Senior SEO Consultant

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In SEO a lot of our industry is driven by three core ideas, and these ideas are oftentimes the fundamental objectives and components of any SEO RFP, or what clients believe they need.

These three core ideas being:

  • An increase in rankings for a specific subset of keywords
  • An increase in traffic
  • An increase in leads/sales/conversions/enquiries

This doesn’t mean to say that I’m discounting these three as being solid objectives of any marketing activity, let alone any SEO activities, but for me they shouldn’t be the core focus.

Ranking, or being visible, for the appropriate keywords is a prerequisite of an SEO campaign. So why set this out as a core objective if it’s a goal we should be achieving anyway.

In my opinion, unless your product is a direct contributor to one of the essential 7 life forces, or has been made essential by Government or other means of human construct, we need to go back to a baseline and ask the question why does anyone want your product or service? It’s not a need, it’s a want that may become a need driven by circumstance, but for the most part it’s not essential to life.

The answer is happiness.

Happiness is a misunderstood concept, and rightly so. It’s driven by a plethora of variables and means different things to different people – and is often overlooked and foreshadowed by other concepts, such as changes in user behavior and innovations in technology.

A good example of this is the CD.

You can still buy portable CD players from reputable, known mainstream stores and (some) modern vehicles still come with CD players – as well as the modern innovative equivalents. Stores still sell CDs online and in physical stores, and record labels still pay for and anticipate sales for physical CD copies of modern records.

So why have CD sales fallen in the US by almost 95% since their supposed peak in the mid2000s? The answer is happiness, and new innovations reducing the lead time to it.

Innovations in music technology have made consuming the product easier, more affordable, and more scalable for the end user. 

This additional convenience has increased the happiness of the user, as they’re able to discover and consume music on a much more infinite level than previously – and due to the laggards and nostalgic few, the product life cycle of the CD lives on yet.

With SEO we talk about matching keywords and content to search intent, and satisfying the intent of the user so they have a positive brand experience and will likely comeback and engage with our products and services, this is also why we talk about the (sales) funnel and notions like top-of-the-funnel content, and bottom-of-the-funnel content.

I’m not besmirching these sayings, or that they should go away altogether – but at the end of the day we’re looking to make the user happy.

The fact is, regardless of the user intent or whether or not it’s a top-of-the-funnel or bottom-of-the-funnel query, as long as its relevant to your user (and not just relevant to your business/product), then all that matters is that you’re the one that’s visible.

Rankings + Traffic ≠ Conversions

Campaigns fall down when the traffic comes, but the money doesn’t follow.

It’s easy to silo SEO as a function, and not a part of the wider marketing mix, and simply put the blame of poor conversion on external factors outside of the standard SEO remit of:

  • Poor website UX
  • Poor website design
  • Convoluted ordering/enquiring processes
  • Lack of sales support/visibility

By doing so we’re dismissing responsibility that the lack of conversion is actually down to the SEO strategy being implemented. There is a high possibility that we’re either attracting the wrong users, or simply not making them happy.

There is a contingent of the industry racing to the next best tactic, or the newest and shiniest silver bullet – but for years now Google have made it clear what they want and expect from websites in relation to making users happy.

This is why they (Google) have invested in improving their algorithm, invested in the speed and efficiency of content indexability, scoring, and retrieval.

This is why we get updates such as the Page Experience Update, and new metrics and warnings in Google Search Console to help encourage us in the right direction – to provide a positive web experience, and make users happy.

This is also why we have things like Passage Indexing. Google wouldn’t need to invest in this form of information identification, retrieval, and presentation if we hadn’t been so bad at it to begin with.

An example I use in my training slides for new Executives at SALT is that some websites bury information further down the page under the impression that they’re increasing the time that a user is spending on the page and the user scroll depth and this is all helping contribute to the site being great in the eyes of Google… Which is why Google now takes the content and displays it as a Featured Snippet, removing the need for the user to read 150+ words of content and scroll past a few Ads to get the answer to their question, or extracting the information as a Featured Snippet and then using fragment URLs to take the user to that part of your page and highlight the information in a brazen yellow.

🤦

So how, as SEO professionals, can we improve conversion, generate user happiness, and at the same time build successful campaigns for our users?

Better content. Better experience forecasting.

Vary Content Types

Content can take a number of forms, and more often than not we see an opposition to mixing content types on a single page.

A number of websites already mix content types on a page, but this is usually done under the cloak of SEO and with the purpose of generating signals for the user – and accidentally creating a better user experience along the way.

A common format is combining video and text, oftentimes the video is produced first and then transcribed so that the page (blog post) has content on it other than a YouTube embed. However, when the content is produced first, there can be a hesitancy to bundle a large text article into a shorter video and include it on the page in case it sends bad signals to Google that users aren’t spending a long time on the page.

