Optimizing Search for the Experience: Move Beyond 10 Blue Links

in Digital Marketing Strategy & Trends | by Emily Joseph

Over the past several years, search engines—and the information they display to users—have drastically changed. This has forced marketers to adapt their strategy, or else risk their brand getting bumped down a page (or 10). Rather than favoring more traditional factors like inbound links, keyword density and meta data, search engine algorithms now cater more to the user.

As noted in our 2017 Digital Trends Report, one of the largest changes is that Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is now moving towards Search Experience Optimization. This new, holistic approach to search calls for marketers to implement SEO tactics that consider all the possible scenarios where someone might be searching for their brand.

A demand generation agency will give you the full rundown of how to work with the new algorithm, but here are three tips to get you started:

Get to Know Search Behaviors

A simple but oh-so-crucial step toward mastering Search Experience Optimization is learning audience search behavior. Rather than obsessing over keyword density and meta descriptions, marketers must think like their customer: WWMCD? (What Would My Customer Do?). Then ask yourself questions like these:

-Is my customer more likely to search on their phones, tablets or laptops?
-Will they search from home, from work or on-the-go to fulfill an immediate need or question?
-Is the query information related or more transactional?
-What search engine features are available that might give them the information they need?

These types of questions and then the corresponding search results they’d receive can direct what content you create, how you share that content, and how you can optimize your website (see below). Note: Customer surveys and Google Analytics can help pinpoint weak areas.

Make Every Second Count (Speed It UP!)

Fact: After more than two seconds of loading time, 47% of users will close a website. By forgoing simple site tweaks and leaving loading time up to the fickle Internet gods, brands risk poor customer experience. Or worse—losing customers altogether.

With no choice but to optimize sites for ideal user experience, marketers must take charge and implement website best practices:

Minification: A technique intended to reduce the size of the code transferred over the web. It More specifically, it’s rewriting the code of a website (scripts, style sheets, etc.) in a way that compresses the file size. Smaller file size = faster website.

Caching: A method that temporarily stores copies of your site content to reduce the page loading time. Plugins like W3 Total Cache, BatChace and Redis Object Cache can take the (manual) load off your hands—and off your site.

Mobile-first: A modern approach to developing websites that involves designing for the smallest screen first (i.e. a smartphone) and then moving to a full desktop view. Mobile-first is a pillar of progressive enhancement, which maintains that the hardest design and development should be done first. Once the smallest design is complete, the full site will be easier to create. Plus, as more than 30% of consumers are mobile-only, not to mention the 50% who start their online research on their smartphones, a responsive mobile design isn’t so much a luxury as it is a necessity.

Clearly, phones and tablets aren’t going anywhere. To keep your customers happy, start catering to their searching habits and design your site for an on-the-go lifestyle.

Look at the Bigger Picture

Black hat SEO tactics, which use quick and deceitful gimmicks to cater to machines, overshadow the hard fought efforts of genuine content. Now, that “experience” is a factor, you’re encouraged to wear your white (hat) year round. Add these holistic techniques to your toolkit:

Work with the Knowledge Graph: The Knowledge Graph is Google’s term for understanding and fostering relationships with users and places online. It’s the reason why a search for “Michael Jordan” will show a small box alongside the standard search results, including his short biography, photos, social media profiles and quotes. For marketers, working with the Knowledge Graph means tagging your website content with the appropriate schema markup. Don’t leave it up to search engines to guess what your content is – tell them directly with code.

Buy Branded Traffic: Branded keywords are the terms (or terms) used to search for a company. A brand-plus keyword is a phrase that includes the brand name and a qualifier. For example, Nike is the branded keyword, Nike Basketball is a brand-plus keyword. Both brand and brand-plus keywords help your customers find you. Buying these terms will boost their search rankings, especially if your brand is relatively new.

Leverage Social Media: Hopefully your brand is on social media already. If not, this is the sign you’ve been waiting for. However, just having active accounts is not enough in a modern marketing world. What sets brands apart — and creates a lasting impression for customers — is engagement. By promoting discussion around a brand-related topic and replying to audience comments on all social media platforms, marketers can humanize an otherwise static facade.

Create an SEO strategy that looks at the customer as a whole person, not a robot. The more familiar you are with your audience, the easier it will be to adjust your methods.

Ranking well in search engine results pages isn’t just a formula anymore. It’s an art. With some time, effort and good ol’ common sense, creating an experience that will be rewarded with visibility will soon become second nature.