You’ve probably heard the trope “content is king.” You’ve also probably read all about Google’s Penguin algorithm update and the need to clean up your backlinks (links going to your website). These are important concepts, but they’re backwards-looking. What I mean by “backwards-looking” is that they address problems with certain SEO strategies of the past: thin, keyword-stuffed content and link manipulation, both meant to get a website on top of the search engines without having to create a site that’s actually useful to the intended reader.
A good SEO strategy is forward-looking. Of course, it’s still important not to keyword stuff and not to manipulate links, but that alone doesn’t make for a successful strategy. An effective optimization is about making your website standout against the competition, not just today but down the road as well. Today I want to share five terms you should know, and I hope that they’ll get you thinking about what an effective optimization strategy looks like.
1. User Experience
User experience wasn’t always considered in the realm of SEO. Indeed, in many marketing agencies, user experience and SEO are separate departments. The two, however, are inextricably linked. The essence of user experience is the utility of your website to the reader. Did she get the information she was looking for? Was the information easy to find? Was the website accessible; was it mobile-friendly? Did she get distracted by something else on your website and abandon her original task? These are the type of questions someone worried about user experience asks.
Suppose your website is full of content; every page has several paragraphs and a lot of it could be useful to someone. Does this make for a good SEO strategy? Not necessarily. The point of your website is to attract a certain type of reader: someone who would be interested in the products or services you have to offer. You can have as much content as you want, but if it doesn’t address the questions, concerns, and needs of the readers you’re targeting, all those words are of dubious value. Alternatively, if the content is impossible to find because the reader has to navigate a maze of menus and pages, that too will undermine the performance of your website.
You see, “content is king” can be misleading. It should be, “the right content is king.” Or, “accessible content is king.” Or, “interesting, engaging content is king.” The trope gets awkward when you realize that sometimes content isn’t king, since your readers might prefer a video. A better saying might be: content isn’t king, the reader is king.
2. Conversion Funnel
The term “conversion,” in this case, refers to a reader who commits some action on your website that turns her into a patient, customer, or lead. For example, we might consider it a conversion when someone visits your site and calls your number to set up an appointment. Or, a conversion might entail a reader who fills out a contact form or downloads one of your e-books. A “conversion funnel” is the process by which the reader goes from first visiting your website to completing the conversion.
This is an important concept, because the point of your website is to attract readers and hopefully turn them into patients, customers, or clients. If your website isn’t designed to make the conversion funnel straightforward, these readers may get lost. They may leave your website without even considering calling you or filling out a contact form. It might not even be because they’re not interested in your service; maybe your website just doesn’t make it easy for them to learn about you and your business. Maybe they got lost along the way, visiting an irrelevant page that took their mind off the reason they visited your website in the first place.
That’s why thinking about your site’s conversion funnel and making it alluring is important. If it’s not optimized, you may be losing patients, customers, or clients who would otherwise love to explore your products and services.
3. Bounce Rate
How does a good user experience and an optimized conversion funnel translate to search engine optimization? Those seem to have more to do with making sales than with getting to the top of Google. Remember, though, search engines want to connect users with websites that will address exactly what those users are looking for. If your site is engaging, meaning readers are soaking in the information you provide them, contacting you, or buying your products, it’s exactly the kind of site search engines want to send users to. So, yes, good user experience and conversion optimization have everything to do with SEO.
How do search engines know whether your site has good user experience? One measure is the bounce rate. This is a measure of the percentage of readers who leave your website before visiting a second page. Imagine that a search user finds a page on your site, beginning the conversion process. Something, however, turns that person off. Maybe it’s hard to find the information she was looking for. Maybe the next step she should take isn’t clear. For whatever reason, that person leaves your site before moving on. In digital analytics lingo, she “bounced.” A high bounce rate can signal to Google that your site hasn’t done a great job keeping the traffic it attracts, meaning it must not do a very good job at providing readers what they were looking for.
What’s a good bounce rate? It depends. A blog might have a high bounce rate because there are no other pages to visit. But, this case probably doesn’t apply to your website, which has many pages and conversion goals — a phone call, a filled out contact form, et cetera. As an economist, my answer to this question is: as low as possible, to the point where reducing the bounce rate by another unit is no longer worth the investment (economists call this the margin).
4. Clickthrough Rate (CTR)
The clickthrough rate is another variable a person or a search engine might look at when gauging the quality of your website. Much like how Google chooses which AdWords ads to show based on, in part, how many people click on them, the search engines results they show for a particular search query can also be influenced by this statistic.
The clickthrough rate is calculated from two variables:
- Impressions: the number of times a link to your website shows up on a user’s search results.
- Clicks: the number of times a user actually clicked on the link to your website from the search results page.
The clickthrough rate, or CTR, is equal to the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions. The higher your CTR, the greater the amount of people who think your website is useful after finding it on a search engine. How do you increase your CTR? One crucial method is to optimize your web page’s meta descriptions — snippets of information that describe what the page is about — for click-throughs, making them compelling enough to persuade the user to click the link to your website. Remember, describe what the page is about well enough to avoid attracting readers who are actually looking for something other than what you’re offering.
5. Strategic Intent
Every time an element is added to a website, there are a series of questions any web developer should ask themselves. These include: what value is this element adding? How does this element interact with other elements? Does it make it easier or more difficult for the reader to get what she wants? Does it bring attention away from a more important element on my website? Everything on a web page should have purpose. There should be strategic intent — a raison d’être — behind every aspect of your site. This approach allows you to better tailor and customize the experience for the readers you seek to attract and covert into leads, patients, clients, or customers.
Build a Lasting Web Presence
Coming back full circle, remember that “link cleanup” and “content marketing” are concepts designed for the purpose of correcting past deficiencies in some peoples’ search engine optimization strategies. They are important to know and it’s vital to always keep them in mind, but alone they don’t say much about what a lasting search engine optimization strategy should look like. A successful and effective strategy needs to be forward-looking, one that will continue to serve into the future. That’s the approach we take at Now Media Group: we’re interested in strategies that work not only today, but tomorrow as well.