The “mental model” is the way in which SEOs learn to understand people; how they learn to understand the behavior of the internet user and thus how they better optimize the website that they are working on.
Without an idea of who the people are that visit the website, inexperienced or very weak SEOs utilize generic labeling on their websites such as “about” or “products” or “contact.” These uninspired standards do serve a function, but an SEO who wants to create a powerful impact, to make the website easier to navigate and to improve the findability of that website needs to be included in the development of website content. They also need to use the “mental model” to understand the audience of that website to the max.
For instance, the world is full of traveling tourists at every given moment and there are millions of people employed in the task of serving those tourists. When foreigners arrive to a country and they do not speak the language, it is helpful if someone who speaks their language is there at the airport to meet them.
Another way of looking at the importance of the “mental model” for the SEO is to think about what happens when someone develops an allergy or a medical condition that they know little or nothing about. For example, a recently diagnosed diabetic may well want to research further into their condition online. An SEO needs to consider the behavioral habits of that internet user.
Is that internet user likely to want to see a site with broad labels such as “information” and “treatment,” or would it be more helpful to see labels like “forms of treatment” and “treatment side-effects”? On a similar note, might it be useful to create a “recently diagnosed” section on a website about diabetes that would explain everything in more depth; a clickable link that the new diabetic would see immediately upon entering the site?
Maybe a recently diagnosed diabetic would actually want to know less about the medical ins and outs of their condition, as this is something that they could find out about from their doctor; something that they could learn over time. From this perspective, maybe a recently diagnosed diabetic would rather be offered a site with labels that speak to them in common discourse. For example, “Diabetic DOs” and “Diabetic DONTs”?
Whatever the answers are to these above hypotheses, the essence behind the root of each question is the same…
SEOs must understand people. Therefore, successful SEOs utilize the “mental model”.
As an introduction to using the “mental model,” Webrageous Studios suggests that SEOs consider the following questions every time they begin to work on a website:
1. Who do you expect to use the site?
2. What do these internet users need?
3. How do they behave? How do they complete certain tasks?
4. What are the variables? (For instance, consider their age, how much time they have, whether they will have lots of computer experience or not).
5. How do they think and put ideas together?
Essentially, do a little research into the audience and put yourself in their shoes. This is the best way in which to begin employing the “mental model” and one of the best ways to improve the quality of the work you deliver as an SEO.