I was reading a post by my good friend Mark Jackson today about the balance of search marketing as being a combination of both art and science. I couldn’t agree more, and have had this discussion many times over the years in both this column and with many in the industry. One of the comments in the article also reminded me of a topic I have spoken a lot about over the last 10 years, and that is about including the “search experience” as part of the “user experience.”
Traditionally, this experience was relegated in web design as the “top down” approach, looking at user design and experience in a bubble. The reality is that the experience begins before users enter a website, and search has long provided a valuable window into how UE can be improved with search at the core. As the commenter pointed out, SEO is on a trajectory more towards user-centric design than pulling in traffic via keywords (though this is certainly a key aspect of user-centric design).
Thinking about search and social UE changes when viewed in terms of engagement, as opposed to attraction by the sole means of fishing via keywords. Engagement through optimization is as much about advocating for a searcher as it is about optimization. Of course, by advocating for the searcher or user, you must perform market research, keyword research, and create personas with the search experience in mind. By advocating for the searcher, you produce a more relevant experience which ultimately helps fulfill the goals of the marketer as well.
I am very fortunate to have long worked with a creative, user experience, and information architecture practice, and have helped to inform and drive these processes with search at the strategic core. As a result, our view of UE has strategically changed. Yes, it can be viewed from the top down, but it can be relational in the sense that it is “outside-in” as well, with the user experience starting at the point of entry, be it a search engine or a social network. The challenge for UE groups is rooted in the question about “what is being done for a person entering your site from a search engine,” especially when this initiating experience may begin with 20-50% of all site traffic, and drills down into every part of the site. If your design does not answer this problem, then the full picture has not been considered for UE.
But to the original commenter’s point, search is delving deeper into advocacy for the searcher through relevancy. Ultimately this is about solving a problem, or satisfying intent in some way, shape or form. It goes beyond just content, and into real-time interaction as well. If the solution does not present itself and become self-evident at the point of consumption, then real-time interaction can also provide a method of relevancy. Social has its own parallels to search, many of which I have also described in detail over the last few years. The difference is that the experience is offsite and off-asset, and requires a human and conversational touch, while still solving a query intention, or a problem. Clearly, one evolving element in the modern approach to SEO is in search user advocacy, but also the parallel aspects of advocacy via social and content, with a search frame of mind.