We live in a world that is fast changing, constantly evolving and frequently learning. And with the phenomenal penetration of the internet in our everyday lives, we can safely say that the internet and the resultant digital tools and innovations – not to mention the birth of the equally pervading social media has now spread through our daily lives from sun up to sun down.
Equally important to take note of is the skyrocketing ascend of mobile users that is posed to overtake search using desktop and laptops. Accordingly, 52.7% of the global internet users use mobile devices, particularly smartphones and other internet-enabled portable device to search, browse and surf the internet.
Search Is Evolving and So Are Searchers Too
Given the ever increasing trend of internet users world-wide and the need to oomph-up users’ search experience, search engines particularly Google, Microsoft’s Bing and even Apple (through Safari and Apple’s taunted Spotlight search engine) have invested heavily on algorithmic upgrades and on artificial learning more akin to artificial intelligence or AI which takes into account learning from users’ searches to give the best user experience.
This much is true with the introduction of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm rolled-out in August 2013 that capitalizes on search learning – understanding the intent of the searcher doing a search to know what the searcher is actually trying to find. Currently, the algorithms being used by search engines are fundamentally built on inputs from bots (like that of Googlebots that mechanically go through pages of sites and indexing the same for future searches) that automatically crawl a website’s pages. Quite challenging is the fact that such bots cannot effectively supplement actual actions of a human searcher and to mimic fully what a searcher intends to know or do. In a similar fashion, it is a monumental task (if not entirely prohibitive) for search engines to create an algorithm that will collate, cross-reference and individually screen hundreds of millions if not billions of anecdotal feedbacks just to recreate human intuition and responses on search.
Learning from Searchers: Moving Into the New SEO
The next best thing to do to implement a “learning” algorithm that tries to logically guess human thoughts to best proximate what web users should experience on any given website or ecommerce site. Criteria such as mobile compatibility (mobile-optimized pages for mobile devices), site speed (loading speed), website structuring (how pages in a website are interconnected in an orderly fashion), content (texts, videos, graphics) and other indicators signal algorithms whether or not online searchers are getting what they (the online searchers) look forward to from a website.
So, for brands, online marketers and website owners, what would this mean for their current Search Engine Optimization (SEO) initiatives?
Fundamentally this means that what we are seeing is the shifting of search engine optimization (SEO) as we know it that focuses on search engines only and on rankings alone into a new age of search experience optimization (the new SEO) that focuses on enhancing users search experience. Now that’s a lot of difference. Traditional SEO only thinks of outranking competing websites on SERPs by focusing on search engines while the new SEO is user-centric; focusing on online searchers and giving the best in search experience for users.
This seemingly pivotal change would immensely mean a lot for those performing digital marketing in the right and acceptable manner deemed as “White Hat SEO”. Collaterally, this would mean that for people and individuals practicing black hat SEO, the age of manipulating the system has come to pass and it would be unwise not to mention less viable to “game” optimization as it stands.
Now the crux of the matter is how websites should be optimized for search engines in an era where user experience plays a lead role in optimization?
It’s all about the User: Be Searcher-centric
In the past, SEO practitioners and online marketers are fixated over title tags, Meta descriptions, Meta tags, keyword density and link building. They had the whole thing written down according to percentages and optimum numbers but the question that begs to be answered is how would a website built from data collated on spreadsheets appeal to a human being? Search engines do not buy products and services, people do!
Specifically, as a website owner or an ecommerce site owner and even for online marketer, your line of thinking should be geared towards your website’s visitors and not centering on search engines per se. This means from web design to marketing process you should be user-centric. How to do it? For example you’re designing a website instead of focusing and consuming your energy on how your site would appear on search engine, start asking yourself how your target audience; your customers if you will, are searching the web. Sounds pretty basic, right? But think of it thoroughly. Before, site owners and online marketers would optimize for keywords or search terms like “Korean clothes” or “oven for sale”. But search behavior of online searchers have drastically changed over the years in that people – the online searchers – are no longer browsing in broad terms, searchers now are asking questions when they do an online query.
As a result, when they (the online searcher) types for “Korean clothes” they are asking “where to buy Korean clothes online?” or “where to shop online for Korean clothes?”
Consequently, websites that answer questions for their target clients are the ones winning in page ranks on SERPs. Instead of worrying too much over the number of times you have mentioned your keywords on the content of your site’s page, start asking what and where your potential customers need help with.
Leverage Mobile Search
It’s a fact that mobile search is overtaking search from other devices like desktops and laptops. Most people, especially those on the go uses smart phones, phablets and other internet connected portable devices to search, browse and surf the internet or to check social media sites. Given the almost overwhelming number of mobile device users that browse and check the internet wouldn’t it be prudent for you to optimize your website to be mobile-friendly too?
