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User Search Experience - Are You Optimized?

Having great content is essential for successful Search Engine Optimization – but what about the search experience? How do we optimize the search experience?

We all know that quality content is king, but who defines quality? More importantly, how do you as a website owner measure quality? You can’t evaluate content quality without considering the expectations of the user. It doesn’t matter how well the content is written if it’s out of sync with the user’s expectations. Great content, in the context of search, means you have moved beyond SEO to optimizing the Search Experience.

The search experience starts and ends on Google, Bing and Yahoo among others. Typically to measure website conversions we use metrics such as purchases, contact information collection, subscriptions and page views. These are your metrics, not Google’s or Bing’s. What metrics, if any do the search engines use?

We know that almost all searches are questions - users in search of some answer. Therefore the search engines want you to provide the answer the searcher is seeking.

You have probably noticed that most search engines have begun to answer questions directly in search engines results. Those answers may or may not bode well for your business. Therefore you must begin to optimize the search experience and convince the search engines that displaying your website highest in the SERPs is good for them and you.

As a website owner you want users who are ready to buy your product or service or to sign up for your newsletter or to spend time interacting with your site. Simply put, you want users to take an action that is good for your business.

Google and Bing are successful when they provide the answer the user seeks. But how do they know? Obviously, both Google and Bing must have their own internal metrics to measure the quality of its search results. Just like our own sites, Google and Bing must have metrics based on what a user clicks.

It makes sense that the search engines analyze click behavior. These potential metrics have been discussed elsewhere on the web.

  • Short click. A “short click” is a quick return from a website back to Google. Clearly, a very quick return is not a good signal.

  • Long click. This refers to a long delay before the user returns to Google. Longer is better.

  • Pogo sticking. This is when a searcher bounces back and forth between several search results.

  • Click-through rate. How often users click on a given result compared with how often it is displayed (expressed as a percentage).

  • Next click. What a user clicks on after “pogo sticking” back to Google (Either they click on an existing search listing or perform a new search).

  • Next search. When a user moves on to a new search.

  • Click rate on second search. When a previous page is elevated due to a personalized search and/or a previous click.

The most telling signal to Google or Bing may very well be the “next click.” If Google wants to provide the answer to a query, the next user click tells them what they need to know. Did the user find someplace to buy their New Balance running shoes?

If a user returns and clicks a different search result from the same query — or, upon a subsequent visit to Google, repeats the same query — that could be a signal that the initial search was not satisfied. If a user comes back and does a completely new search, that could mean the user was satisfied with the result. Either way, if the appearance of your site in Google’s SERP improves their metrics, that can only be fantastic for your organic search.

Therefore your goal must be to end the search. The user must have no reason to go back to Google and continue their quest for an answer. To “end the search,” you need to understand why users are landing on your page. What was the question or need that drove them to Google in the first place?

Keyword data is a good place to start. Look for modifiers that reveal intent. Look at keywords for specific pages and for keywords that point to high traffic pages. You might also implement some brief highly focused surveys to discover user intent. You should be able to accomplish this goal with as few as a 100 responses for each one question survey. You may also want to consider some of the other tools that analyze and report on user intent to get a good overview.

Once you are armed with this knowledge – optimize your website for the search experience!

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