Search Engine Optimization (SEO) relies on algorithms built upon by automated crawlers, which are pieces of software that manually scour the Internet. However, while these programs are incredibly effective at collecting information, they will never be able to simulate the search experience of a flesh-and-blood user. It’s not feasible for Google to create an algorithm that’s based on the anecdotal feedback of billions of individual users. As a result, a “help us help you” ideology has emerged within major search engines as the study of User Experience (UX) collides with SEO to create a new field of study, SXO or Search Experience Optimization. SEO focuses on prioritizing search results, conversions rates, and the end goal of arriving at a website whereas SXO focuses on improving the search process itself from the point of view of the user.
SXO is the process of improving upon the user-end experience of a search engine. However, while traditional UX focuses on improving user conversion rates (purchases, subscribers, etc) by streamlining their experience, in relation to SXO, metrics such as these are irrelevant. That is because SXO focuses on the users of a free search engine, not a customer. Since search engines such as Google do not directly sell goods, the main goal of the search engine is to regurgitate the information it links to in the most efficient form and order possible for the user. As a result, the less interaction a user has with the search engine, the better their experience (for example, the first link you click on of your first search provides the exact information or content you were looking for).
This may seem to reduce the display rate of your website, however by improving the accuracy of a search engine, you are able to cut through the clutter of 1 billion+ other websites online. This is an attempt to make the best possible form of the search engine; which means that websites that rely on black hat SEO techniques are becoming decreasingly viable. Here is some advice on how to optimize your website for the latest evolution of UX-driven search.
Question Search Relationships
I have found myself asking Google questions countless times. Every time I wonder to myself if the code of a search engine can understand the semantics of natural phrasing? Or is it only the keywords that matter? SXO is beginning to modify search results as two simultaneous trends evolve within the digital community. One is on behalf of the users who are becoming increasingly comfortable with the functionality of search engines such as Google.
The other trend consists of developers who are increasingly studying, developing, and implementing more intuitive algorithms to their search engines. These two collide when considering how the nature of search queries are shifting away from standalone terms such as “snow tires” or “extended laptop battery” towards more intuitive semantics in the form of questions. The more practical way users are searching is more similar to “What are the best snow tires for a Subaru Outback?” or “What laptop has the longest battery life?” Google has rapidly been responding to this inquiry driven search with the increased prominence of Google’s Answer boxes and the incorporation of voice search into all of Google’s platforms. The information displayed within these answer boxes are the first results noticed by the user, and as such are the best possible position for your business to occupy.
Mobile search has officially surpassed desktop-based search inquiries. Although the same information is displayed on either device, make sure your website is optimized for mobile; this can easily be performed by incorporating a responsive design which, along with improving user experience, provides a significant SEO boost.
Mobile users often have to worry about data usage limits. In addition, mobile users do not have access to the same bandwidth as desktop users, which can result in significantly slower page load times if your website is particularly data heavy, and not optimized for mobile. Avoid multiple animations and unnecessarily high-resolution images or videos as this will significantly delay your website’s load time. Consider a minimalist design for a neat appearance and expedited load time.
User Experience Metrics
This is the most data-heavy aspect of your digital presence. Make sure to always stay up to date on your (free) data available by Google Analytics. Look past mobile load time and onsite content to determine how your users are interacting with the website by studying metrics like time on site, bounce rate, pages per visit, return visitor rates, and conversions. Once you have identified threats to your website’s design, troubleshoot your layout with A/B testing and ask for consumer input.
Every search inquiry has multiple pieces of information that may, or may not, be relevant based on the individual’s unique needs. For example, when searching for the Hyatt Regency hotel the user may be in search of information related to price, directions, restaurant information, etc. As more users ask Google specific questions, as opposed to only entering keywords, this risk of providing irrelevant information is reduced. However, remember to stay up to date on your business’s most relevant keywords by using Google Search Console.
Google also tracks similar analytics for the search engine’s activity. By studying click behavior a better understanding of how people search for information and the effectiveness of each search can be formulated. Each of these factors will affect your website’s SEO value based on the related user activity:
– Short click: A “short click” is a quick return from a website 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.
– Pogosticking: 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 “pogosticking” 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.
Do not underestimate the importance of branded social media accounts for your business. Social platforms offer an incredible opportunity for users to engage with your content (and build a relationship with your brand). However even if your business isn’t particularly flashy, like insurance companies for example, you still need to maintain an active social presence. If people don’t appreciate your digital presence, at least Google’s SEO crawlers will. Admittedly that is a pretty depressing thought, but the search engines are taking ranking cues from social media signals as to whether a site offers a positive user experience or not. Make sure your social media accounts are linking back to your website’s homepage, product pages, company information pages, and so on. Make sure you diversify these links to more than just your website’s homepage.
There has yet to be an industry consensus as to if Search Experience Optimization is the next evolution of Search Engine Optimization or simply a rebrand. In fact, the acronym itself it being debated as to SXO (taking after the influence of UX design) as opposed to remaining SEO. If nothing more SXO is less confusing when distinguishing between optimizing the engine and experience, yet some believe the two are one and the same. The expert SEO analysts at 1Digital Agency are always happy to talk about emerging digital trends. We’d love to hear what you think about the future of search on Twitter, or join the conversation in the comments below.
- Dan Kogan
- June 17, 2016