Since the dawn of the search engine universe, a never-ending army of determined webmasters have tried to hack search ranking. The problem, unfortunately, is that most of the time this army focuses too much on Google and not enough on the user. That is not to say you ignore Google and just assume everything will work out. Rather, the point is that the initial main focus should be on the user and then worry about Google. Here is a quick priority list that encapsulates the order in which I like to think through any SEO efforts:
- Why do users come to the site? This may be tough at first since Google doesn’t provide the original search term from the user anymore. You can, however, collect data from the user once they are on your site. It always amazes me how many people will answer small survey questions. Also related to this question is whether the users you want to come to the site match up with the ones that already are there today.
- Are the users that do come to the site happy? Of course it helps to get props on Twitter or whatever, but generally speaking if you have a funnel set up and someone gets all the way to the end of that funnel (i.e. they reach the goal) then that is probably a good indication that what you are offering is in some way fulfilling their needs. We use Amplitude tracking pretty heavily for this including a lot of A/B testing between different potential options.
- OK, now that we have the right users and they are happy, does Google see that they are happy? In the ideal case, you wouldn’t have to worry about this last question at all. Google would just know that your users are happy and your search ranking would naturally increase. Unfortunately, this is not how it normally happens. In many cases, website inadvertently block those positive signals from getting to Google. Perhaps a lot of the experience is behind the login wall (i.e. where Google has no visibility) or perhaps they user is happy with the results but not motivated to do anything about it (i.e. share on Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
Again, I can’t stress enough that jumping straight to #3 (which most people try to do) is not nearly as effective as going in this order. When you try to think about Google before your users then you inevitably start trying to “fake” user happiness…which…may work for you for a short period of time, but is not a long term winning strategy.