Search Optimization 101: Is Your Website Stuck In The Past?

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Posted by: Gabriella Sannino

Search optimization, website optimization, SEO, whatever you call it, there remain quite a few misconceptions about what’s involved in optimizing your site. First, and biggest of all in my mind, is the thinking that search optimization is a matter of the right keywords, and just the right keywords. The second is thinking that an optimized site will stay an optimized site. As if it doesn’t grow and change through the years.

If you’ve done nothing to your site beyond adding blogs and maybe the occasional page, we need to talk. Come on over here and listen, because you have some work to do. It’s time to revisit search optimization.

What IS Search Optimization?

“If it’s not ‘just’ keywords,” I can hear you saying, “then what is it? Like, what’s the big mystery?” No mystery, but it does involve quite a bit. Search optimization includes making sure:

  • your visitors can easily navigate your site
  • your readers get quality content that is helpful, informative or entertaining
  • your call to actions are clear and easy-to-follow
  • your site is fast enough that users have a pleasant experience
  • the number of files it takes to render your site takes your mobile users into consideration
  • the size of your site keeps mobile users in mind
  • the way your site renders is responsive, so anyone on any screen can use it
  • your search snippets are friendly, and represent your brand in an appropriate manor
  • your content uses the same language as your visitors
  • your images are purposeful and relevant to the page they’re on
  • your site is easy for search engines to crawl

If you read down the list, the first thing you should notice is that search engines are the last mentioned. Why?

Google Cares About User Experience & So Should You

When you look through all the Google patents, search updates, and technologies, you’ll get one overwhelming idea: Google cares about the user experience. Google is the #1 search engine because they provide the best user experience at the moment. Oh, not in some altruistic way, but the better the user experience, the more people will buy or use the product.

Do you know what the #1 search engine is ultimately for? Ultimately, it’s an ad platform. Marketers use it for ad placement because over 1.8 billion users use it to search every month, and that many people use it because it’s the best at serving up the results we’re looking for.

This is the exact reason we marketers do the Google dance every year, or month, or week: because Google is trying to force us to give users a great experience. Which, to be honest, we should want too, because a great user experience translates into higher sales, stronger authority, more trust… and the good repercussions go on and on.

Do You Need Search Optimization?

Google’s algorithms aren’t the only things that change with time. Technology changes, expectations change, even terminology changes. What worked five years ago may not work today. Users just plain expect more, and there is enough competition in every corner of every industry that if you don’t meet those expectations, they’ll go to one of the 50+ competitors that do.

This is where search optimization comes in, and where you start to really pay attention. As Lucy wrote a few weeks ago, change is imperative… it can make the difference between ranking and dying.

However, don’t just assume that your site needs to be updated and go tweaking this random page or that. For it to really work, and work well, you have to find the method in the madness. There are steps to search optimization. The steps are absolutely the same in every instance. It’s just the details that change.

First Step: Audit & Benchmark

Before you do anything—before you make any changes at all—you need to create a comparative benchmark. As we’ve said time and again, you need to know where you are to know how far you have to go.

One of the best ways to get a full picture of your website, its standings and what needs to be done is to audit your site. We believe in this so strongly, in fact, that we require new SEO clients to get an audit before any other work is done. I feel, both personally and professionally, that building a search optimization campaign without knowing where a client’s site stands is irresponsible and lessens the chance of that campaign working to its maximum ability. But I digress.

Take the time to audit your website or (recommended) have a professional audit your site. Find out where you stand, get a clear picture of what’s really happening, and then-with that knowledge in hand-do something to fix what needs fixing. You may have the pleasant surprise of finding out that you’re doing just fine, and it’s just a matter of time before you’re getting the returns you need. That’s not usually the case, however.

For those of you who found issues that need to be addressed, it’s time to take the next step.

Second Step: Choosing KPIs (Metrics)

You need to know where you are, but you also need to know where you’re going and that’s where KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, or Key Performance Metrics come in to play. Choosing the right KPIs can make a major difference in how well your campaigns perform.

KPIs change depending on your goals at the time, which is why it’s so important to get this part of site optimization right. If you have your audit and benchmarks in hand, you should be able to highlight the areas in which your site is lacking. As I wrote in A Guide to Good Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

While building your goals, deciding your metrics and setting your benchmarks, don’t get buried under useless data. KPIs only help if they are useful in the improvement of your processes, and if those implemented processes are useful to reach your goal.

Are your call-to-actions lacking? A useful KPI would be how often your CTAs are clicked. Is your bounce rate on pages high? A somewhat high bounce rate is expected on blog posts, but not on actual pages. In this case, bounce rate is a useful metric to track.

Don’t get lost in revenue here, as increased revenue is not the current end goal. The current end goal is improving your user experience.

Third Step: Technical Search Optimization

Some parts of search optimization can be done as soon as a plan is laid out. For example, if your speed tests show that your site is slower than molasses, jump on that and fix it quick. Site speed is a big deal, and not just because Google says so. The slower a site is, the more likely your visitors will click away. The bigger a site is, the more data it will use up on mobile devices. Try to get your site speed under 2 seconds.

In short, technical fixes can be implemented quickly. Broken links and images, rendering errors and broken code are a few items. Making your website responsive, or at least mobile-friendly, is another.

Ge the technical issues out of the way and then move on to the problems that take time to fix.

Fourth Step: A/B Testing

If you have an established site, you never want to jump into search optimization that targets your content. Always look at implementing through A/B testing, especially when optimizing site layout and calls-to-action. Places you can test to improve your website’s user experience include:

How you write your titles and meta data: These are your first handshake with your visitor, and set the initial expectation before they even reach your site. Look at them as if you were writing headlines for a newspaper. They don’t have to be sensational, but they do need to reach out to the potential visitor and draw them in.

Call to actions: Wording, size, shape, color – all of these can make a difference in how well a call-to-action performs. Consider this. You could be just a few round corners away from click-through heaven. Test it all and find out what your users want!

Content length: Which performs better? Longer content or shorter content? Studies show that long content has its benefits, despite the fact that we’re a society of skimmers. If a person perceives that long content to be useful to them, they’ll read through it anyway.

Shorter URLs: Don’t go changing URLs on live pages, but do consider shortening your URLs on a go-forward basis. Look at making them easier to remember.

Final Step: Read More

This is just a brief run-through of search optimization and fixing your website for a better user experience. However, if you follow the links within, they will take you to further content you can use to strengthen your UX in a way that brings definitive, positive results. -And, if you did the first step and got an audit, you will quickly be able to see the difference.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read the following articles to strengthen your knowledge of optimization and search marketing.

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Search Optimization 101: Is Your Website Stuck In The Past?