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Back to Basics: User-Centred SEO

SEO has evolved from the technical exercise it was a few years ago, by Google uprooting previous practices with their algorithm updates, to a more holistic, strategic and vital online marketing exercise. And the clinch? All the changes hinge on one basic element… the User.

The simple fact is that everything – all the basics from keyword research, to build and design, to your content – should always consider the user and their experience.

Google User-Centred Updates

Let's take some examples direct from the world’s largest search engine - Google. Google updates for years have focussed on quality. Quality for the user. The first update that focussed on quality was February 2011’s Panda update. This update, for the first time, tackled the quality of the content on a website and assessed elements such as uniqueness, trust and authority. Several updates on Panda have since honed Google’s ability to assess quality content on site.  The idea behind this is that users are looking for reliable, interesting, trustworthy information when they are browsing online, and Google wants to present this to them.

In April 2012, search rankings were rocked with the release of Penguin. The Penguin update tackled link farms that had previously help boost ranking through bought links. Instead Google now looked for quality link signals stating that if you have a good website, with good content, users will naturally link to it. The idea here is that users would direct other users to relevant, good pages. Not robots.

Hummingbird in September 2013 updated Google’s algorithm completely and moved further towards conversational search – understanding more what the user is asking and what they mean in their search, rather than just interpreting individual words and phrases. Here, Google put users to the centre of search. It shifted marketers to a place where they had to have a deeper understanding of who their customer was and what they wanted (if they were not there already) and ensure they answered their customers’ questions on their website.

Google Quality Updates

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2015 has brought two important updates already – Mobilegeddon is a direct result of user actions driving change. Mobile devices are increasingly popular and the Mobilegeddon update is ensuring websites are optimised to provide the user the best possible experience whatever device they are on. If they are not providing a good mobile experience, they will not have good visibility on mobile devices – possibly missing out on 50% of potential traffic.

Most recently, the Quality update focusses even further on how Google processes quality signals in deciding which websites best answer users’ intent. It rewards more informational/how to websites and further builds on Panda in ensuring users are getting trustworthy, high-quality information, and answers to their questions.

So, Google are ensuring the user is at the front of all things we do with natural search. Every change they do aims to make the searching, browsing and the general online experience a better, more relevant, richer experience. And every change marketers, content writers and website owners do to a website should start with the basics – the user.

But, what does this really mean?

We’ve read a lot in the last few days about how things have changed but are, fundamentally, still about the SEO basics. It’s about sifting through the mass of information that is around about organic optimisation, and focussing completely on the user. Let’s take a look at the elements that need to be considered…

The user needs to find your page. 

See our SEO Site Launch Checklist which looks at accessibility and ensuring search engines can accurately find and index your pages correctly. 404 errors are a bad thing – users can’t find what they are looking for. If a user lands on your homepage – can they easily find the section/page information they need? If not, they will be gone, which leads to…

The user has diminishing patience. 

If they do get to the right page, make sure it loads quickly. In today’s world, busy people don’t have time to wait the few seconds for pages to load and will quickly hit the back button. Make sure the navigation and call to actions are clear. Make sure the page will answer the users query because…

The user will only take 5 seconds to decide if they stay on your website. 

Once on your page, the user will have their first – and often lasting – impression in seconds. What is here? What should I do? Why should I do it? Make sure your page is clear, uncluttered and answers those questions right away. They will not there to hang around as…

The user is constantly looking for something.

World-renowned UX Guru Jakob Nielsen has said “People are on the web not to enjoy your web design, but to get something done.”

User Experience Design

What do they want to do on your site? Is it easy for them to do it? Fancy graphics, carousels and even ads are all very well – but are they stopping your website from converting users, or answering their questions? Remember…

The user is your customer.

You need to understand your customer – what they are looking for, what they want, and how you can get them to do what you want. To get insights on your customer and what they are looking for, see our blogs on keyword research and content for the user. Look at your website and think about whether or not it is easy for customers to convert? Set your website up so it addresses a user’s questions, concerns, entertains them, drives them in the direction you want – whether that is to buy something, sign up to something, watch something, share something or anything else. Make sure there is a compelling reason for them to do what it is you want them to.

Finally, don’t forget…

The user is everywhere. On every device.

Mobile search is overtaking desktop search. Stop thinking solely about the old school screens and put mobile first. Optimise for mobile and desktop will be ok. Optimise for desktop and it’s likely mobile will not be ok! Don’t think mobile-friendly. Don’t even think mobile first. Think mobile only.

The phrase that has been shouted from rooftops for quite some time is SEO is dead.

SEO is far from dead. Whatever additional spin is out on it now – content is king, social is the new SEO – it still very much alive and kicking. And it's rewarding those doing it well more than ever.

If you keep users at the heart of all you do for SEO, users will reward you too… by becoming loyal customers, brand ambassadors and helping build quality links and shares.

So before you invest heavily in fancy designs, massive campaigns and the best content out there - make sure you've covered the basics. Google is always focussing in the user, so we should be to.

It's all about the user.