When a user enters a search query into a search engine such as Google, they expect the search to return results (websites) which completely satisfy their requirements. With the absolutely humungous amount of information on the Web (about 250 billion DVDs worth of data), the ambiguities of human language, flexible location and device usage, and the short-worded or incomplete queries users often enter, this can be wishful thinking.
Any given query may have multiple different intents and can mean different things to different users. In addition, people write content in different ways, often lay out their websites counterproductively, and in the end search engines are blind to intent among other things. If you understand Authorial Intent*, you know that this problem is not unique to search engine results – it is where Print and Digital conspiratorily wink at each other.
*Authorial Intent is the concept that refers to the author’s intended interpretation of their work as defined in the piece (or website) itself. Reader Response (or user response in our case) is the interpretation of the work as defined by the reader’s experience of the work (or the serach bot crawling it) without the influence of the author’s intention.
If you have a website, you probably want people to find it. In terms of sheer volume, this is like trying to find that PDF you saved on one of the DVDs in your collection of 250 billion. Search Engine Optimization, SEO, deals with getting your website as high as possible in the result lists of search engines. For that to happen, two things need to be taken into consideration: User Intent (what exactly is the person searching for), and Page Quality (how well is the web page providing the information that is being sought).
In addition to SEO there are its siblings, SEM and SEA. Search Engine Marketing, SEM, deals with all the measures used to position a website in the organic and paid range of search engines. Search Engine Advertising, SEA, is the practice of buying ad space that appears in the natural organic search results, or with display partners (such as your favourite gaming website) and that is paid per click for a visitor to your website.
How Do Search Engines Work?
If you are going to spend time working on optimising your website for search engines, it helps to understand how they actually work. Search Engines have four basic functions: To Crawl the internet, to Create an index, to Calculate relevance and rankings of pages, and to Provide a list of results.
Search Engines have their job made difficult because they are blind (cannot see your beautiful website design and do not care how much effort you spent on deciding your corporate colours), and they must interpret the content of your website – much like a reader must interpret the meaning of something they are reading.
Search engines have no inherent quality or notability check and no way to discover and make visible the fantastic content available on the web. Only people can do that. At the moment at least.
How Can I Help Search Engines Find my Site?
When a user enters a search query, the Search Engine scrambles in micro seconds to find websites and content that it believes might be what they want to see. Think back again on two very important aspects: User Intent (what is the user looking for), and Page Quality (how easily does your website make that content available).
Factors which can assist a Search Engine to deliver YOUR website to the list of results are as follows:
Relevance: how closely is the content of your page to the intent of the user who made the search query?
Authority: is your page or domain a popular authority? are you a valid source of information?
Scope and Utility: does your page recognize the intent of the user?
Page Presentation: is your website professional looking, organised, thorough?
Market: is your website relevant to the specific region of the user’s search query?
Language: is your website related to the market and query?
Location: is your website suitable to the users location requirement or search?
Freshness: much like relevance – is your website offering up to date content?
That’s a lot of Words. Can We Have Some Numbers now?
Google manages 65% of all searches on the internet.
4 Billion Google searches occur on average each month.
1 in 5 of search queries is for local information (very important for your website/mobile visitors)
Position 1 in the search results receive 42% of the clicks.
Position 2 receives about 12%.
Position 3 receives about 8%.
Position 4 about 6% and everything else less than 5% of all clicks.
The first 10 results in the search list receive 90% of the clicks.
The next ten (page 2) receive about 4%.
Page 3 receives about 2% and page 4 about 1%.
Page 5 and further receive less than 1% of the entire search traffic.
You Made this All Up, Didn’t You? What Does Google Suggest?
- Make your pages and website for PEOPLE; for YOUR target users. Don’t make your websites for Search Engines.
- Do not disappoint your users. Don’t try to trick Search Engines with fake or distracting content or sites.
- Structure your website using a clear system of content (hierarchy) and with text links.
- Every page should be reachable within one click, via a text link.
- Create a useful, informative, relevant website.
- Provide content that is clear and concise.
- Ensure your website is clearly and simply coded.
And Something Else … Don’t Forget Context
In addition to User Intent and Page Quality, the secret to understanding a search query and delivering the correct result is also Context. A meaningful analysis of a user’s context requires not only an understanding of the user’s goals, but also of their behaviour: what are they doing (carrying food? driving? in a meeting?), how do they feel (bad day? great day? fired? in love?), and what are they capable of at the moment of searching (mobile? one hand? two?) – and that is beyond that if their Internet connection works well or not….
Whether people see and respond to your content depends as much on understanding their goals as their behavior, and as much as possible by making our website accessible to them – regardless of if they are searching on their phone in the car, or if they are searching on their desktop in the office.
If the average visitor spends 137 seconds on your website**, it’s not a nicety to deliver appealing, relevant and consistent website content – it’s a necessity.
**According to a survey conducted by Brafton, the average session duration was 2 minutes, 17 seconds, but that varied depending on whether the site was B2B, B2C or a hybrid. It also depended on the industry.