With more complex algorithms that factor in local, personal and universal search features, search rankings are not always consistent. Today’s results often depend on a user’s location, their search history and their behavior with the search results – sometimes you can see different search results for the same search terms, even on two different computers in the same location.
One question many businesses have when hunting for a search engine optimization (SEO) company is, “Will this company know us and our audience well enough to turn our web business into something profitable, worthy of our investment?” Unfortunately, it’s not easy to discern the answer before you are three months into an agreement.
Web Traffic vs. Engagement
Is the goal of SEO to get as much traffic as possible to a website? Many SEO companies will lead you to believe that more traffic is all there is to it. Granted, getting more traffic is a part of it, but more eyeballs on a web page do not necessarily mean achieving your business goals.
Look at your web analytics – specifically the keywords that brought in the majority of traffic – then evaluate the quality of this traffic over the past month or quarter. A high bounce rate and low average time on site for visits from a particular keyword can indicate one or all of these:
- Searcher cannot find anything relevant to her keyword and bounces.
- Searcher may find something relevant, but the page does not communicate directly with her intent… so she bounces.
- The keyword is not relevant for the site.
Let me suggest that the focus of SEO should be audience engagement, rather than traffic. According to Eric T. Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified, “Engagement is an estimate of the depth of visitor interaction against a clearly defined set of goals.” That’s pretty clear: Without specific goals, driving more traffic to your website sounds like a good option.
But if a visitor hits your site and bounces, your depth of visitor interaction is null. To truly engage a visitor requires relevance and targeted communication. So what is best for your business? Consider a different approach: using SEO to build audience engagement.
Steps to audience engagement via SEO:
1. Define the business goal/s. “Getting on the first page of Google” or “Getting more traffic” are usually not much more than the hopes of individuals who have not defined strategic business goals. Instead, a targeted goal might be, “To generate quality leads from the website that result in 20% of annual business.
2. Prioritize keywords according to relevant intent, rather than potential traffic volume. It’s always interesting to see keyword research sorted to show the most popular to the least popular search terms. But could the real valuable search terms be those that are less popular, but rich with intent?
Most searchers can be divided into one of two camps: the researcher (who doesn’t yet know what he wants) and the purchaser (who has already done the research and knows exactly what she wants).
In some cases it makes sense to target both groups; you can sometimes see the intent with the search phrase. Now with your short list of researcher and purchaser search terms, can you confidently say that 90% of these searchers, if they clicked through to your site, would find something relevant, useful and of value? If you can’t, then your keyword is probably not rich with intent.
3. Prepare content that speaks directly to each motivation behind the searcher’s intent
Researchers want product/service info, comparisons, evaluation criteria and RFP info. Purchasers want the best corporate fit, customer service, implementation and procurement info.
Let’s consider a sales training business as an example. Their most desired keyword is sales training, but it’s easy to see that the search term sales training is general, not descriptive. A person using that phrase is really not in purchase mode at the moment. The researcher’s motivation (sometimes known as “tire kickers”) is probably to get free tips, to compare sales training services and specifics so she can learn something and perhaps make a decision later.
Now consider a more descriptive keyword for this business: sales training consultant. Can you see the motivation behind this search? SEO providers with a “get more traffic” mentality side-step this issue. But to achieve audience engagement, you need guidance in the motivations behind the keywords you select. This drives content development that fits your audience and your site, as well as avoiding awkward or confusing phrasing.
4. Define the unique value proposition (UVP)
Businesses that have invested in uncovering this piece of the puzzle are light-years ahead of their competition in all aspects of marketing. When it comes to SEO, the UVP has to be interpreted and applied to the searcher’s intent. It’s not necessary for an SEO consultant to understand the principles of semantics, but the right interpretation of the UVP can go a long way to achieving audience engagement.
5. Deliver on (and exceed) the UVP to create loyalty
Do what you say you will do. Deliver on the promises you make. Do what is right from your new customer’s perspective, and go beyond their expectations to forge a lasting relationship. These are common sense, good business practices that bring future rewards.
“But,” you ask, “what does that have to do with SEO?” Everything, if you want long-term customer loyalty rather than more, sort-of-qualified traffic. Loyalty is a measurable metric and often comes with SEO rewards like fabulous testimonials and links from customer sites.
At the end of the day, businesses want SEO consultants who tailor their Internet marketing directly to the bottom line by bringing valuable traffic from multiple sources, optimized conversion rates and returning customers – rather than simply getting more traffic to the site.
Author: Tom Shivers is president of Capture Commerce, an Atlanta SEO company, founded in 2000 to provide tailored Internet marketing plans for start ups and entrepreneurs.