As someone who’s in the webdesign business, I read a lot of marketing blogs to stay on top of what’s happening in the world of web marketing. And while I hate to say it, a lot of them make me cringe. Sure, there is gold to be mined out of marketing blogs, but you have to shift through cartloads of worthless, gimmick filled, nonsense to get to it. So many of these blogs are so tunnel visioned on “weird tricks” and “hacks” designed to bump a site’s page ranking on Google and inflate pageviews and traffic that they lose sight of the actual goal of marketing – connecting with the people that want to buy your product or service.
These bloggers are missing the forest from the trees. While you might be able to artificially boost your page views with some sneaky technique that all but tricks users to click on your link, that approach to the job is shortsighted. Those low-quality clicks are worthless when it comes to conversions and dollars-to-doughnuts, even if some of those users were in the market for what your selling, they won’t be coming back if they feel like your site is in any way shady or unprofessional.
What’s tragic is there is a better way to improve your site’s page ranking on Google AND reach the customers that actually want to purchase your product or service. Instead of getting mired down fiddling with the color of your sales button or trying to cram as many keywords on a page as possible, the only thing you should truly focus on is improving the quality of your user experience. And I don’t mean that in some mystic, Field of Dreams “if you build it, they will come” sense, I’m basing that fact on the cold hard science of Google’s page ranking algorithms.
How Google sees the world
In his 2012 book In the Plex, Google insider Stephen Levy laid out Google’s thought process on a silver platter (too bad most web marketers were too busy figuring out new ways to annoy people with pop-ups at the time to listen). He explained that Google was transitioning at the time to focus on “user experience signals” to determine its page rankings. This meant taking a closer look at how people actually interacted with the sites they served up in their search results. One of the dominant ways of figuring out if Google had directed a user to the right site was what they called the “long click,” as he says – “On the most basic level, Google could see how satisfied users were. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy users were all the same. The best sign of happiness was the ‘long click’ – when someone went to a search result and did not return.”
This means users clicked on a search result and didn’t feel the need to try another option or a different search phrase. Essentially, they found what they were looking for, and Google knew to bump that site to the top of the search page for the relevant search phrase. Conversely, Levy warns “Most telling were the ‘short clicks’ where a user followed a link and immediately returned to try again… you can tell they aren’t happy.” The more people who wander away from your site grumbling, the lower your page ranking will tumble. Makes you wonder about the “any click is a good click” attitude that pervades web-marketing.
Since In the Plex‘s release, Google has only double downed on its focus on user experience signals. Now they don’t just look to see if people are satisfied with their search result, but other metrics like organic social shares (people linking your site) and how much time the average user spends on your site. So, if you want to climb page rankings, you need to be making people happy in a way Google can measure.
Making the best page possible
The best way to do this is to offer a superior user experience. Make your page the best page on the internet for users that are looking for what you offer. This might sound like I’m saying “all you need to do is dunk on Shaquille o’Neal” but it isn’t nearly as impossible as it sounds. All you need to do to be the best is be relevant, clear, interesting (or entertaining), and efficient. You’d be surprised how many sites fail to achieve these goals.
Lowering your bounce rate (the number of people who click on your page, take one look and hit the back button) is something you can easily take control of with a little effort. First, make sure your pages are attractive. If your site looks and runs like a Geocities page from 2001, it’s time to re-design. Make sure your site looks professional, clean, and features easy to read text and some appealing images. Of course, it also needs to load fast and work consistently. According to Kissmetrics, nearly half of all users expect a page to load in under 2 seconds, and most of them will leave if it takes more than 3. Don’t lose conversions to a slow page.
Once you’ve grabbed some eyeballs on your site, you best give them something to look at. Having high quality content on your site that is clearly organized and easy to read will do wonders for your bounce rate. Make sure your landing pages are on point and answer the question the user asked. If your content doesn’t match your headline and offer the user real value, you can expect your page ranking to sink to the floor.
Sometimes it isn’t so much about expanding your content so much as it is getting rid of what’s unnecessary. Study the keywords on your pages, if there are any phrases that have the potential to unintentionally bring in uninterested visitors, get rid of them. Those extra eyeballs will only tank your rating if they have no reason to stick around.
Creating content that works
Optimizing your content is more of an art than a science. You have to understand what is important to your target demographic and tailor it to their needs. That said, some general guidelines do apply. You want to make the content on your page long enough and complete enough to be of real use or interest to your visitors, but not so extensive that users go cross-eyed staring down a novel of a page. Break up long text blocks with images or sub-headings (these have the added benefit of helping users quickly identify the most useful chunks of content for their needs).
While it pains me to say this because it edges closer to the “weird tricks” I bemoan, don’t underestimate the power of video. Even a small video that is only 30 seconds to a minute long can drastically improve your bounce rate. There are some speed readers who will skim a page and close it in under 10 seconds no matter what you do, but a video can make them slow down and catch a breath. Of course, this means you want to make a video that is relevant and useful to your visitors, not just any old thing to waste time.
If you’re in an industry where instructional videos or practical product demonstrations could be useful to your visitors, that’s great, put the time and effort into making some. If not, you may need to be more creative and find something entertaining or interesting about your business to share with your visitors. “Behind the scenes” footage of what you do can be a curiosity for your visitors and help them identify with your business and build rapport.
Nothing up my sleeve
The moral of the story here is you don’t need tricks or hacks. Optimizing your content to reach the most interested users, increasing the efficiency of your page, and providing entertainment or knowledge to your visitors isn’t a magic trick or an illusion – it’s making a superior site that users will love. That is a virtue on it’s own that will lead to higher conversions and more positive word of mouth. The fact that it also happens to improve some of the key stats Google bases it’s page rankings on – and will propel you to the top of the search page in the process – is just the cherry on top.
This is what good design in action looks like. It isn’t about fooling people into visiting your website, but getting the right people to your site and giving them the best possible experience possible. It might sound hokey, but if you build it, they really will come.
Author Bio –
Nic Rowen is the content manager for Lifeline Design. Hailing from a background in writing, Nic believes great stories make great sites.
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