User-Focused SEO: Redefining What SEO Is and It’s Goals

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? There has been a range of different definitions of what SEO is, yet through it’s evolution most of them have not changed to keep up with the changing search landscape. So, we thought it was time to redefine SEO with users at the center of the strategies – just like Google does.

At its core we believe SEO strategies, above all else, must provide value to a website’s target personas, and the brand as a whole. So everything we do is rooted in long term value.

Goals of User-Focused SEO

There are two primary goals of User-Focused SEO that all the strategies roll up into.

  1. Create targeted and valuable experiences and content to earn high-value traffic.
  2. Increase conversions and user satisfaction by creating an environment that allows the user to connect directly with the content that best matches their intent.

Note: When planning, strategies, design, and content don’t support these goals SEO is difficult to do correctly.

Three Consistent SEO Variables

  1. There are more than 250 variables that Google uses to determine where your website should rank amongst others who are targeting the same keyword topics.
  2. Every change that you make to your website has some affect on how Google values and ranks your website – even changes that you think are small or inconsequential change your website’s overall value and relevancy.
  3. Because a website does not operate in a vacuum, each change might not be enough for you to lose (or gain) rankings, but it does cause a new ranking value to be calculated by the search engines.

Note: This means that SEO consistency, and integration in all strategies and updates is key to success.

Traditional SEO vs The New User-Focused SEO

old-vs-new-seo

Benefits of User-Focused SEO

  1. Helps manage online reputation.
  2. Protects against traffic loss during site migrations and redesigns.
  3. Protects against being penalized by search engines.
  4. Lowers risk of ranking loss due to algorithm update.
  5. Increases ROI and conversions.
  6. Increases user satisfaction from those coming from search and referral channels.
  7. Better matches user intent with content sets.
  8. Improves website usability and brand satisfaction.
  9. Increases not only traffic quantity, but also traffic quality.
  10. Earned social shares and engagement from influencers.
  11. Earned links and citations on high-value websites.

Adding a New Persona To All Campaigns

In order to create a successful marketing campaign, it is important to understand who you are targeting. When SEO is an important part of the marketing mix it’s important to define and include Googlebot as a persona to help drive SEO integration and value.

You can learn more about how we defined the Googlebot Persona here.

Parts of the User-Focused SEO Framework

Client Alignment Training
What: This includes continuous knowledge sharing and training sessions with clients about the ever-changing SEO landscape.

Why: This is done to help align internal client teams, educate the client about valuable SEO stragies, and align belief systems, so that everyone is working towards the same goal.

Define Success Metrics
What: These are the primary and secondary goals of the campaign

Why: Used to help define strategies, distribution maps, and align campaign focus across channels

Define High-Value Keywords
What: Defines the set of high-value keywords to optimize for, and build value around. These high-value keywords are defined based on their traffic value, conversion value, persona value, and brand value.

Why: This will give us a list of high-value keywords to focus on and build the content strategy from.

Baseline Measurement
What: This is a measurement across your primary search KPIs.

Why: This is done to provide a baseline for measuring the success and value of the marketing strategies.

SEO Value Score
What: An audit of 100+ weighted variables built on an algorithm that correlate with SEO value. It identifies opportunities for optimizations that can contribute to site health, crawlability, and the search engine’s understanding of how relevant your website is for your high-value keywords.

Why: This is used to help uncover site issues that would keep the search engines from understanding the websites authority, relevancy, or crawlability.

Competitive Audit
What: This identifies your real competition for both informational and commercial search queries. It runs off a framework that helps you build smart strategies from insights gained from analyzing real competitive sets.

Why: This helps us understand keyword difficulty as well as strategies the competitive set is using to drive traffic, gain rankings, and increase conversions.

competitive-seo-framework

Define Content KPIs
What: These are the primary and secondary goals of new content assets.

Why: These will be used when defining content strategies, distribution maps, and aligning campaigns across channels.

Define Persona Target
What: These define the target demographics and psychographics of the user type that a website wants to target.

Why: This is used when determining what type of content to create, what topics to target, and where the content should be distributed.

Onsite Content Audit
What: Analysis of current content sets utilizing GAP, ROP, Keyword, and Intent Analysis.

Why: This helps align user and search engine needs, with goals and KPIs of the content sets.

GAP Analysis
What: This analysis uncovers gaps in current content sets and topic targets, and those which have been identified as being important.

Why: This helps inform content creation strategy, and can help inform site hierarchy based on current content sets.

