Why do we try to rank sites high in the search results?
Obviously, SEO is a traffic acquisition strategy. We seek to direct audiences who are interested in our products, services or ideas to our sites, rather than those of our competitors.
We expend time and energy getting a site to rank a few places higher, or for a wider range of keywords, but it also pays to focus our attention on what happens after visitors arrive. If visitors arrive, but click-back because a site isn't what they expected to see, then the effort we've put into ranking is wasted.
PPC marketers tend to focus a lot of their energy on what happens after the click. Because they are paying per click, there is significant jeopardy involved if visitors do click back, but it's also a discipline that can prove lucrative for SEOs. Many SEOs do this already, of course, however if you're new to the field, then it is easy to get bogged down in ranking methodology without giving much thought to what happens next.
Let's look at ways of making better use of the traffic we already have.
The State Of The Internet
In times past, producers could dictate to markets. You may recall Henry Ford's maxim when he talked about the Model T Ford: "You can have any color, so long as it is black!"
Producers were able to dictate to consumers when there wasn't much in the way of consumer choice. Markets weren't deep with competition. This was also sometimes a result of market sectors enjoying regulatory protection against new competitors.
The internet is the opposite.
The internet is a deep amalgamation of markets. Anyone, anywhere, can set up a "store front" - web presence - in a few days, or even a few minutes. There are few barriers to entry, and there are many new sites launching each second. This environment shifts the power from producer to consumer, as the consumer can exercise choice. On the internet, exercising that choice is often little more than a click of a mouse.
In such an environment, user-centric marketing is primary. If we don't satisfy visitors, it's very easy for them to go elsewhere. There is little point positioning #1 if the visitor is dissatisfied with what she sees, clicks back, and clicks on your competitors result further down the search result page instead. It could also be argued Google are using user behavior as a metric, so if enough users don't find what they were looking for on your site, this could, in turn, affect your ranking.
So what makes a visitor decide to leave or stay?
Typically, visitors will judge quickly. User testing has shown that visitors will first scan your page to see if it answers their query. If not, they go elsewhere. If you look at your stats, you might find this is the behavior of high proportion of your visitors. Visitors are also unlikely to wrestle with a site they don't intuitively understand, unless they really want what you've got, and you don't have any competitors.
Keep these points in mind:
- users have choice
- users will be quick to judge
- users don't want to think
Three aspects need to work in tandem in order to get visitors to engage - design, usability and utility
First impressions count, hence the reason for appropriate graphic design.
What is "appropriate"? Naturally, it will differ for every site and audience, and largely comes down to how well you understand your visitors. A high-end fashion designer, who focuses on desirability and image is going to use a different visual design approach to a webmaster running a site for the academic community. The latter site design is more likely to focus on function as opposed to glossy form as commercial gloss can be perceived by an academic audience as being frivolous.
What both approaches have in common is that the visitor will be shown something they expect to see. This underscores the need to understand visitors. We'll look at ways you can approach this in the steps section below.
The next concept is.....
Once the visitor decides they are in the right place, the next step they need to take should be patently obvious. Usability is a practice that involves making sites easy to use. In terms of operation, sites should be made as simple as possible, and not indulge in complex navigation schemes.
Because users can easily go to another site, there is little incentive for them to wrestle with your site, so if you make it difficult for people to engage with you, many will not bother.
So, if we've got the visitor this far, they like the look of our site, and the visitor can find their way around easily.
But that isn't enough.
The visitor also needs a good reason to engage with us. What are you offering them? What do you offer them that is better than what the other guy offers? This is where your business strategy is important, especially your unique selling proposition. Do you offer something they really want? If not, rethink your offer.
Not only does the visitor need to be provided with a good reason to engage with you, this reason must be stated clearly. It must be self-evident. If the user has to go hunting for it, because it is buried in dense text on page three, then the visitor is likely to click back. Make sure your offer is writ large.
So, those are the three areas that need to tie together if we are to keep users: visual design, usability and utility.
Let's look at the practicalities.
1. Create An Appropriate Design
Evaluate your competitors, especially your most successful competitors. Are there similarities in approach in terms of visual design? "Steal" ideas from the best, and twist them into something fresh, yet familiar.
Know your visitors. Who are they? What do they expect to see? You can often get demographic research reports from marketing companies that will help you profile your visitors. Surveys, polls and enabling comments are some other ways to get feedback.
Intuition and experience. Design often comes down to intuition, and what has worked in the past. If you're not a designer, employ someone who understands user-centric design and usability. Many web projects are blown by designers who focus on bells and whistles, as opposed to what is most appropriate.
2. Ensure Your Site Is Easy To Use
Test. Track your logs to monitor user behavior. If you can, stand behind test users as they navigate your site. Look for any common impediments to their progress, and redesign as necessary.
3. Have you Articulated A Convincing Reason For People To Engage
Go back to your business case. Do you have a competitive offer? What is special about your pitch that will appeal to visitors?
Once you have identified the key points that differentiate you, ensure that these points are obvious to visitor. One good way to test this is with a spoken elevator pitch. Make an elevator pitch to your friends, and see if they are clear about what your offer is. What parts of the offer are they most responsive to, and why? Once you have honed a compelling pitch, translate this into the written word - or video - or sound file - on your website.
Address their objections. Not only do you need to appeal to what visitors want, you must also anticipate any objections they may have. Spell these out, then answer them.
Want to see an example of how this stuff comes together? Check out the front page of SEO Book.
Test :) As any PPC-er will tell you - always test.
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