcomes 

One of the best ways to start planning your site is by thinking about what you'd like your visitors to be able to do when they leave it. At the same time, it is good to envision how they should demonstrate their new knowledge or skill. What your visitors are able to do as a result of the site are the learning outcomes of the site. Both terms refer to the notion of a site, that is, focuses not just on the content to be covered, but also on the skills, abilities, beliefs, and attitudes that result upon completion of the visit.

Learning outcomes encompass the knowledge, skills, and abilities that the visitors should gain after visiting your site. Learning outcomes are known by other terms as well, commonly used in the education industry. They are often referred to as course outcomes, course objectives, learning objectives, and student learning outcomes. In all cases, they are important in Social Marketing, and website design because they shape every aspect of your website, and Social Marketing campaigns, from selecting content and activities to creating experiences that determine whether or not the website or learning program was effective.

Writing Learning Outcomes

Because the website designer is focusing on visitor performance and bearing in mind what you'd like your visitors to do and how they should be able to demonstrate their new knowledge, skills, and abilities, your outcomes need to be written with the plan of action in mind.

So, as you go through the process of determining what the learning outcomes should be for your website, jot them down. You may come up with a long list, but later, make sure that you select the ones that best reflect what you'd like your visitors to achieve. We'd like to follow best practices for instructional design, so we recommend that your final list should contain not more than six or seven outcomes.

To transform your informal list of desired outcomes to formal learning outcomes statements, you may benefit from using the S. M. A. R. T. approach, which was first developed by George T. Doran. Since it was first published, it has become very popular in many applications that need to measure goals and outcomes. The criteria are very handy for making sure your statements are complete. Here are the S. M. A. R. T. guidelines, where your outcomes should be as follows:

Specific: Make sure that the desired outcomes are not too broad

Measurable: Include a quantity or a way to measure progress

Attainable: Your desired outcomes need to be achievable

Relevant: Make sure that the desired outcomes relate to your website

Time bound: Make it clear by when the objective should be achieved

As you write your S. M.A. R. T. outcomes, be sure to avoid verbs or phrases such as 'understand", "appreciate", "know about", "familiarize yourself with", and "develop an awareness of". Instead, use active verbs and phrases that connote measurable results, such as "identify", "describe", "analyze", "evaluate", and "create". Look back at the guidelines, and you'll see that they may not be measurable and may also have other deficiencies.

Bloom's Taxonomy

As you start to shape your learning outcomes, many teachers and site designers find it very useful to use Bloom's Taxonomy as a guide. Benjamin Bloom was an educational psychologist who helped develop a classification scheme for learning objectives that reflects how to show mastery in different skills, knowledge areas, and abilities.

Today there are six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, which ascend from the lowest to the highest cognitive skills as follows:

  • Knowledge/Remembering
  • Comprehension/Understanding
  • Application/Applying
  • Analysis/Analyzing
  • Evaluation/Evaluating
  • Synthesis/Creating

You can use Bloom's Taxonomy to create your learning outcomes using verbs that describe student learning. Bloom's Taxonomy can help you take a building block approach to website design by starting with the least complex cognitive skill category (Knowledge/remembering) and then moving up through the levels so that by the end of the visit, your visitors are able to synthesize and create new concepts about their needs and wants.

After you have created the six or seven learning outcomes for your site, keep in mind that you're aiming for outcomes at a variety of different levels. Then, you will need to assemble them in ascending order of complexity. Doing so will help you organize the way you present the material and select your resources and activities. It will also create scaffolding in which your visitors use the material they've just learned to ascend to the next level, ultimately participating in the buying cycle, and purchasing your products or services.

Selecting Resources and Activities

Now that you can write effective learning outcomes and have used them to build your framework, which is structured around topics, you are ready to start adding resources and activities.

Keep in mind that each of your topics will contain the following items:

  • A summary of your topic as it relates to the website as a whole and the specific content within that topic
  • A discussion forum where your visitors will interact with each other and you as they explain, discuss, and debate subjects that relate to the learning outcomes
  • Resources, such as blogs, audio lectures, videos, maps, papers, and more, that comprise the website content
  • Activities that provide an opportunity to rehearse the skills, reinforce knowledge, and practice the abilities needed for the sales and marketing assessments.