ROT Analysis
What: This uncovers low value content that is classified as either “redundant”, “outdated”, or “trivial”.

Why: This helps inform content creation strategy for deletion, creation, or rewriting current content sets.

User Intent Analysis
What: This helps align user needs of those coming from search results, with the content set they land on.

Why: This is used to ensure the users intent is being met with the content they land on when coming from a search result. Having a higher user intent score can increase user satisfaction and give positive signals (such as low bounce rate) to the search engines, that the page is ranking for the correct keywords – this helps solidify rankings.

Tagging Updates
What: This includes title tags, description tags, and header tag updates

Why: This is used to align the tagging of the content, with user and search engine needs for page relevancy and hierarchy.

Onsite Content Updates For Legacy Content
What: This includes updating content sets to reflect priority keyword targets.

Why: This is done to better align the search engines and the users with the value of the content set and what the page is relevant for.

Define Content Type For New Content
What: This helps define the content types that will be most effective in the campaign.

Why: Each type of content has strengths that help it be more effective towards accomplishing a business or marketing goal. This tells us which type, or combination of, content we should be using.

Topic Definition For New Content
What: This helps us define the topics for the new content sets.

Why: Once the type of content is defined, and we know who we are targeting, we can define the topics for the content. These topics are defined using a similar model as the keyword definition stage, and takes into account traffic value, conversion value, persona value, and brand value.

Distribution Map
What: This is a “map” that helps define content distribution.

Why: This helps define the channels that each piece of content should be distributed on to drive goal completion and KPIs.

Content Creation
What: This includes creating new content that is not currently on the website.

Why: This content can be used for onsite keyword targeting and traffic gains, conversion rate optimization and goal completion, as well as within social channels to build community and brand.

Social Channel Utilization
What: This involves utilizing social channels as a distribution source and engagement medium for new and existing content.

Why: Social channels can be used to help socialize and distribute content. This results in better user-metrics and inbound links that contribute to authority and relevancy, as well as community building and brand positioning.

Digital PR
What: This is inclusive of identifying high-value content partners, putting together an outreach strategy, and executing an outreach program to build links and ranking metrics.

Why: This is done to help build relevancy and authority for keyword rankings, to drive traffic, and increase brand value and awareness.

Social Channel Optimization
What: This is about optimizing social channels and social content.

Why: This is done to help build a strong foundation for content on social channels, which helps them rank within the social channel. An example of this would be optimizing videos for YouTube distribution.

Align With Google’s Goal

Google’s goal is to connect users, with the most relevant and contextual content. The job of the modern day SEO is to help websites create valuable contextual experiences built on a strong foundation that aligns with a websites primary persona targets and user journeys. Defining the job of the SEO professional in this way aligns with Google’s goal, and helps Google find, understand, and rank the best experiences – ultimately driving valuable traffic to your website.

Cheat Sheet: SEO Client Qualification Questions Template

When working to qualify potential SEO or web design clients it’s important to ask the right questions. This discovery phase helps ensure you can provide the most value to the client, as well as making sure they are able to support and execute your digital strategies – thus getting the most value from you.

Below is a cheat sheet of questions we use to make sure both our client and our agency are getting the most value from each other.

Technical SEO Questions

  • Will we have access to past SEO analysis and campaign insights?
  • Is there an opportunity to make technical or design changes to the site if our research leads to these recommendations?
  • Do you have in-house developers?
  • What is your deployment schedule / cycle?

Content Strategy Questions

  • Are there high-value keyword targets?
  • Where are the keyword targets derived from?
  • Which high-value keywords have the highest profit and conversion rate?
  • Is there an appetite to create in-depth valuable content based on customer-type?
  • Do you have a editorial calendar in place?
  • Do you have in-house designers and copywriters to create high-value content assets?
  • Do you currently have a content governance policy?

Link Building and Digital PR Questions

  • Were any links built to the site previously?
  • Do you currently have a digital PR team?
  • To your knowledge has their been any link building activities that would inhibit or hurt rankings (such as buying links or comment and forum spam)?

Social Media Questions

  • Has there been a social media strategy executed?
  • Will the SEO team have access to the social media communities in order to integrate and utilize its reach and influencers?

Measurement Strategy Questions

  • What are your primary SEO KPIs or positive indicators (Examples: keyword diversity trend, non-branded keyword traffic trend, referral traffic trend, conversion rate)?
  • How do you determine your SEO success metrics and targets?
  • What positive indicators have you measured? What negative indicators have your measured?
  • Have you ever received a warning notice in Google Webmaster Tools?
  • Have your search rankings ever dropped drastically? If so, when and for how long?
  • Will we have access to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics?

