Search experience optimization

May 23, 2020

Google is solving a hard problem – based on just a couple of words, it has to figure out what you’re looking for.

For simple, straightforward queries, like a stock quote or “how to wash a car”, it might be easy. But for something more complex and with less obvious intention, like “pie”, there’s much more guesswork to do. Are you looking for pictures of pie, information about what types of pies exist, baking instructions, or something else entirely?

Once Google has guessed what a searcher meant, it has to rank billions of pages by the likelihood that each page will be what the searcher is looking for. And there are lots of factors at play – with machine learning now part of the picture, arguably an infinite number!

To make this job as easy as possible for Google, make it easy for your searcher. Create pages that are easy to navigate, and easy to use.

Leave an information scent

We talk about information scent a lot. It’s an elegant metaphor for the process a user goes through to get closer and closer to the information they’re looking for, until they eventually find it. A strong information scent lets users feel confident that you’re about to provide them the information they’re looking for.

In search, your main opportunity to start a user on a trail is through the meta title and meta description. A compelling call to action and a clearly relevant page title in a search engine result provide a better experience for your user, and is likely to drive more traffic that something that’s auto-generated by your Wordpress instance. A clear title and description also help Google, of course, understand what your page is about.

Clear navigation

Once users are on your site, they have to be able to find what they’re looking for easily. Your users like clear navigation – and so does Google.

We cover this more in our article about designing navigation for SEO, but generally, you’ll want to:

  • Keep your navigation bar labels, page URLs, and page titles consistent. If you have a page comparing hydroelectric turbines and nuclear turbines, make sure the page title, page description, and URL reflect this. And, make sure every link that points to the page – especially the ones in your nav bar – use consistent anchor text describing the contents of the page.
  • Include the most important pages in your site in the navigation. Because the navigation bar appears on every page, it’s a hint that Google will receive over and over again as to what content you consider the most worthy of visitors’ attention.
  • Keep related information together. Keep your navigation lean, so that related information is grouped together on a single page—for example, have all your information on flanges appear together. You’ll be making the correct destination extremely clear for visitors, and for Google, too.

Be thoughtful about pages you take down

Navigation isn’t just about the content you have today. When you add a page to your site, you’re responsible for helping visitors to that page, even after you take it down.

If you stop selling a certain type of laserdisc caddy, redirect the visitor to something else that’s highly relevant to their query, such as your Laserdisc Caddy category page offering similar products. Better still, put a message on that page telling the visitor that the particular product they came in for isn’t available, but here are other suggestions they might like.

That’s a better experience for the user. And it tells Google that the new page is relevant for visitors to the old page, which helps it rank better in search results.

Make your site accessible to all visitors

Many of the things you can do to improve your site for Google will also make the experience better for human beings, and vice versa.

For example, you can provide a simple text representation of any image on your site (known as “alt”, or alternative, text). Adding this text is important for vision-impaired visitors so that their screen readers can parse the images you’ve added. But since Google’s bot can’t see what’s on your site, it also reads your alternative text and uses it as another clue to what the page is about.

Conclusion

An important lens for looking at SEO is the whole experience of searching for things on your site. Optimize for your visitor’s experience, and you’ll be optimizing for Google, too.

  • Making your site accessible for everyone isn’t just the right thing to do – Google is one of your users.
  • Providing a great experience even for people who land on content you’ve taken down.
  • Make your navigation clear and useful, and Clear the path to the information your visitor is looking for.