Practice Areas of SEO

It's imperative to first examine which search engine optimization (SEO) areas will need over­sight for a Social Marketing program. There are two audiences that search must consider: carbon-based life forms and the artificially intelligent computational silicon ones. When building or maintaining a search program, it's paramount that all of the pieces of marketing work together like clockwork. There is no simple tweak that conquers all for SEO, no all-in-one solution. All the pieces have to work together in concert.

What does a search optimization program cover? It's necessary to understand what marketing activities relate to SEO. When the search program doesn't reach into the right areas, the program can be rendered ineffective. Social Marketing activities unable to directly influ­ence changes made to the website runs a powerless program. Web development is one of the most important pieces of a Social Marketing program. Users will no longer tolerate slow performance in a website.

Countless people have asked us different versions of the same question over the years: what is the silver SEO bullet? They want some hot tip that they think is a secret to search success. Depending on my mood, I'll answer with something like, "Be inter­esting" or "Get faster:' One cannot simply unsheathe magical daggers to slay search engine dragons. There is no single tip we could give that would tangibly help a person further their search domination. No matter how much fun we have with our responses, people often seem disappointed (if they do not chuckle). There is never one single piece of hot gossip (i.e., some big secret) that's going to take you over the top without meaningful context or insights. SEO will never be a one-size-fits-all exercise.

The analytics and data modeling of Knowledge Curation are what initially drove us to become involved in Social Marketing. We noticed that when we made changes to our sites (and tracked them), sometimes traffic would increase. Slowly, we tinkered and figured out what resulted in more traffic. Relevance met with analytics instrumentation is the winningest combination. An Social Marketing profes­sional without analytics is a blind one; analytics are the key for measuring which tac­tics work and which do not.

There's essentially no argument that can be made to discount analytics as a core part of Social Marketing programs. Perhaps it could be argued that mobile app installs, or a mobile application's analytics wouldn't fall under Social Marketing, but they still fall under app store opti­mization (ASO). App store optimization for mobile applications is a colossal industry. Much of mobile optimization relied on paid search in the beginning, but not any­more. ASO is the cool Canadian cousin of SEO and the two can work together in terms of linking. Deep linking from within mobile apps can bring much needed oomph to mobile search efforts. When I say "oomph" I mean credibility in the eyes of the engines. Sentiment is an increasingly interesting factor for search (and social media). As machine learning evolves, along with hardware, detecting sentiment will gain importance over time.

Content and outbound communications are crucial for engaging humans and their counterparts (i.e, robots, crawlers and spiders). Compelling content that excites peo­ple fosters a site's search dominance far more than thin corporate advertising coupled with stock imagery. Corporate communications like public relations, social media, and email also fall under the SEO umbrella. Keywords and phrases used in communi­cations should involve thoughtful research from the outset. Planning keyword targets and goals together is of the utmost importance for all outbound communications.

Penny-Wise, Search-Foolish

Keywording like crazy for product pages, blogs, and press releases is not where it's at for search programs any longer. Before, almost everyone and their sister had a blog, they issued press releases when they wanted to make an announcement. It was possible to pay to push press releases out via a service. Press releases do not carry anywhere close to the link juice they once did with humans or with search engines.

There are many sites and services that offer to help place press releases for SEO and public relations gains. Anything you can pay for, everyone else in the world can pay for, too. How is that a key advantage? Be cautious of sites offering "exclusive placement" for pay. "Limited time" and exclusive promotional offers rarely are exclusive in reality. It's important to make the user feel like they're crossing a velvet rope, gaining entrance to the hottest nightclub in town. Bouncers sit outside the club (not inside it) to give an illu­sion of prestige. Just like a nightclub, calls to action should feel exclusive. Make your user feel special, not like any random stranger off the street can just walk in.


There are many facets of outbound communications to consider. Optimizing content can definitely help search programs, but it cannot lead them. An unexpected example of outbound communique for helping search is email. Yes, email. You are probably wondering how email relates to SEO. Email is a gray-haired business tool and remains the ultimate survivor of the old-school marketing tool chest. The most aged of marketing methods is word of mouth, such as referrals from happy customers. Collect the emails of your advocates and do not abuse their trust. Attaining effortless yet enthusiastic referrals is the key to scalable growth; email is the uncool minivan taking you there. Your net promoters are those customers who are engaged with your site, so emailing them is a slam dunk.

