It’s 2017 and You’re Doing SEO All Wrong

Looking back on the history of SEO, I noticed a strong pattern of constant change. Search engines continually improve their algorithms. The Almighty Google fights to reign supreme. Their priority being to provide the most value for their users.

This shifting target means that SEOs and webmasters are constantly playing catch-up. In our quest to appease the World Wide Webmasters (Read: Search Engines), we update tactics, test hypotheses, and search for the secrets behind their algorithms.

In our mad scramble for search engine leaderboards, we end up forgetting the true meaning behind what we’re doing.

In 1996, Bill Gates wrote an article that included the now famous SEO mantra…

Content is King.

It’s repeated everywhere! But its intent has been twisted over time.

“More” content is not king, “better” content is king. Or better yet, “Best” Content is King.

If you’re not already, it’s time to take a more holistic approach to SEO, because our goal shouldn’t be to jam in the right keywords at the right time, but to provide the best content for the perfect audience.

At the end of the day, it’s the user that’s affected by the content!

Google is only interested in your brilliant content insofar that it answers a user’s search query. We determine value added by how readily Google’s list of content satisfies what the user is searching for.

In a survey of over 150 marketing professionals by Moz in 2015, Moz asked what Google’s algorithm would look for in the future. They determined that user-based features were generally expected to increase, while other features were expected to retain or possibly decrease in influence.

So how do we optimize for the user?

In order to answer this question, we first need to ask why a person visits a website. This boils down to three possibilities:

  1. They’re looking for information
  2. They’re looking to contact you
  3. They want to buy something from you

We want to optimize our pages to guide each type of visitor to complete their intended task as seamlessly as possible.

It is my personal opinion that the majority of people fall into the first category, which can also be the most difficult to optimize for.

With an SEO mindset, it is important for any webmaster, small business owner, or marketing service provider to focus their energy on three goals:

  1. Ensure the content matches the intent.
  2. Guide the user to click-through.
  3. Complete the user’s task.

We’ve all seen “over-optimization,” where a website is stuffed with more keywords than sentences. No one enjoys reading spammy articles, so consider how the users realistically use the page.

If you take the time to consider the user’s experience, you can meet all three goals and see significantly better traffic. You may see this referred to as “intent marketing.”

As Elisa Gabbert points out in her post about the subject, “it’s crucial to be the best response to the intent of the query on the first page.” If you can’t actually solve the searcher’s query, quickly and easily, they will bounce right back to the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

That’s what you don’t want. Search engines are taking into account the “bounce rate” for rankings.

So what do we want? We’re looking to optimize for task completion. Whether a visitor is searching for contact information, a place to buy, or educational material, we want to guide them to their answer.

  1. We want our content to match user intent.
  2. We want users searching for this content to click onto our link, so we want our search snippets to go along with the content.
  3. We want the page(s) to allow the user to complete their task.

There are three steps to completing these goals.

Low-Performing Pages

We’ll start by identifying low-performing pages on your website. To do this quickly, I take into account two main identifiers: bounce rate and page views.

Bounce rate is the percentage of single page visits (or web sessions). If you have a page with a high bounce rate, it means that a large percentage of your visitors are leaving your site without digging any further.. Possibly still with their questions unanswered.

A page with fewer than average page views means that one of your pages is not being seen enough, and needs to be investigated.

Search Intent Discrepancies

We are going to look for discrepancies between what our users are searching for and what our page(s) are giving them, but first, we need to know what keywords your page is ranking for…

Google’s keyword planner used to be the defacto free tool here, but they’ve recently began restricting access to users with an Adwords account. SEMrush and AHREFS are great tools too, don’t get me wrong. To use SEMrush, just type in your site, click on “organic search” on the left, and scroll down to see your keywords.

The list is still imperfect, so take a good look at the keywords and ask yourself, “If I were searching using this phrase, and clicked on one of these pages, would I find what I was looking for? Would my search be satisfied?” …

Reevaluate Utility

If your page isn’t providing the right information, it is time to reevaluate its utility. We aren’t doing SEO if we’re not optimizing. We have two options to best solve user intent:

A.) We can change the content to answer the questions hidden in the search queries. Here you want to make sure that Google understands your page matches the user’s intent, and you’ll indicate this when your traffic sticks around to read your awesome content (lowering bounce rate).

B.) Flip the script, and optimize the page for your intent. It’s possible that the page has a specific purpose, but isn’t getting the right type of traffic. If you believe this may be the case, you still want to reformat your content to indicate your page would answer different search queries than the ones it’s being given.

No matter which case, it’s still important to revisit these five sections of your page:

  1. Title Tag — Rewrite the title tag of your page to include the MAIN keyword you’d like to rank for. Pro tip: Work the keyword or keyphrase as close to the beginning of the line as possible. I heard Google likes this.
  2. Meta Description — A meta description can influence the decision of the searcher as to whether they want to click through on your content from search results or not. The more descriptive, attractive and relevant the description, the more likely someone will click through. Include the keyword queries with an indication that the query is addressed on your page. Having a descriptive meta description will ensure the correct traffic is viewing your page. Correcting this asset alone could have a quick influence on a page’s bounce rate and click-through rate.
  3. Page Titles and Headers — Once again, include appropriate keyword in titles and headers.
  4. Body Text — Provide valuable information to the user here. It’s important that you prove your ability to answer the user’s question quickly.
  5. Call to Action — This is where you offer to solve the user’s problem, the reason they typed in the original search query. Whether you’re providing a phone number, contact information, or an offer to learn more, make sure you’re designing your CTA to entice the user.

It’s generally accepted now that higher click-through rates (CTR) leads to higher rankings, but by optimizing these sections, you’re going to get more traffic to your site. Isn’t that the end goal anyways?!

Cyrus from Moz advises asking this question before deciding that your content is optimized for task completion:

After the user visits this page, will they have completely found what they are looking for, or will they need to return to Google for help?

When you feel that you can wholeheartedly answer YES! to this question, then your content is ready to be king of the… search engines?

Keep in mind that this is an iterative process. It’s important to watch your pages’ progress, and to keep an eye out for pages that need to be updated in this manner. If you have your visitors’ interests at heart (even if you’re trying to sell them something), each time you go through this process with one of your pages, you should be moving closer to providing the perfect content for the search engines as well.