In April of last year I wrote about RankBrain and its potential to alter how we approach good search engine optimization (SEO.) In little under a year later, we have already started to notice the impact this change has had on our clients’ performance. It’s simply no longer good enough for good SEOs to focus on title tags and blog links. As David Freeman notes in his recent column for SearchEngineLand, SEOs need to broaden their skill set and weigh in on all aspects of site design. Let’s consider a few important ideas to keep in mind when optimizing for success:
Traditionally, SEO has been a considered a step in the website development process, when it is considered at all. For a time this was acceptable, with good on-page SEO tactics generally providing enough separation from the competition to guarantee decent rank within search. Unfortunately, this approach is rooted in the past and does not take into consideration how search algorithms continue to evolve and develop.
For SEO to be effective, it must be a consideration throughout all steps of website design. This means ensuring that the right research and competitive preparation is completed before discussion even turns to site design and construction. Key drivers, like top social demand, content subject balance, and inbound link alignment need to be sorted in advance so that they can inform how a website is authored and built.
Make sure your SEO agency is asking questions often and is involved as an equal contributor around the table. It’s simply not enough to have great creative and design – optimization from the beginning is key.
Site Experience Optimization, or User Experience testing (SXO/UX)
With RankBrain gaining influence over how Google considers ranking search results, we anticipate a shift towards rewarding user experience as one of the primary signals that will power how your website ranks. This means that metrics such as bounce-rate, pages per visit and other engagement indicators will need to be considered carefully in any comprehensive SEO approach. Aside from creating the right pull experience with good meta descriptions and title tags, SEOs will need to focus on SXO or UX in order to maximize the likelihood that qualified visitors have reason to stay and engage on-site.
Data should drive this process of optimization from the SEO’s point of view. While many creative agencies will offer SXO or UX in their build of a site, this is generally limited more towards how the site performs in focus group testing while providing support to fix any pages or links that don’t behave properly. Good SEOs can provide immense value here by overlaying analytics data to determine which pages are limiting conversion, engagement, or leading to outsized exit rates and bounces.
Tweaking user pathing and pushing the website to be easier to use will only help reduce bounce rate and improve onsite engagement.
Alignment of On-Page Tactics
We continue to inherit website projects that have had SEO applied in fits and starts (when it has been applied at all). In order to ensure user engagement remains optimal, all SEO tactics must be united under a strategic vision designed to ensure your website formally caters to the most qualified audience possible. This means that meta descriptions and title tags need to align with onsite content in order to ensure an adequate pay-off for any users arriving onsite via search.
Maximizing click-through-rate with catchy meta descriptions only to have users bounce when there’s nothing to back it up onsite will only hurt your site’s chances at rank – this is a recipe for a high bounce rate and a poor user experience and is exactly what RankBrain intends to weed out from top search results.
If you need to formally ask your SEO agency what the strategy is that’s driving optimizations, you really ought to look elsewhere.
RankBrain typifies what we can expect to see over the next few years in SEO. Emphasis will switch from individual tactics to instead favor a comprehensive approach designed to maximize user engagement and onsite experience. The SEO approach most likely to succeed will adopt a 360 degree posture and inform every step of website design and construction. If you haven’t thought about SEO today, you’ve already fallen behind!