Umpteen tools purport to someday replace email (or make it more extreme) and they have come and gone. Email marketing remains useful because it drives traffic and revenue effectively for a very low cost. Email marketing also cross-pollinates SEO by boosting engagement with and visibility of a site's content. A well-curated email list can drive revenue masterfully. For example, if you allow public blog comments, a tar­geted email to your net promoters can yield a significant number of page views, shares, and user-generated content.

Email updates or newsletters with substantive information can also be placed on the site for content purposes. If site visitors devotedly pour over the information they see in an email, they'll probably revel in it on a website. However, be forewarned. The days of mass email lists and campaign blasts are over. Don’t fall for use of email in this way. For email to drive SEO and be a positive contributor to the Social Marketing practice it must be tied to a website.

Social media

Now that we've had our lovefest on the virtues of email, let's look at the new kid on the search block, social media and social bookmarking. There's a sharp dividing line between Social Marketing professionals who believe social doesn't count toward search relevance and those who do. The main argument for detractors of social SEO say that major search engines do not officially recognize it as a direct ranking factor. This is a misleading line of logic. Search engines also don't espouse that the sky is blue. The major engines do not announce everything they consider when calculating results. The cloak-and­-dagger element makes it a little more fun. No search engine will ever release details of the inner workings of core super-warrior stuff. Why would the fact that engines don't officially acknowledge social media matter?

Social media sends traffic and often gets indexed, so recognized or not, it directly impacts search. It's a classic feedback loop. At the Social Marketing Agency, we’re a go-getter type who comes from a place of yes when trying new things, so we say yes, let's assume it matters! Social media also brings traffic to a website. What brings the traffic brings the thunder, then the rain. Social media is an ever-changing element that delivers relevant experiences. We should expect to see search within social media start to matter more and more. After many years of studying numerous companies' analytics, we have observed that when social media traffic goes up, organic search generally does as well.

Healthy social media traffic certainly doesn't hurt SEO efforts. Social media and social aggre­gators provide a lightning-fast number of natural back links and traffic. Social media services like Twitter and LinkedIn are currently being indexed by most major search engines. Aggregators like Reddit or Product Hunt will blow your traffic numbers out of the water.

There are umpteen factors colliding in the search results you see, including location, device used, sessions you're logged into, if you are walking while searching on a phone or standing still, and so on. Location is one of the most financially valuable metrics used in mobile advertising. Therefore, location-based marketers should embrace social media for mobile on paid and organic fronts.

Thought and care should be given to social media when formulating a search-program strat­egy. For example, right now tweets are getting indexed. Search Google, and you will see tweets in the results. Next year, they could formally partner or do a revenue share if they're not secretly doing it already. If we’re your Social Marketing Strategist, then we’re going to consider anything that builds your relevance, territory, and magnification of signals. If you add all the data together, it's hard to ignore social media's impact on traffic.

Web development

Some organizations choose to silo web development from marketing, which is a mis­take. It is hard to imagine success in organic search without the ability to implement changes quickly on the homepage. A Social Marketing service without access or authority to change what's on the company homepage is doubtlessly hampered. The person who has the responsibility of managing the homepages search performance should also have some level of influence. If people have no power to affect change, then they cannot do their jobs. Failing that, the data can do the talking. If the mobile version of the site differs from desktop for some reason, this should also be included under SEO. Web­site development efficiency and efficacy have become key elements of search perfor­mance with the advent of mobile's popularity.

Ideally, the search practitioner should lead or get involved in the user interface and experience of a website. The analytics instrumentation becomes especially important when it comes to assessing performance. In this context, instrumentation means the integrity and veracity of the analytics setup. If the analytics tools were deployed prior to a Social Marketing Agency’s arrival, then they must find reasonable evidence that lead-tracking sources are properly capturing.

You May Be Wondering, Does SEO Cover All Aspects of Internet Marketing?

While a Social Marketing practitioner doesn't necessarily have to directly manage all of the previously mentioned practice areas, it's ideal for communication to be happening between these entities. A Social Marketing practitioner who doesn't know about upcoming site updates won't know when to do their jobs. Strong communication between departments means the team will catch things like whether or not the tracking scripts are still intact after a site update, and whether or not they need to make the annotations in analytics for notable events. Annotation-worthy examples include a product or campaign launch, a new speed fix, etc.

The most successful Social Marketing programs we’ve built contained the right combination of both the head and the heart. Content is the heart of SEO. Content must convey sentiment for people to be able to empathize and connect with it. Analytics, website optimization, and the more technical aspects are governed by the cogent side ­the head.