What is SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization), translated literally, is optimization for search engines. This is the process of creating, improving and promoting websites in such a way that the search engines display the site as high as possible in organic searches.
Search engines deliver what users are looking for in a consistent and reliable fashion. Technology and software layers have been developed to understand the internet and sort the trillions of pages to match the hundreds of billions of queries handled each month.
Search, putting the buyer in control, is the shortest, fastest path to find what they want.
Search algorithms may change, but its purpose never does: to deliver the very best results for the user. Every change Google makes is in support of this long game.
To me, the term search engine optimization has always seemed fatally flawed. It suggests that we optimize solely for search engines. However, search engines don’t buy products, people do. Many SEO experts and I have long said, “Build websites for people, not for search engines”, and the Google Quality Rater’s Guidelines & Handbook very much reinforces this idea throughout.
SEO is also a term that fails to describe (or give credit to) the full range of disciplines involved in creating and executing a contemporary natural search strategy, such as content planning, social media, PR and analytical skills. Nor does it communicate the benefits, over and above search engine rankings, that these disciplines deliver.
It’s not about traffic, it’s all about understanding and fulfilling user intent
As simple as it sounds, this is really at the heart of what Google is trying to do. We have seen Google shift from the classic 10 blue links to its modern version of the answers engine.
Google understands what you are looking for and returns that data directly within the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). This is Google explicitly understanding the users’ intent and fulfilling that request for data.
What does this mean for webmasters?
As the website’s owner, you should have a clear understanding of the purpose of each of your pages and the objectives they exist to fulfill. The purpose of a page could be anything, such as giving information and purchasing options for a product, giving news on a particular subject, or simply showing some humorous images.
Produce great, engaging, and unique content!
Produce fantastic, well researched, and unique content. Keep it maintained and updated.
To reinforce, SEO isn’t just about getting a domain to rank keyword terms anymore. This inherent understanding until absorbed will prove that, we’re driving ourselves out of business.
Google shows search results based on what’s best for the user. We can’t just rank for whatever keywords we want. Google understands the user’s need by analyzing the massive amount of data it has. People love the power of choice and would rather pick from a list of companies with reviews and comparison data than one that only includes websites that make it to the top of organic listings.
We’re moving into the “pay-to-play” era with Google. Google’s main source of revenue is advertising, counting for almost 90% of Google’s revenue in 2014, and one of their main earners, display, is falling fast. To compete against the giants for organic search real estate, content is your best option.
Google’s message is clear: If you want to sell directly through the Google platform, then you’ll need to pay for it.
Purchase-intent keywords are:
- Dominated by huge brands that 99% of the world can’t outrank (without spamming)
- Returning less product pages and more articles and other forms of content
- Triggering the knowledge graph, review aggregators, and more user-focused results
The days of ranking a products / services page first for these purchase-intent keywords are limited. No one shares, engages, or links to products and services pages. The fact is, no one cares except us search marketers.
Instead of trying to jam those pages with links, create a piece of content that delivers what Google (and users) want. Creating value with your content, you open up to earning social media shares and powerful links from relevant sites.
Optimize for search experience and user intent
SEO has always been about providing an amazing user experience. While black hat marketers were busy trying to create and structure content for the sole purpose of snagging search traffic – with little or no regard to user experience – ethical marketers have always worked hard to provide stellar content that also ranked well.
Traditional keyword research produces long lists of words and phrases — with their relative search traffic figures — that can do absolutely nothing to improve anything about an SEO strategy.
Worse, a list of keywords and traffic numbers can actually be misleading. Content producers focus on the words on their lists instead of on their audiences. Executives interpret those numbers as raw, immediate traffic potential instead of long-term opportunities.
With this approach a writer will create terrible content, and exec will be disappointed in the slow traffic increase, and both will quit SEO because it doesn’t work.
The problem with traditional keyword research is that it is still rooted in PPC: identify target keywords, examine the level of competition, place a bid. That’s not how SEO works. Starting an SEO campaign based on the wrong research is a recipe for low rankings, low traffic, and Google penalties.
A keyword is a code — a series of characters strung together in a search box to draw out information and answers. Google knows this. Google also knows that the key to its success is in deciphering that code accurately and delivering the information/answers that the user actually wants.
Behold: User Intent.
Search engines exist to guess the right answer. They invest untold hours and dollars developing algorithms and monitoring stats, like bounce rates and time-on-site, to get it right. All of this makes Google a kind of keyword decoder ring for SEOs trying to translate their own target keywords.
The two basic user intents to sort are “learn” and “purchase.” Search your keywords to see what Google has decoded. If the intent is to learn, create sales-pitch-free informational content to attract those users. If the intent is to purchase, optimize your sales pages. If you are presenting to a client or the C-suite, those recommendations can easily be organised into an executive summary that outlines specific, actionable recommendations based on very thorough research.
Keyword research for SEO should always have the end goal in mind. Whether the finish line for your SEO-based content strategy is increased sales, more qualified leads, brand awareness, etc., the home stretch is developing the absolute best content in your industry.
Decoded and categorized keywords will inform specific content recommendations that will add value (and be an evergreen resource) for your buyers.
It’s time for an updated strategy that goes beyond “doing keyword research.”
It’s time to re brand and rechristen SEO as Search Experience Optimization.
SXO = SEO + CRO
Let us know what you think in the comments below.