However, this approach works – as proven by Cloudflare. They have a DDoS learning center with est. 2500 words on the page, and the single page (US URL pattern) ranks for 2,933 keywords*, driving an estimated 148,000 organic sessions a month*.

The page can take an estimated 8 minutes to read, or you can watch the 1m 49s video – both content types can satisfy the intent of the user (for a multitude of the near 3k keywords), meaning more users can be made happy.

Experience Forecasting

Experience Forecasting is not a new concept, and it’s not a new tactic – it’s been used for years by advertisers and companies, both online and offline to sell products and services.

Experience forecasting is the notion that a user will imagine their potential future usage of a product or service.

To cater for this, we need to first understand the intent and expectations of a user and then, through our content, impact the user journey with key pieces of information to make the imagination process easier.

In psychology, imagination generally refers to the ability to mentally represent sensations that are not physically present.

A really strong way of improving how well your pages can empower users to better forecast their experiences is to optimize your:

  • Reviews – company, product/service
  • Image contents
  • Face fears head on

Generating Reviews That Work For You & Your Customers

Amazon does this in a tangible way that can be implemented across any website – they harness the power of customer reviews.

We know that reviews are powerful, and can aid conversion by umpteen % – and a lot of us already use third-party review management platforms, or point users towards our Google My Business listings in some way or another – so what do Amazon do better?

They ask (better) targeted questions. 

Amazon loads their questions by understanding the common questions and pain points users seek clarification for when making a considered purchase.

For example, before Christmas I bought a new tablet in the Cyber deals, and if I go to leave a product review on Desktop I can leave a star review for overall quality, as well as individual star reviews for screen quality, battery life, and ease of use. 

On mobile, or via the Amazon app the experience is much the same – but ahead of the text box in which users can input a free text review – they’re prompted to mention or talk about the same three product features.

Amazon understands that users looking for tablets have the same pain points, and these pain points can impact the user experience of the product. 

This also yields some tangible SEO benefits, as you’re literally asking the users to generate keyword and product feature rich content for you, and the scale is only as finite as your product portfolio and how successful you are at getting user reviews (and just sending a half-baked email).

The only tactic or trick to implementing this is to understand more than just your client’s SEO needs.

You need to understand their product, and not only how people search for it – but how it solves paint points, how it’s perceived in the marketplace, how as a product it stacks up against rival products.

From this, you can determine how to approach content on the page and create happiness, by matching search intents to user pain points, helping them better forecast product usage and creating happiness.

Then, with a more aligned product expectation to happiness fulfilment, you’re more likely to create a positive brand experience and brand connection to the product/service in question. Happy customers are then likely to leave reviews and become repeat customers, and by being repeat customers you reduce the CPA and improve their LTV.

Positive Experiences = Brand Compound Searches

Towards the end of 2020, Google’s John Mueller spoke virtually at SMX and reaffirmed a lot of existing thoughts about what the future of search holds.

The presentation can be viewed from the agenda links, and registering.

One of the points that John raised is the notion of “user-pull”. In his words:

Sites need “user-pull”.

Do things users request by name.

Ranking for your name is easier 🙂

Achieving this isn’t a siloed SEO activity, but SEO is definitely a contributing factor, and may be uncomfortable for SEOs at first to but it’s a movement away from keyword research and determining user intent, to elevating the need for, and in some SEO frameworks the introduction of, first-party user research.

Again, going back to the previous point about understanding what the product/service is, but also how it differentiates itself from the marketplace, solves problems, and is perceived by existing and potential customers – as existing customers will naturally influence potential customers, and product/service advocacy never happens without encouragement.

The Elephant in the room here is how to actually do this. Saying to just “Google something” rather than “Search for something” has taken years of delivering a good and evolving search product, marketing, PR, and advertising.

The objective isn’t to become a brand, the objective is to become an aspiration, and this isn’t a new concept.

People in group A don’t want to buy a Porsche, Lamborghini, or Maserati. They want affirmation of success by owning a car that commands respect, and portrays the image of a successful person.

By the same token, people in group B don’t want to buy Volvo or Skoda. They want to buy a vehicle that’s consistent, reliable, and safe.

Both of these user groups have the same end objective, getting from A to B, their aspirations however focus on different elements. People in group A are concerned extrovertly about both the journey, and the arrival, whereas people in group B are introvertly concerned with the journey and arriving safely.

Through messaging, and enabling user experience forecasting, you can encourage users to better connect their aspirations with your product and service – no matter how mundane or extravagant the aspirations are.

____

* Data estimations from Semrush.

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