Search engine optimisation (SEO) has been around for over 20 years since the launch of the first website back in 1991. Although not quite in the Google centred form that we know it today, it has always played a pivotal role in users finding the content and the answers they are searching for.
In that time the internet, technology, and users’ needs and expectations of search engines have evolved greatly, forcing the SEO techniques to evolve to stay effective. This evolution of search engines to better serve their users, has caused a shift in focus from just traditional SEO tactics, to also support in creating a better search engine experience. Enter stage – Search Experience Optimisation!
What is Search Experience Optimisation?
Put simply, search experience optimisation (SXO) combines the traditional SEO tactics we all know and love, with a focus on user search experience best practices.
The focus of SXO is to improve the search experience your user has before they land on your website. Now of course we can’t control Google! But we can ensure that we are creating the right type of content that our users are searching for, and presenting it in a way that’s appealing and assures them it’s the content they have been looking for.
Ultimately, it’s the search engine’s job to ensure a user gets to the content they are looking for as quickly and with as little friction as possible. It’s our job to create websites filled with content and experiences that meet those users’ needs.
So where do you begin?
Search Experience Optimisation (SXO) Audit
Firstly, you want to start by understanding what your search experience is like for your target users. Areas to look at include:
- Content – Do you have the right content to appeal to your target audience? Start by mapping the core keywords and phrases you are targeting and map what content you currently provide on those topics. Do you have enough pillar content around these key topics? Is your content well written and optimised for Google to find it? Identify any gaps in your content and create a plan to fill them.
- Experience – When a user searches for your target keywords what is the experience like? Ranking highly is of course a factor, but also what does your content look like in the search results? Are you in the featured snippet? Or the ‘People also ask’ Google box? Have you optimised your content to show the most relevant information? Once a user clicks on your link, is the content relevant to their search? Is it well laid out with an appealing user experience?
- Accessible – Is your content optimised for desktop, mobile, and tablet so a user has a consistent experience regardless of the device? Does your content also meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
- Benchmark – Dig into your website experience numbers – use the wonders of Google Analytics to look at metrics such as bounce rate, pages per visit, return visitor rates, exit pages, time on site, and conversions to map out any site issues and where improvements can be made.
- Technical – The final piece in the jigsaw is the SEO technical fundamentals such as: EAT value (expertise, authority, and trust) on your page and across your site. Elements like page load speed, internal and external linking, image sizes, clear menu structures, intuitive navigation, a frictionless user journey, integrated social strategy, and much more are all at play here!
Analyse & Prioritise
Once you have carried out your audit, look for where your gaps (and opportunities) are. Do you need to work on creating new content or optimising the pillar content you do have? Do you need to adjust your content so it’s more appealing when searching for or viewing it on a mobile device? Do you need to review your website layout to ensure that users have a better experience once they land on your website?
Once you have identified your gaps, prioritise what you are going to work on first. Unless you are a company with incredibly deep pockets or unlimited marketing resources, you will need to prioritise what you work on first. Score each gap identified by the most urgent and the most impactful to your search experience.
Ways to Measure
Once you have your list of areas to fix, you will want to ensure you benchmark your current search experience first before you jump in to make improvements.
There are many ways you can measure search experience and you need to choose the metrics that are most relevant to your business. The measurements suggested below can be accessed in Google Analytics, Google Search Console or Google search itself so don’t worry if you don’t have access to any paid tools.
- Search engine ranking for keywords – This metric will reveal if your content and SEO tactics are hitting the mark, improved rankings will signify your tactics are working. You could also compare this with your competition.
- Bounce rate – This metric represents users who have visited your site but clicked away without interacting. This metric needs to be looked at with care as some pages may have high bounce rates due to their nature such as purchase confirmation pages. Use this to monitor your pillar content pages, by their very nature, these should have a low bounce rate. They should encourage users to browse other pages on your website.
- Time spent on page/site – This will tell you if the content on your pages are engaging and serving the needs of the user. If it meets their needs time on page will increase as more users stay on your pages and site longer.
- Organic traffic – This will allow you to see if the targeted content you are creating is getting to the right users and if it’s resonating with them. This metric also removes traffic from any other digital channels so you are purely seeing the effects of your SXO actions.
- Click through rate – This metric allows you to see how many users have clicked through to your website from the search engine results page (SERP). This can be accessed from Google Search Console.
- Conversion rates – Ultimately all businesses are looking to drive conversions of some sort. By monitoring this metric, it will allow you to see if conversions from organic search are increasing and therefore if your SXO tactics are increasing conversions.
A final word on measurement; improvements from SXO should be seen in the same way as SEO I.e. they won’t happen overnight. The timeframe to see improvements will depend on many factors including the age of your website, how competitive your keywords are, your SXO and SEO strategy, and how consistent you are at implementing it. SXO does take time, stick with it. It will generate results to support and grow your business.
It’s still unclear yet as to whether search experience optimisation is an additional tool in the digital marketeer’s toolkit, or whether it’s just a slight re-brand and extension of SEO. Only time will tell. One thing is certain, search experience is having a bigger and bigger impact on the performance of websites, businesses, and organisations. So, don’t wait for SXO to be the next ‘hot topic’, act now and get ahead of the game!