Web developers devote a lot of time making content usable ...for search engines. I don't get the idea a lot of time is spent on information usability for humans.
It could be called information, not content. But doing so implies a lot of work went into learning about the reader, up to and including user testing writing.
That's right. Test writing style, which details matter most, and different approaches. A/B split run testing allows you to test a variety of different versions of an article, tweaking every detail for maximum conversion.
Test a story version against generic corporate fluff. Try a point of view against name, rank, and serial number routines regularly used by competitors.
And if you have been writing for the faceless "market," try writing to a specific target reader profile.
The problem I have with a lot of Nielson's stuff on the web is that it's old. This article, August 2003.
I disagree that web developers don't work for information usability for humans. It's a rough road, but both writers and web developers are walking it. I work for several developers who are as concerned about the end user as they are about search results. After all, it's all about conversion. You don't get that without delivering what users need to read to make a purchase decision.
I guess I didn't read the same article you did. The one I read doesn't say a word about split testing content and maybe that's because Nielsen understands that it's impractical for many websites and the small web development firms that build them. You seem to forget that web developers build websites for clients within the budget the client gives them.
In nearly seven years of writing web content, I have never had a client ask me for two versions of content so that he can split test it. Maybe you haven't a lot of experience with working for clients, but in my experience, having a site up and running yesterday probably isn't quick enough for a lot of them.
I applaud those web developers who are able to convince their clients that paying to have professional copy written is in their best interests. Nielsen is right that information pollution is rife on the web. However, I believe it's because of all those who think typing is writing, not because web developers don't split-test content and not because professional copywriters and web developers aren't concerned about "information usability for humans".
Furthermore, its' my opinion that a good copywriter knows who his/her audience is and how to reach them. If you have the bucks, the time, and the resources—split-test to your little hearts desire. But it isn't really a necessary element in order to deliver the information a business's customers need to make a purchase decision.