Brand Questions

  • Are there personas or customer-types defined for each channel?
  • What other marketing strategies (both offline and online) do you employ?
  • Are you looking to drive branded recognition, non-branded recognition or both?
  • If there was a previous SEO agency, what strategy or capabilities would they like to see from our team that you felt your previous agency did not deliver?

4 SEO Questions We Get Asked About Our SEO Framework

There are many questions we get asked about our user-focused SEO methodology and framework, so we thought we would outline a few of the more prominent questions we have received over the last year.

Q: Search Engine algorithms are constantly changing. How do you develop and optimize owned assets to keep pace with these changes?

From an SEO standpoint we don’t believe in chasing the ongoing algorithm changes, but instead creating high-value content assets and optimizing current brand assets based on the search psychology of a website’s primary and secondary persona set. This value is based on four primary areas; keyword traffic value, value to target persona, conversion rate value, and brand value.

To keep pace with these changes and ensure progress, SEO is embedded in all aspects of our process, from the websites planning to the final QA.

Q: Where does SEO fit in to your overall business strategy and within your overall service capabilities?

SEO is embedded in all aspects of our process, from the websites planning state to the final QA.

  • It provides an additional layer of strategy based on data that is used by each of our teams when building integrated marketing strategies for our clients.
  • It helps inform design and structural components, provide insights for content strategy and user journeys, and focuses the teams on the Googleblot persona to ensure organic traffic growth, increased engagement, and ultimately conversions.
  • Outside of the integration points it is a holistic business strategy; inclusive of publishing, brand building, marketing, traffic acquisition, and conversion rate optimization.

Q: What SEO strategies are often overlooked that can aid in lifting SERP rankings?

There are two areas we feel brands have the most opportunity to excel and lift SERP rankings for high-value keywords.

The first, building a strong structural foundation and SEO friendly CMS. This foundation is key to

  • Help users understand the content sets.
  • Help users understand the content hierarchy.
  • Help search engines focus their crawl and understand the website
  • Help search engines apply ranking metrics to the high-value pages.
  • Minimizing concerns that would cause a website to be filtered or penalized.

The second, creating high-value content assets derived from search and user insights.

By not participating in the webs publishing model mindset, brands have a much harder time:

  • Taking control of their informational content sets
  • Controlling how they are perceived online
  • Addressing their users informational concerns
  • Targeting keywords outside of brand terms
  • Taking search share away from 3rd party sites
  • Increasing reach and share of voice in the search results


Q: How often would you ideally provide SEO recommendations to a client for an existing site? Why?

Because we believe SEO is a business strategy inclusive of publishing, brand building, marketing, traffic acquisition, and conversion rate optimization, recommendations would be on a monthly basis to help accomplish brand goals.

These monthly recommendations would be based on data sets, SEO scorecards, and correlation studies on how the search engines are reacting to content sets, updates, and previous strategies.

SEO works best under an agile methodology that accounts for fluidity and consistent optimization updates. So ensuring that there is a process in place to accommodate this change frequency is vital for SEO to progress and providing ongoing value.

Ecommerce SEO Tips: User-Focused SEO Strategies For Deleted Products

The flow of products in and out of Ecommerce websites can be a challenge when trying to retain SEO value, build brand, and satisfy the users intent. The management of this consistent change can sometimes fall by the wayside – causing a loss in value for SEO and an increased frustration for users. This frustration can cause your brand advocates to hit the back button and move on to one of your competitors.

There are tactics and strategies to keep both the user happy, and align this fluid change in product set with high-value user-focused SEO to retain search value.

Below are 5 options (in no specific order) for handling deleted products on your Ecommerce website.

1. Redirect to the Deleted Product’s Category Page

Type of redirect to use:

  • A 301 redirect

Strategy:

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, dynamically identify the category the product resides in – this should be the category that is one level up from the product page, or if there is less than 3 products in the defined category, keep climbing the taxonomy until there is at least 3 products in a category.
  2. Once this category is defined, 301 redirect the old product page to this category.

Pros:

  • Pushes ranking value into the category page.
  • Allows the ranking value to be split between remaining products in that category
  • Gives users the ability to find other relevant products that could fit their needs
  • Lowers the risk of users going back to the search results page and visiting a competing website
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the category page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.

2. Redirect to a Search Results Product Set

Type of redirect:

  • A 301 redirect coupled with a noindex/follow meta-tag on the search results page.

