Did you know that Rachel Ray grounds up toasted pumpkin seeds, adds some herbs and uses the mixture to coat chicken? Me neither. One day, after my daughter mentioned this to me, I started thinking about how people’s eating habits are changing everywhere. More fast food restaurants serve healthier, lower fat meals. Today’s families use different herbs to prepare food than their parents’ generation. In my house, you may find your salad has apple, pineapple or oranges in it.

A few years ago, I would never have had the idea to do that to a salad. Nor would there have been printed recipes from Rachel Ray’s web site piled on the kitchen counter.

What’s happening?

The Internet. How? By making more information available online, our habits are changing. We’re teaching one another new tricks and evolving together. We’re sharing more stories by way of social networking. We’re learning new ways for doing the same old things. We’re willing to be talked into most anything, especially if we read it on the web, in an email from a friend or click a search engine result that looks credible.

Consider this example. In my town during the Atkins diet craze, all the products in the junk food, cereal, pasta and refined carbohydrates aisles were marked down drastically because everybody was afraid to eat that stuff. Not only was the book a top seller, but search engines were bonanzas of information for anyone wanting to understand how to lose weight by living on bacon and salad.

Not only could you research Atkins online, you could join forums, read testimonials, see pictures of success stories and purchase their products online. The web made it easy, fast, believable and hip. For awhile, based on keyword analysis, conversions and skyrocketing sales, Atkins was our weight loss hero.

Every link tells a story

Why are some of us eating more wild hickory nuts? One possible influencer is so subtle you barely know it’s there – links. The web explodes with links willing to lead you around. We follow because a link is feedback. It’s a vote. It’s a pointer. We’ll click on links that create interest, promise to answer a question or take us to a form. Links can tell us a story about our changing habits because we watch where people go and what they do once they get there. Search engines and keyword analysis use links like psychics use crystal balls.

Links are tracked and measured by people looking for the story behind link patterns. Therefore, if nobody is buying wild hickory nuts this month, is it because they have no idea what they are, weren’t transported by other sites to buy nuts, or perhaps the click path to purchase them is too confusing?

To persuade a site visitor to buy wild hickory nuts, link anchor text and content around the links will contain reasons to do so, such as “no fat, no salt, and no sugar”. Trigger words such as “save 50% today” or “free sample” may convince even the nut-hater to try some.

You’ve just influenced someone to try something new by adding a dash of organic SEO, creating momentum and offering value proposition. You’ve also done your part in the evolution of human change in eating habits.

A world with no smileys

Darwin had a fixation on facial expressions. He studied how humans developed ways of communicating with smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows and puckered lips. His discoveries showed how we share many of the same facial muscles as chimps and how ancient fish that later became land animals, no longer needed gills and fins and began to use their faces, ears and tails to communicate.

With computers, we started out with text in the form of email discussion groups, online chats and blogs. To communicate emotions, we rely on emoticons, specific words and grammar. Despite this, we tend to foul up communication because we can’t see eyes and faces or hear the tone of voice.

So how do we gauge intent online?

Again, we can turn to search. Through search engines we look for evidence of credibility. We can search for outside resources for verification of claims. In place of emoticons, web site designers can include heuristics on authenticity by adding pages covering expertise, work experience, testimonials and provide a history of stability and commitment to an industry, genre or to the web site itself.

People look for what is believable or not by looking for evidence of credibility and authenticity. They turn to the web for this information, using social media and sites that offer news, opinion and research. As we become more dependent on which sites and software we trust to give us accurate information, we want more ways of getting to it.

For this reason, cell phones and hand held devices are changing our habits and influencing our decisions. Google maps help us drive our cars. We no longer need to stop and grab a map from the glove box. OnStar can diagnose your car and email you its findings. We no longer have to make an appointment with a mechanic to know what the car needs.

How did you know to trust Google Maps? What made you sign up for OnStar services? Most likely it was based on user feedback, search engine research to help make decisions, and online marketing.

Has your routine changed? Do you look up Consumer Reports online before purchasing a new home appliance? Have you compared insurance policies on the internet? It’s not too difficult to see how computers and search are so integrated into our lives that we may one day press a spot on our wrist where a tiny computer is embedded into our skin that gives us instant access to information on anything.

I wonder what Darwin would think of that.

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This article was written for and previously published by Search Engine Land, October 31, 2008

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Common Web Site Usability Mistakes

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Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

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