Evan Prokop

The New Era of SEO: Optimize for People Before Searchbots

Evan Prokop     Online Marketing, SEO

Human shaking hands with a robot

Dating back to when the first mainstream consumer search engines became available in the mid-nineties, digital marketers have desired to see their businesses succeed in the lucrative but often confusing search marketing landscape. And thus search engine optimization (SEO) was born.

Twenty years later, we’ve certainly come a long way, both in terms of the capabilities of search engines and in the strategies that SEO professionals implement in their attempts to master them. Given the complexity of modern search engine algorithms, it takes a lot more than just sticking keywords on your website in order to achieve prominent search rankings.

So, what does it take to win in search in 2015 and beyond? With hundreds of complex algorithms working 24 / 7 to serve up answers for over 5 billion Google search queries per day, that’s a question that can get very complex, very quickly.

But it doesn’t have to be so complex. Rather than trying to understand and react to the intricacies of every search engine algorithm that rolls out, it’s much more productive and sustainable to think in terms of the core objective of search engines, which is actually pretty simple: to connect users with great search results. Great results make people happy and happy people are likely to keep searching. If your website content makes for great search results, the search engines will be happy to serve them up.

Below are five attributes that you can incorporate into your website and content to make sure you’re providing the kind of great search results that will help you succeed in SEO both now and in the future.

Technically Sound

Remember when you found that excellent article, but the experience was dampened by the fact that it took 20 seconds for the page to load, the images were poor quality, the embedded video never loaded at all and several of the in-text links were broken?

Me neither. I clicked away after waiting 5 seconds for the page to load and never came back, and I’m betting you would have too if this wasn’t a hypothetical question.

Search engines reward technically sound sites that work well because they know that it’s essential for good user experience in additional to helping bots to effectively crawl and index.

Make sure your site is in tip top shape by:

• Improving page load speed
• Fixing broken links
• Optimizing images and media assets

Answers Questions

‘Where is the best wood-fired pizza in my neighborhood?’ ‘What’s the quickest way to get rid of the flu?’ ‘How can I get a better ROI from my company’s content marketing investment?’

Whether stated implicitly or implied, every search query is a question and every search result is an answer. Of course, not all answers are created equally and Google only wants to show the best answers.

In order to be the best answer, the critical first step is to understand the questions your customers are asking. Persona based keyword research plus solid content planning, creation and promotion are essential.

Works on All Devices

Mobile devices are practically ubiquitous today and the search engines know it. In fact, more Google searches take place on mobile devices than desktop computers today.

Smartphones and tablets have already taken the internet by storm and all signs point to an increasingly mobile future. This means that a mobile optimized website is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s an essential.

Easy to Share

Whether the effect is directly causal or not (the jury is still deliberating), research demonstrates a strong correlation between social signals (shares, comments, etc.) and prominent organic search rankings. Similar to links, social signals are a good indicator of the value of web content to users, so it makes sense that search engines would take these factors into account.

To make sure your content is easy to share socially, make sure you have prominent share buttons built into the template of your website and external digital assets. For extra credit, implement social schema markup like OpenGraph and Twitter Cards to help your content look great and have added functionality when shared.

Optimized Across the Customer Journey

As previously mentioned, every search query is a question and every search result is an answer. In addition, every search query has context and intent behind it. The best answers take this into account.

For example, somebody searching for pizza in Minnesota probably isn’t going to be satisfied with the same results as somebody performing the same search from New York. Similarly, someone looking to contact a sales rep at your company probably isn’t going to be happy going to your FAQ page, whereas someone who is in the process of evaluating your solution against your competitors would probably be quite happy to land there.

Especially if you have a longer sales cycle, there’s a good chance that prospects will interact with your content multiple times before converting into customers and will search differently along the way. In the exploratory phase, people may search broadly for information on a topic or industry, and can be attracted by easy to digest content like blog posts or videos. Further along the journey, people are likely to narrow their searches a bit to seek out specific information or drill in on topics in more detail. Termed the engagement phase, longer form content like ebooks or whitepapers can be the perfect answers for these searchers. When they are ready to convert into customers, users are well served by content that helps them to make the decision. Case studies, feature comparisons and testimonials may provide them with the evidence they (and their bosses) need to feel confident that they are making the right choice.

Optimizing for the context and intent behind the search keywords you’re targeting means that your content has a better chance of reaching searchers when it’s going to be the most valuable, which is directly in line with what the search engines want too. See how that works out?


Need help getting your SEO program firing on all cylinders? Check out TopRank’s full range of strategic SEO services.

Image via ShutterStock.

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