Strategy:

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, spin a search based on the type of product or product title (minus stop words).
  2. Return the search results page to the user that includes similar products

Pros:

  • Keeps users engaged with the website.
  • Using the noidex/follow meta-tag allows ranking metrics to flow through the internal links on the search results set, but keeps the search results page out of the Google index.
  • Allows for discovery of similar products
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.
  • Leaves the product selection up to the user. Thus, the website owner can’t control the outcome of the user journey or directly match/recommend a single product that best matches their intent.

3. Manually Redirect to a Similar Product

Type of redirect:

  • A 301 redirect

Strategy:

  1. Manually create a 301 mapping by selecting a similar product or page from the remaining product set so whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website they are taken to the new page.
  2. If there are large sets of redirects that need to take place, an excel sheet can be used to manage these sets, and then pulled in and identified by the database to automatically include these new redirects.
  3. Create an environment to allow for the deleted item to be redirected to this newly identified page.

Pros:

  • Ability to easily match relevancy based on user need.
  • Ability to redirect to a similar product that high conversion rate – or even a new product that has a high relevancy to the deleted product.
  • Keeps users engaged within the website.
  • Allows for direct flow of ranking and social metrics from one product to another.
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.
  • This is done manually and can be time consuming for large ecommerce websites.

4. Redirect Based on Relevancy Value

Type of redirect:

  • 301 redirect

Strategy:
Title relevancy is high enough redirect directly to related product.

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, and it is detected that a 404 error will occur, dynamically spin a search on the back end utilizing title of the product.
  2. If there is a product that matches at a high enough relevancy (this will be defined based on product set) send the user directly to that product.
  3. If the relevancy of products is not high enough, send the user to a search results page with a group of related products.
  4. If a search results page will need to be presented, follow rules outlined in option 2.
  5. If a product page will be shown, follow rules outlined in option 3.

Pros:

  • This is a combination of strategy 2 and 3, and allows the backend to dynamically determine which option to use – thus serving the best option to the user based on value and relevancy.
  • Keeps users engaged within the website.
  • Keeps ranking and social metrics flowing throughout the website.
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Possible user confusion. This risk can be mitigated by serving a small JavaScript overlay on the category page (this can’t interfere with the search engines ability to crawl the page) explaining that the previous item is not available, but that these might be helpful.

5. Custom 404 Page

Type of redirect:

  • 301 or none needed depending on how 404 serving is handled.

Strategy:

  1. Whenever a user clicks on an external link – either from the search results, bookmark, social website, or from a link on another website, redirect the user to a custom 404 page
  2. This page should: Inform the user the product is no longer available; Provide related product selections; Provide a search box for the user to search the website for other products.

Pros:

  • Directly informs the user that the product is no longer available
  • Once the search engine re-crawls the page and finds the 301 redirect the product will be removed from the search engines index.

Cons:

  • Loss of ranking or social value that the deleted item had built.
  • Higher risk the user will hit the back button and go to a competitor of yours who still has the product.

Is Link Building Dead and Do Backlinks Still Matter For SEO?

With recent news around “link building being dead” due to Google devaluing many types of links that once worked, as well as their [Google's] action on link networks, Matt Cutts helps clarify the question on everyone’s mind, “Do backlinks still matter for SEO?”, and “What would happen if Google stopped using backlinks in their algorithm?”.

So we don’t have a version like that that is exposed to the public but we have our own experiments like that internally and the quality looks much much worse. It turns out backlinks, even though there is certainly a lot of spam, are still a really big win in terms of the quality of search results.

We played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance and at least for now backlinks relevance still really helps in terms of making sure that we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.

Infographic: Facebook Ad Performance by Industry

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Machine Learning: 5 Part Series About How Machine Learning Works

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Infographic: Tablet Usage Stats and Figures Cheat Sheet

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6 Fabulous Mobile-Ready Fonts

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[Video] Google’s Official View on Guest Blogging For Links

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Engagement Peaks: The One Twitter Insight You’re Probably Missing

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Website Consolidation Strategy To Avoid Losing Traffic and Rankings

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Content Methodology: Creating Unique & Quality Content Isn’t Enough Anymore

As online marketing evolves and earned media (Social and SEO) becomes a driving force for businesses, it is important that our SEO and content methodology changes as well. As we wrote about in our “Evolution of Google from Robot to Persona” article, not only is the user expectation evolving from simply a quality design or unique content mindset, but so is that of the bots. Continue Reading