Optimizing the search experience

Content Optimized search begins and ends with quality content

A great user experience often starts with a question. And, maybe just as often, the question has to be repeated—and repeated—until the person finally finds what he or she is looking for. In some cases, the act of repeated searching may be a way for people to become more educated searchers by refining and focusing their questions. But too often, and for too many people, "pogosticking" between results and pages is a symptom of content that is irrelevant, flimsy, outdated, inaccurate, obscure, misleading, or simply misplaced.

People want answers, but don't stop there

Sometimes, the right content strategy can be as simple as, "Just answer the question." In From SEO To SXO: Search Experience Optimization, columnist Mark Munroe describes the symptoms of a poor search experience and points to better content—content that answers people's search queries—as critical to providing a better user experience.

“Search Experience Optimization means optimizing the user experience for the users we get, as well as the ones we want! Not only will that align with what Google wants, but a better understanding of all our users will help our business objectives, as well.”

The alignment of SEO, user experience and content strategy has been underway for several years, since Google launched its Panda algorithm. With Panda, Google made it clear that the quality of the content would be of primary importance in matching page links with search queries. The focus moved from matching query "strings" to looking for relationships between "things" in order to answer the question, "What's this page about?"

“When crafting your content, answer as many questions as you can. Good content answers questions, and semantically relevant content reflects this. A top ranking for any search query means the search engine believes your content answers the question best. As you structure your content around topics and themes, make sure you deserve the top ranking by answering the questions and offering a user experience better than the competition.”

A great search experience doesn't simply answer a question. It anticipates the person's broader intentions and then encourages him or her to take action. A complete user experience—built on a content strategy that helps people make informed, confident decisions—also provides the foundation of a digital strategy that spans business requirements, marketing goals and key performance indicators.

Google sounds the call for quality content

To reinforce the thinking behind the Panda algorithm, Google provided plenty of encouragement for companies that recognized the importance of high-quality content. Google's list of 23 questions to ask about your content remains a touchstone for content strategists and experience designers:

“Our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus too much on what they think are Google’s current ranking algorithms or signals.”

Delivering quality content became a business priority and put new pressure on companies and their internal marketing and communications organizations—who could no longer rely just on tactical SEO methods to attract viewers. Content strategy, user experience, and experience design quickly became part of the business vocabulary. Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, sounded the call for a comprehensive approach to content and quality:

“User experience is now a big deal. You really need to think about how users are interacting with your page and how that shows your overall page quality. You need to think through the big picture.”

Write like humans for humans

When we talk about optimizing an experience, or personalizing an experience, we're really talking about humanizing an experience. Yes, we can employ sophisticated techniques to optimize our pages and help the search engines discern their meaning and relevance, but we need to remember that today's search engines are being tuned to meet human needs:

“At the end of the day, we don't need a super computer to make our content better, or easier to understand. If we write like humans for humans, our content goes a long way in becoming optimized for search engines.”

For an experience to be optimized, it can't try to be all things to all people. It has to be designed to deliver the right content to the people who want it, need it, and are looking for it. That's how a simple search becomes the first step in a great digital experience.

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