In the battle for winning consumer attention, one of the most talked about tactics is Search Engine Optimization.
SEO. You know what it is: the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. It’s a necessary strategy for a brand that wants a digital presence.
You also know why you need SEO; because it helps you rank better on Google. If you rank better on Google, you win consumer attention, which means you get more [“free”] website traffic, and that translates into more sales, a larger market share, and a happier [insert-important-company-title-here].
More often than not, an SEO strategy will focus on elements like keywords, title tags, other keywords, meta descriptions, long-tail keywords, meta data, more keywords, link building, and website architecture. And keywords.
Simple, right? Optimize your website to the extreme, kick back, and watch the leads and sales skyrocket. If you use that approach today, you’ll probably see a post-optimization uptick in traffic and sales. But for how long? As far as a search strategy goes, Search Engine Optimization isn’t your most sustainable option.
SEO is important, and there’s a reason it exists … because it works. That being said, SEO and Search Engines don’t work how they used to.
Google crawled, indexed, and searched words. In theory, the more times a word appeared on a web page, the more relevant it would be as a query response. That logic fueled some of the earliest Search Engine Optimization strategies—use the keyword as often as possible and you’ll be number one.
When you search for something today, you aren’t just stringing together words—you’re asking a loaded question.
Think about it. If you wanted to find a local coffee shop five years ago, you’d type “coffee shop [CITY]” into your computer, and you’d get a list of coffee shops in that city. If you just typed “coffee shop,” you’d probably get results telling you the definition of “coffee shop.”
Today, if you want to find a local coffee shop, you can type-search or voice-search “coffee shop near me” into your phone and, chances are, you’ll get a list of coffee shops near you, along with hours of operation, phone numbers, addresses, and directions from your current position to said coffee shops. You’ll even get real customer reviews—right there in the result.
You need to optimize for more than an Algorithm. You need to optimize for your Audience.
So, how do you stop optimizing for words strung together? How do you start optimizing for the loaded question?
Let the search engine do what it does best—crawl, index, and search. The engine is still mission-critical. Actually, everyday the Search Engine gets smarter, rapidly understanding search and language nuances to the point where Google’s updated its algorithm with RankBrain—the almost AI equivalent of a human’s gut feeling.
But—and this is important—it is the search experience that informs the algorithm. It’s the search experience that engages audiences and moves each person through his or her own consumer journey. It’s the search experience that builds trust between people and brands. It’s the search experience that sets you apart from every other brand on the Internet, which is why, in order to show up differently, you need to optimize differently.
THE SEARCH EXPERIENCE
To compete in today’s attention economy, we need new SEO. It’s time to stop thinking of SEO as Search Engine Optimization and start thinking of it as Search Experience Optimization.
Now, before you throw all of your keyword strategy out the window, know this—the importance of keywords and website optimization hasn’t changed.
What has changed is the importance of what the keywords mean. Today, keywords reveal searcher intent, allowing us to create better, more relevant information for websites that can affect brand experience, engagement, and loyalty across all stages of the consumer journey.
It’s not just what your audience searches …
Talk to any of your Customer Service reps or Customer Relations team members and you’ll confirm that people have different questions when they are in different stages of their own purchase decision journeys. The same logic can be applied to search. If you’re in your consideration stage, you’re not searching the same way you would in your awareness stage. It’s the difference between searching “best coffee maker” and “cuisinart coffee maker on sale”.
Keywords are just one element of new SEO. Because, ultimately, keyword strategy and website optimization won’t matter if the overall website experience disappoints and doesn’t help the user.
It’s also what they want to find after the click.
Don’t confuse good user experience with fancy design. You can find some pretty badass websites out there with elaborate scrolling and jaw-dropping parallax, but that doesn’t always promise a good user—or search—experience. You can also find some pretty sweet SEO-friendly sites out there that look equally badass, but they are designed with purpose and usability in mind.
On-site behavior actually affects how your website ranks on Google because the data proves user engagement and signals search-needs-met.
Success online does not live and die in the hands of search engines. The power of user experience is just as, if not more, important.
YEAH, BUT HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO MY BRAND?
Have you ever seen an ad for a life-changing product only to visit the website and feel your heart drop? Or maybe you see social posts with great aspirational imagery and powerful copy, but go the online store and get slapped in the face with stock photos and an unsecured connection? This kind of disconnect and disingenuous brand experience leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
If your website is impossible to navigate or difficult to read, people will continue their journeys elsewhere. If your website is full of empty promises and dead ends, people will not only leave, but they will also inform others of the negative experience through online reviews and social platforms.
SEARCH EXPERIENCE OPTIMIZATION DIRECTLY AFFECTS BRAND EXPERIENCE.
Your brand’s identity—its authenticity—is directly affected by how people experience your brand online. How people experience your brand online can be directly affected by Search Experience Optimization.
When you optimize for Search Experience, you’re making the Searcher the VIP. You not only get what the person is trying to find, but you also know how to capture the VIP’s attention by speaking his or her language and keeping that message true across all of your channels on- and off-line.
So, if you’re currently hearing or saying, “Let’s do SEO” or “We need more SEO” or “It might be time to add SEO,” and you like the sounds of this new SEO—Search Experience Optimization—let us know. We’ll help you figure out how to show up in those searchable moments that matter most.