Billie Geena Hyde believes in using user-focused research to improve search quality thresholds in 2023 and make sure that what you are putting online site is fulfilling the needs of your users.
Billie says: “It’s mega important to ensure whatever you’re putting online meets the purpose of your users and is helpful, not counterproductive.
User-focused research has become more prevalent since the content update was announced in August 2022. It’s a more important factor than ever before, and a quality indicator for Google when they’re indexing. By including the user and putting them at the forefront, you’ll rank better and convert more because you’ll be providing a more focused, successful strategy.”
How do you carry out user-focused research?
“When performing keyword research, you should add a few extra steps at the beginning. Let’s say you’ve got a big list of keywords you’re contemplating targeting, and you’re nearly at a point where you’re going to start mapping them to the pages of your site. You’ve got past the point of search volumes, you know the keyword difficulty and everything else you need to acknowledge. In this instance, you shouldn’t map the keywords to the pages because that wouldn’t be enough to ensure you’re doing something helpful.
What you would need to do is manually go through all of those keywords and actually search them. You’d be surprised by how infrequently SEOs search for the keywords they want to target. It’s important to ensure that those keywords are actually in line with what you offer, what your page offers, and what’s there in search. You need to factor all of this in before you make a decision and start that mapping process.
By understanding the search landscape, you can create a more specific and factored-in strategy. You’ll also start to appreciate that search volumes don’t always matter because Google and other tools that monitor search volumes can’t always provide a full set of every single search term and give search volumes for them.
Sometimes they’ll show you a search term with zero search volume. If you do use tools to look at the traffic of the pages those terms rank for, you might find out that they do provide a lot of traffic. We can’t just trust search volumes. You need to trust what’s out there in the landscape and ensure your pages are in line. You should provide strong, helpful, useful content that’s in line with what users are searching for. If you can do that, you’ll be better positioned to hit the quality indicators that Google use. You’ll rank higher and convert more by performing a few hours of extra research at the start.”
What tools do you use to find traffic volume for allegedly zero-volume keywords? How do you convince stakeholders that you should be spending time attempting to rank for keywords with no volume?
“Ahrefs and Semrush are useful tools where you can search a term and see the traffic that’s there rather than the search volumes. There might be some search terms where the tools are adamant there’s no search volume, but if you click into them and look into the data they’re actually bringing in thousands of clicks. Having that data will help convince stakeholders that something is worth trying to achieve.
However, that won’t always be enough. Stakeholders will often see a zero search volume and, because they’re not an SEO, they’ll fail to acknowledge any potential benefit. It can become a bit of an uphill battle, but you should do that research, find something that feels like a good avenue to try, and experiment on 1-5 pages as a sampler. When that is bringing in organic traffic you can use this small-scale evidence as proof you’re seeing results. You can then suggest making your campaign more widespread and to invest more time into it. This is a useful approach because search volumes are becoming more obsolete by the day.
Having data and proof will always give you the tools that you need to convince somebody. If they’re dead set against something, it can feel like you’re never going to win, but it’s always worth a try.”
Do you value the importance of having conversations with your users to learn more about who they are?
“Absolutely. If you’re working in-house you’ll have great access to communication with customers. If your business is very community focused it’s easy to reach out to people and get to know them a bit better. If you can do this it’s definitely worth finding opportunities where you can. You might not know the nuances of communicating with users, but being able to sit down and talk to your audience is a great idea if you’re agency based.”
Do you advocate having one-on-one conversations with users as well?
“Absolutely. It’s important to really understand your target market, which you can achieve by physically reaching out and having conversations with your user base.
Every business is different and the process of speaking with users may differ, but it’s worth experimenting to configure a suitable approach. You might discover polls work best, one-on-one conversations, or even surveys. If you’re agency based, it’s harder to work with your client’s customer base. You could have success with SaaS or B2B companies by reaching out to the client and requesting a sit-down conversation with their customer service team. You can then learn about the frustrations from the person that actually hears them and factor those learnings into the SEO process.”
What’s a specific example of something you’ve learned from a customer services team?
“One customer support team was getting complaints because the business made it possible for people to publish information on their website and share it for a cost. There were two processes to accomplish this, you could either phone up and quote word-by-word or process information online. The business was pushing for online availabilities, but the process ended up making the website so slow it would time out. Consequently, the information people submitted was not published.
However, because the payment was going through a third party, the business was not picking up on the issue. Customers would phone up to do this and say they’d been wasting lots of time, levying significant blame on the customer-facing salesperson. All the while, the rest of the company was left completely unaware because complaints weren’t passed on and the content was later produced by hand. It was essentially a severe communication issue that highlighted big technical problems - things the SEOs could fix and signpost. Eventually, we were able to identify the issue via conversations and, had that not happened, it would have probably boiled over until it took to social media.
This issue influenced our content creation because we could create something user-focused from this pain point until things got resolved. We created a landing page and added an extra step to signpost a person’s service and create a better user journey. While working on this we positively impacted conversions because instead of someone clicking the link, trying, and giving up, they’d get back to the landing page and find our contact number. Before this, the business had been keeping things secret. You can positively increase sales without fixing a problem by identifying it and doing something that actually helps the user.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“The entire search landscape could change in the next year. If content becomes more helpful, the way things are crawled and indexed will change completely. Google will be able to find something that’s significantly more beneficial to the user, and that’s going to kill off people copying, pasting, running things through a paraphrasing tool, and publishing.
This approach is going to die out because the search isn’t going to work that way anymore. With the new quality indicator, search is only going to get more advanced. It’s going to get more human, so churning out rubbish won’t lead you to the same results as in 2022.
Stop talking about what others do and talk about what you do well. Help your users.”
Billie Geena Hyde is a Learning and Development Manager at SALT.agency and you can find her at salt.agency.
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