Industry expert and Chief Digital Marketing Officer for RapidCloud Singapore, Mr. Pang Seng Ong in an interview stated that “Search engines, particularly Google no longer dilly-dally around mobile optimization,” says PS Ong. “Google center-staged mobile-friendliness of websites by releasing in April 21, 2015 the mobile-friendly algorithm touted by some as the “Mobilegeddon” which essentially rewards web pages that are mobile-friendly through increase in page ranks on mobile search and penalizing those that doesn’t.”
It can be recalled that in April last year, Google’s announcement regarding mobile-friendliness sent shock-waves down the digital world including the SEO community with an algorithmic update that specifically improved the search engine visibility of mobile optimized sites over their less optimized competitors. Naysayers termed the algorithm update as “mobilegeddon” which caused quite a buzz in the SEO community, it has also impacted not just small businesses and entrepreneurs but also large companies and establishments including Fortune-listed companies not mobile optimized at the time of the initial roll-out.
The same can be said of the much recent mobile-friendly algorithm update, dubbed by many as “Mobilegeddon 2.0“, which Google rolled-out this 2016. This update reinforces Google’s commitment to enhance and improve user experience for mobile users across the globe.
Start recognizing (if you haven’t still done it, then you should do now) the requirements of mobile internet users. Remember, mobile users have limited bandwidth compared to the conventional desktop users. Constraints in the internet speed of mobile users hinders interaction with web pages that have lots videos, animations and data which takes longer periods of time to load, which, as discussed, is not best for those mobile users.
Analyze Your Website’s User Experience
Now that you have worked your way into optimizing your site’s contents and made sure that your website is mobile-friendly, what you should do next is to analyze data generated by your site’s users and visitors. This step is heavily data driven that should make website owners and those managing a website know and understand how users experience and interact with your website. One way of doing this is by utilizing analytic tools like Google’s Analytics which the giant search engine is providing for free.
So, what should you look for when using analytics tool? You would want to look for signals that would let you know if you’re website is providing positive experience for your site’s users. These metrics includes pages visited, time on site, return visitors, bounce rate, and conversions. These insights will give you a picture whether or not site visitors are contented and happy when they browse your website.
When you get a picture of how people interact and how they enjoy themselves browsing and checking your website, you can also get an idea which part or parts or pages do not do well with your site’s users, hence impeding from giving the ultimate satisfaction in user experience. Knowing these will help you recalibrate, rethink or redo the pages not doing well.
Finally, Remember to Integrate Social Media
Congratulations! You’re nearly done optimizing your site for user experience. Now the last part is for you to ensure your website’s social media presence. Sure, there are a lot of social media platforms out there in the ethereal world (a.k.a, the Internet) and you need to find the perfect social media platform for your website. Facebook and other Facebook-owned platforms such as the photo-sharing app Instagram, the messaging app Whatsapp, and others are but some of the social platforms teeming with users day in and day out. With hundreds of millions of unique site visitors per month, utilizing the power of the social media is a must for you to establish brand reputation and user experience.
The time when website owners just give social media sites a cold shrug or plain lip service has ended when search engines began recognizing that it’s all about user experience. Which means, by all intends and purposes, that you should follow suit and do it too.
Why should you do social media to oomph your user optimization? It is because search engines are getting a lot of cues from social media signals. How? Well, plainly because the innate characteristic of a human individual is to share experiences to his or her social circle. The same is true with the advent of social media sites. People tend to share experiences with the websites they’ve visited so that others might be enjoined or warned in visiting those sites. Those shares, comments and other social cues signal search engines whether a website offers positive user experience or not.
At the end of the day, when you take pleasure in something online, what do you do typically? You let people know about it. You talk about your experience. And where do people do this nowadays? The resounding answer is on social media. People share it, comment on it, tweet about it and so on. So, logically, social media platforms provides signaling footprint that can be measured as to those providing an aced user experience and those that don’t.
Finally, Mr. Pang Seng Ong gives a few hints on where and what to link on social media, “It is vital in today’s search engines that prioritizes great user experience to use social media platforms and linking the same to your site’s pages. It is necessary to not only link on your site’s homepage but also on your company’s product links, contact us page and other pages which are some of the most important places that should be getting signals from social media platforms.”
Search rank is not really a mysterious undertaking and it’s not even about fairies and some magical things. It takes a lot of patience and striking a balance between keyword density, link building, and ultimately, providing the greatest user experience. With learning algorithms, machine learning (artificial intelligence) the search engines of today are learning more and more about how to please the most important aspect of search – the users.
With time, effort, patience and learning, ranking in today’s evolving SEO doesn’t need you pull an arm and a leg (or two) just to get higher rankings on SERPs. Always think of your site’s users and how you can give the best user experience that you can ever give and everything will follow.