One of the cornerstones of any digital marketing presence is a company website. From being a destination for people to visit that are searching for your products and services to servicing existing customers, it’s difficult to understate the importance of a great website (or understate the missed opportunities that come with having a bad one). Of course, a great website isn’t much use if nobody can find it, which is where a solid investment in SEO can pay big dividends.
However, a question that often comes up when planning out an SEO strategy is: should you be more focused on optimizing for customers or search engines? Arguably, there was a time when this was a real trade-off. Many SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing or spam linking were effective for gaining search presence, but came at the cost of customer experience.
Today, thanks to smarter and more sophisticated algorithms, modern search engines have gotten better than ever at understanding, measuring and rewarding the kinds of factors that go into a great web experience for humans.
So, should you prioritize optimizing for people or for search engines? In 2016 (and the probable future), the only correct answer is both.
#1 – Mobile Responsive
This probably isn’t news to anyone with a pulse, but mobile internet usage has grown exponentially over the past few years and mobile search has kept pace. In fact, mobile use of Google search officially surpassed desktop this year. This means that if your website doesn’t work well for mobile devices, you risk alienating over half of your potential customers!
In addition to frustrating people, websites that offer a poor mobile experience risk losing visibility and traffic from search engines, since they don’t want to show results that aren’t likely to work well for their users.
#2 – Technically Sound
Ever been to a brick and mortar business with a building in disrepair? Nobody enjoys spending time in a place with dusty isles, chipped paint, faded signs, or a messy rest room.
Similarly, nobody wants to spend time browsing a website that isn’t technically sound. Slow load times, broken links, confusing navigation, glitchy apps, server outages or outdated technology (Flash anyone?) are a great way to make anyone have a bad experience on your website.
In addition to creating a subpar experience for humans, technical issues can cause an SEO nightmare. In addition to sending negative quality signals (which can hurt rankings), technical issues like broken links or server errors can cause searchbots to incorrectly index important content or miss it completely.
#3 – Serves Prospects
In the not-so-distant past, salespeople held most of the power, as they had access to information that customers didn’t. What’s the right car for you? Whatever the salesperson says…
In the age of search, people are empowered with easy access to an unprecedented volume of information and this has had a huge impact on the sales process. By the time most customers walk into a car dealership, they have already researched reviews, crash safely statistics and pricing of the various models available.
Every day, your prospects are asking questions, researching pain points and comparing features of your’s and your competitor’s offerings. Every search query is a question, every relevant webpage is a potential answer and in the uber-competitive search landscape, only the best answers win.
Make sure your website is serving prospects with the best answers by:
- Performing audience keyword research to identify relevant topics, questions and pain points
- Creating content that addresses needs and provides value to your prospects
- Optimizing your website and it’s content so that it’s easy to find and consume
#4 – Serves Customers
Search engine optimization is a fantastic “top of the funnel” tactic for bringing in new prospects and helping nurture them into customers, but the potential value of SEO doesn’t stop once the contract is signed.
Ongoing customer service and support is a key piece of any successful business strategy, and SEO can be incredibly helpful here. It’s great to have FAQ pages, instructions and product tips and tricks, but it’s even better if these things are easy to find.
Providing easy to find customer resources isn’t just valuable for your customers, it’s valuable to your bottom line by saving on customer service costs. The cost of hosting a robust customer resource section on your website is dwarfed by the cost of paying customer service reps to answer the same questions.
#5 – Optimized Across the Sales Cycle
People don’t usually buy something the first time they encounter your brand online, in particular if your sales cycle is on the longer side. In order to effectively nurture prospects into customers, your website needs content that answers questions, creates memorable experiences and provides value across the phases of the sales cycle.
In order to optimize across the sales cycle:
- Attract with lighter, entertaining, ‘non-salesy’ content like blog posts, videos or infographics, optimized for broader keywords (generally non-branded).
- Engage with meatier content like white papers, ebooks or webinars, optimized for more specific keywords.
- Convert prospects into customers by giving them the information they need to feel confident to purchase through content like case studies, testimonials and product comparisons. Optimize for specific, often-branded keywords.
Modern search engines are smarter and more complex than ever before, but the core objective of search remains fairly simple: to provide searchers with the best answers (results) to their questions (search queries). By optimizing your website for customers rather than trying to manipulate or game the search engines, you’re well positioned to win in search both now and into the future.
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