Achieving high ranking in search results now requires
more than just traditional SEO skills
Search engine optimization (SEO), user experience and content marketing used to be three distinct areas of needs and skillsets. Over the last few years, the three have begun to overlap and that movement is continuing. To achieve SEO success – page one ranking in search results – for a particular page of a website, more than just SEO skills are needed: the user experience and the quality of the content on each page must be evaluated and addressed.
Google is driving this movement with an increasing emphasis on both of these areas in how they determine which web pages to include and in what order in a given search result. More than 200+ signals, factors, algorithms and data are used, and those related to user experience and content quality now make up a significant part of the total.
Search engine optimization increases website visibility
Search engine optimization (SEO) increases traffic to a website by increasing its visibility in organic search engine results. SEO skills are a complicated mix of science and art. SEO done well increases both the quantity and the quality of that traffic – and higher quality traffic means a higher percentage of visitors become prospects and more prospects become customers.
Many of the 200+ signals for ranks involve user experience
An increasing number of the factors that Google evaluates in determining relevance to a query and visibility in search results are connected to user experience and the factors that impact it (“The Five Most Important SEO Factors“). This makes sense – it is in Google’s best interests to ensure that each individual searching has a “successful experience”, where success is measured by how quickly and accurately search results provide the information the user is looking for.
Success in one query means more queries, now or later. And more queries gives Google additional opportunities to deliver relevant paid results (these are the ads you typically see at the top of search results) along with the organic ones.
User experience is now important enough that it’s difficult for a webpage to rank well in search results if it is poorly designed and confusing, doesn’t clearly state its purpose or make clear what to do next. When visitors click on a search result link, view and then leave within seconds for another link, it’s clear that they didn’t find what they were looking for. Google interprets that as a poor result for that particular query and a negative signal for ranking in future searches using that and closely related queries.
Waiting for a slow web page to draw sucks
Speed is a very important factor and also plays a critical role in user experience. Who hasn’t clicked away from a web page, frustrated that it’s too slow to load? Google believes that 3 seconds is the longest a web page should take to display; slower than that now counts as a negative signal for ranking purposes. And this is particularly true on mobile – we are less patient when browsing on our mobile devices, and for a multiplicity of reasons, content is apt to load slower on mobile than on desktop.
In addition to speed, there are more than 30 other factors and/or signals that are related directly or tangentially to user experience. So it’s clear that SEO results are increasingly influenced by user experience – higher visibility demands a better user experience, and a better user experience yields higher visibility over time.
From content farms to quality content
SEO and content marketing have a different relationship. They’ve been connected for years, although sometimes with an inverse relationship. When content became a ranking factor with significant weight for Google some years back, many people took advantage of that to create websites that churned out content that had little value (aptly named content farms”). But visitor behavior patterns demonstrated the lack of value in that content – when visitors clicked through to one of them in a search result, they would not find the information they were looking for and would quickly leave the website. As a result, Google started penalizing “content farms” and their low quality content as far back as 2011 in what was labeled their “Panda algorithm” update. Since then, they have continued to refine and build on that algorithm to identify (and punish) sites with shallow, low-quality content.
Visitors stay longer when they find what they are searching for
Today, quality content plays an integral part in facilitating a good user experience. Quality content provides relevant information that answers a searcher’s query. Because it is responsive to their intent, visitors stay longer, visit more pages and consume more content. Put another way, great quality content as described here is a positive contributor to a good user experience.
That the quality of the content on a web page contributes to the user experience should be no surprise – nor that it can make or break the user experience. If the content is dreck, with little or no value, why would a user want to continue reading, much less stay and explore more?
Google looks for semantically related terms to help in determining a page is about
Content plays into SEO in another way as well. Google’s bots look at a page’s title tag and meta description to understand what a page is about, but they also analyze the content on that page to understand its relevance to particular queries. Forget keywords, Google no longer looks for the “keyword” tag. Instead, it looks for semantically related terms to distinguish between similar words and determine the context being used. For example, phrases such as “mobile device sales” and “corporate strategy” identify which use of “apple” is appropriate – as a fruit or as a company.
Content that is relevant and informative motivates the visitor to read on and learn more
But the bots are also smart enough to identify bad writing that simply uses and reuses keywords in an invalid attempt to rank, and will punish that appropriately. Quality content demands writers who are skilled in crafting copy that incorporates relevant keywords and key phrases and combines them with a range of semantically related terms without seeming forced. Equally important, that content must inform and educate with details relevant to the subject at hand, so that the visitor wants to read more.
As Google continues to elevate user experience as a key factor in ranking for search results, it’s likely that the increasing overlap of these three disciplines will continue. For entrepreneurs, or business and organization managers evaluating SEO needs and potential solutions, this provides a challenge, and a cautionary warning – look for all three skill sets in a single person, or be prepared to add them in combination as part of a team.