User Experience: The Makings of a Sustainable SEO Strategy
Since the dawn of search technology, there has been a lot of speculation around how to achieve the coveted first-page position on Google. Understandably enough, Google has always been tight lipped about their algorithm by only revealing vague details around significant updates or occasionally confirming or shutting down popular rumors, such as whether social media plays a role in ranking – which Google recently sorta’ kinda’ debunked (more on this later). But even when Google gives us small glimpses behind the curtain, a sustainable SEO strategy does not depend on the unveiling of Google’s secret algorithm. I’m afraid Google will never let this happen. Read my blog to learn more about the makings of a sustainable SEO strategy.
By now we know that a sustainable SEO strategy has nothing to do with “cracking the code” or “gaming the system.” As many can attest, past attempts to outsmart the search engines by using keyword stuffing or link farming ended with disastrous results after Google’s Panda update in February 2011 and Penguin update in April 2012.
Of course, it is important to stay abreast on the changes we observe in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and draw conclusions based on the way search technology is evolving. For instance, when it comes to the theory of social media, Google has said both, “yes” they do use social signals and then more recently, “no” they do not use Facebook or Twitter in their ranking algorithm. But what about other social signals like Google+? Both Google and Bing have invested a lot of time and resources into adding social search functionality over the past year. Why would they do this if social signals weren’t important? Given these trends, it’s safe to say that social signals will have an impact on ranking in the near future, if they don’t already.
With Google’s continuous updates and contradictions about what is and is not a ranking factor, it can be difficult to keep up. As SEOs, it’s our job to ensure we are providing our clients with the best combination of “signals” we have available at the time. Sometimes these signals are obvious – such as ensuring your site architecture is “crawlable,” while others are based on the strong implications and lots and lots of testing, such as social signals. Whichever strategy works best today, it will certainly change again and in the future. Heck, it’s probably changed since you started reading this blog! However, there is one rule in which Google has never wavered. As Google’s head of Webspam repeatedly asserts:
“Instead of chasing after the search engines, chase after the user experience because the search engines are chasing after the user experience”
– Matt Cutts
There you have it. A good SEO strategy puts the user first at all times. After all, both search engines and marketers ultimately want same thing – a satisfied customer. As search engines continue to make significant changes to please users, shouldn’t your website be doing the same thing?
Much like the vague details we get about Google’s algorithm, the term user experience is also extremely vague. Below I’ve laid out the two primary components of a website with good user experience.
Quality content may be the oldest trick in the book, but it remains the most important on-page ranking factor moving into 2015. In 2011, Google admitted to using real people to evaluate thousands of websites based on the site’s content. This type of human feedback has since been incorporated into the algorithms to provide better results. As search engines continue to build upon an endless collection of data, they become more sophisticated in understanding the kinds of websites people like. Bounce-rate and time-on-page are two metrics we can use to help us understand customer satisfaction. Keep in mind, a high bounce rate and low time on page in some cases means the user came to the site, immediately found what they needed and left – so it’s important to not rely on these two metrics alone.
In addition to quality content, people will form opinions about your brand based on its appearance – the search engines know this and have become extremely accurate at predicting and serving the kinds of websites that appeal to user’s preferences. A professionally designed website should not only have aesthetic appeal, it should also load extremely fast and take very little time and effort to navigate to the information the user is seeking. This is especially critical in 2015 – the year when mobile users are expected to surpass desktop users. Google has been dropping hints for a while that they understand the mobile user experience, and just recently started rolling out “mobile-friendly” tags in the search engine results page (SERPs) to indicate which pages will provide a good user experience versus a bad one. If your site is not built to adapt to mobile devices with larger font size, modified navigation and bigger buttons for touchscreens, expect to see a big drop in traffic moving into the New Year.
Putting the customer first often means incorporating the latest technology and modern trends, as well as constantly monitoring and modifying based on the results. In doing this, you can better understand your customer and secure more return visits, site engagement, shared links and bookmarking – all of which are signals that get picked up by search engines. Interactive marketing is all about user choice and companies that respect the user will be successful.
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