As search engines become more advanced at deciphering user intent, marketers need to rethink and question traditional SEO tactics. When marketers think of “Search Engine Optimization”, factors like keyword density, meta descriptions and link profiles often come to mind. These technical tactics, while important, are becoming less relevant as “Search Engine Optimization” moves toward “Search Experience Optimization”.
What exactly is Search Experience Optimization? Precisely what the name implies — optimizing the search experience of the user. That means winning more organic search traffic requires aligning your content marketing strategy with user intent. While this is a complex and important transition in digital marketing, we’ve simplified the process into four critical steps marketers should follow to deliver the best possible user experience.
Understanding Search Intent
It all starts with smart keyword research and creating relevant content. When thinking about target keywords, ask two important questions: “What is the user looking for?” and “Does my website address the user’s question?” A good tip to discern user intent is to type the keyword in question into Google and evaluate the search results.
For example, if the Google search engine results page (SERP) for “orange” shows sites related to the nutrition facts of an orange, then you know you should probably create content related to orange nutrition in order to rank for the keyword “orange”.
Furthermore, studies have shown that search habits have become more semantic and will likely increase as voice search increases in prominence. This means that rather than searching for general terms such as “orange”, users are more likely searching for “What is the nutritional value of an orange?”. In order to rank, your content has to answer the user’s questions. Take some time to understand what questions your target audience is asking and ensure that you are creating relevant pages for those questions. Understanding search intent is key.
Create In-Depth, Relevant Content
This may come as a surprise, but a recent study from Backlinko found first page Google search results average 1,890 words, a sharp increase from the standard 400-word blog post.
In an era where people want short, concise content, why would longer content rank higher? Studies show that in-depth content that fully answers user questions creates a more positive user experience. In fact, in a study done by the New York Times, articles with long and intellectually challenging topics actually receive more email shares.
It all ties back to the strategy of creating relevant content that answers the question of the searcher. When you write a post about one topic in depth, it provides the user with stimulating food for thought. This, of course, means that the content needs to be focused and well-written .
Optimize Your Website For Mobile
With mobile searchers on the rise, it only makes sense that a mobile optimized site is an important factor in delivering a better user experience. A little over a year ago, Google announced they would be updating their algorithm to show more mobile-friendly sites in search results. Sites that are not optimized for mobile have a disadvantage and the impact will only become greater as more users search on mobile devices.
An important factor to consider when optimizing your site for mobile is to consider the page load speed. Google understands people searching on mobile most likely do not have the same bandwidth as desktop users. Therefore, if you load your website with data and animations, then it will likely slow down page load speed and lower the user experience. Earlier this year, Google released the AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, for marketers to optimize their website for mobile primarily by increasing the page load speed of mobile sites.
In addition, ensure that your site is responsive. In other words, make sure the user can easily read content without having to pinch or zoom. Often, the desktop version of the site is not optimal for mobile devices and makes it hard to read for the user. Having a website that requires your mobile user to pinch and scroll just to read a sentence will not engage the user for long. Put in the investment and optimize your site for the mobile experience.
Don’t Forget Search Experience Metrics
As the name “Search Experience Optimization” suggests, user experience is crucial. After optimizing your keyword strategy, website content, and mobile experience, pay attention to on site user behavior metrics. Focus on metrics that point to positive user interactions, such as time on site, bounce rate, pages per visit, return visitor rates, and conversions. (Luckily, you can view all of this data via Google Analytics data, which is free.) Ideally, marketers should strive for high time on site, low bounce rate, high pages per visit, high return visitor rates, and high conversions.
If you notice one of these metrics trending in the wrong direction, look for the cause and A/B test for a better result. For example, if you notice that your bounce rate is increasing month over month, look into factors like page load speed.
These metrics are critical to SEO success because search engines like Google and Bing actively collect this data to evaluate and rank search results. If Google notices that your website continues to have high bounce rate, then Google assumes your website delivers a poor user experience which will impact your search rankings over time.
Winning organic search traffic is no longer a game of link building and keyword stuffing. A solid SEO strategy involves optimizing the entire search experience of the user, starting from the search query typed into Google, all the way to the end user interaction with your website. While SEO continues to rapidly evolve, the good news is optimizing for user intent is much more intuitive than following a machine algorithm. When done well, the end result benefits both marketers and consumers.
Ready to learn more about delivering a better user experience? Download our eBook, “SEO in the Post-RankBrain Era” for more search experience optimization best practices!