There’s a growing buzz in the SEO community about the shift from Search Engine Optimization to Search Experience Optimization. Since Google started using machine learning algorithms rather than automated crawling bots to test the end-user’s experience, it became less about how to please the algorithm and more about how to please the user.
Search engines — Google, Bing, Yahoo! — are refocusing on user experience (UX), and this has undoubtedly affected SEO. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as you’ve sufficiently prepared for the changing tide. Search experience optimization makes it harder for marketing agencies to get away with black hat SEO techniques, so marketers that do things the right way get better results and rank higher than rule-breakers. Plus, if you’re clued-in on SEO trends, you’re more than likely already doing many of the things that you need to do to cater to the search experience algorithm, so it likely won’t be a dramatic change.
If you’re already implementing long-tail keywords, optimizing for mobile, analyzing your site for UX — the time visitors spend on your site, bounce rates, return visitors, conversions, etc. — and engaging on social media platforms, you’re probably on the right track. So if you discover that you aren’t providing a user-friendly experience (check the relevant metrics to find out), it may be worth your while to invest in some UX-focused initiatives.
Additionally, it’s becoming increasingly important for marketers to answer users’ questions. Whereas users might previously search “stereo systems,” they’re now asking the search engine questions like “What’s the best stereo system for listening to classical music?” Where the user once adjusted to speak the language of the search engine, now it’s the other way around. You can also optimize your content by focusing on intent-driven keywords (i.e. those keywords that suggest common questions from your user) rather than general keywords.
Search Experience Optimization is not the End-All, Be-All of SEO
It’s clear that user experience is exceptionally important, in regards to SEO or otherwise. But the bottom line is this: if you attempt to build a website that’s technically flawed or ignores important traditional SEO factors, you simply won’t get far enough to address user behavior. While you may need to raise the bar on UX, you also need to continue implementing those tried-and-true optimization strategies.
The takeaway is this: the best solution is one that melds traditional tactics with New Age, user-focused thinking. You should always start with SEO strategies before you attempt to measure or optimize for UX and/or let your UX metrics be your guide for how to improve your SEO strategy. Remember, you need visitors in order to track what they’re doing! A simple shift in how you approach your standard SEO strategies can help you adapt to the search experience changeover.