Posted by alexis-sanders
SEO is about understanding how search bots and users react to an online experience. As search professionals, we’re required to bridge gaps between online experiences, search engine bots, and users. We need to know where to insert ourselves (or our teams) to ensure the best experience for both users and bots. In other words, we strive for experiences that resonate with humans and make sense to search engine bots.
This article seeks to answer the following questions:
A cyborg (or cybernetic organism) is defined as “a being with both organic and
biomechatronic body parts, whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements.”
With the ability to relate between humans, search bots, and our site experiences, the SEO cyborg is an SEO (or team) that is able to work seamlessly between both technical and content initiatives (whose skills are extended beyond normal human limitations) to support driving of organic search performance. An SEO cyborg is able to strategically pinpoint where to place organic search efforts to maximize performance.
So, how do we do this?
Like so many classic triads (think: primary colors, the Three Musketeers, Destiny’s Child [the canonical version, of course]) the traditional SEO model, known as the crawl-index-rank method, packages SEO into three distinct steps. At the same time, however, this model fails to capture the breadth of work that we SEOs are expected to do on a daily basis, and not having a functioning model can be limiting. We need to expand this model without reinventing the wheel.
The enhanced model involves adding in a rendering, signaling, and connection phase.
You might be wondering, why do we need these?:
All of this brings us to the question: how do we find success in each stage of this model?
Note: When using this piece, I recommend skimming ahead and leveraging those sections of the enhanced model that are most applicable to your business’ current search program.
Technical SEO starts with the search engine’s ability to find a site’s webpages (hopefully efficiently).
Initially finding pages can happen a few ways, via:
Side note: This information (although at first pretty straightforward) can be really useful. For example, if you’re seeing weird pages popping up in site crawls or performing in search, try checking:
The second component of crawling relates to the ability to obtain resources (which later becomes critical for rendering a page’s experience).
This typically relates to two elements:
Finally, there’s the idea of how efficiently a search engine bot can traverse your site’s most critical experiences.
The organization of information extends past the bots, requiring an in-depth understanding of how users engage with a site.
Some seed questions to begin research include:
Rendering a page relates to search engines’ ability to capture the page’s desired essence.
As an SEO, it’s critical that we be able to answer the question — are search engines rendering my content?
Ask ourselves – should all of the content really be indexed? Is it content that provides value to users?
Solution one (updating AJAX):
1. Break out content into separate sections
2. Implement History API (pushState(), replaceState()) to update URLs as a user scrolls (i.e., push/update the URL into the URL bar)
3. Add the <link> tag’s rel="next" and rel="prev" on relevant page
Solution two (create a view-all page)
Note: This is not recommended for large amounts of content.
1. If it’s possible (i.e., there’s not a ton of content within the infinite scroll), create one page encompassing all content
2. Site latency/page load should be considered
I only have a few elements relating to the rendering of CSS.
Although a trend in the broader digital exists to create 1:1, people-based marketing, Google doesn’t save cookies across sessions and thus will not interpret personalization based on cookies, meaning there must be an average, base-user, default experience. The data from other digital channels can be exceptionally useful when building out audience segments and gaining a deeper understanding of the base-user.
Getting pages into Google’s databases is what indexing is all about. From what I’ve experienced, this process is straightforward for most sites.
A site should strive to send clear signals to search engines. Unnecessarily confusing search engines can significantly impact a site’s performance. Signaling relates to suggesting best representation and status of a page. All this means is that we’re ensuring the following elements are sending appropriate signals.
Rank relates to how search engines arrange web experiences, stacking them against each other to see who ends up on top for each individual query (taking into account numerous data points surrounding the query).
Two critical questions recur often when understanding ranking pages:
These are the elements webmasters control. Off-page is a critical component to achieving success in search; however, in an idyllic world, we shouldn’t have to worry about links and/or mentions – they should come naturally.
Researching and identifying useful content happens in three formats:
When looking for audiences, we need to concentrate high percentages (super high index rates are great, but not required). Push channels (particularly ones with strong targeting capabilities) do better with high index rates. This makes sense, we need to know that 80% of our customers have certain leanings (because we’re looking for base-case), not that five users over-index on a niche topic (these five niche-topic lovers are perfect for targeted ads).
Some seed research questions:
All of this data can then go into creating a map of the user journey and overlaying relevant content. Below are a few types of mappings that are useful.
Sometimes when trying to process complex problems, it’s easier to break it down into smaller pieces. Illustrative user journeys can help with this problem! Take a single user’s journey and map it out, aligning relevant content experiences.
This chart is deceptively simple; however, working through this graph can help sites to understand how each stage in the funnel affects users (note: the stages can be modified). This matrix can help with mapping who writers are talking to, their needs, and how to push them to the next stage in the funnel.
Mapping out content by intent and branding helps to visualize conversion potential. I find these extremely useful for prioritizing top-converting content initiatives (i.e., start with ensuring branded, transactional content is delivering the best experience, then move towards more generic, higher-funnel terms).
Regardless of how the data is broken down, it’s vital to have a high-level view on the audience’s core attributes, opportunities to improve content, and strategy for closing the gap.
Connecting is all about resonating with humans. Connecting is about understanding that customers are human (and we have certain constraints). Our mind is constantly filtering, managing, multitasking, processing, coordinating, organizing, and storing information. It is literally in our mind’s best interest to not remember 99% of the information and sensations that surround us (think of the lights, sounds, tangible objects, people surrounding you, and you’re still able to focus on reading the words on your screen — pretty incredible!).
To become psychologically sticky, we must:
This means we have a unique opportunity to “be there” for people. This leads to a very simple, abstract philosophy: a great brand is like a great friend.
We have similar relationship stages, we interweave throughout each other’s lives, and we have the ability to impact happiness. This comes down to the question: Do your online customers use adjectives they would use for a friend to describe your brand?
Ultimately, being able to strategically, seamlessly create compelling user experiences which make sense to bots is what the SEO cyborg is all about. ☺
This article is based off of my MozCon talk (with a few slides from the Appendix pulled forward). The full deck is available on Slideshare, and the official videos can be purchased here. Please feel free to reach out with any questions in the comments below or via Twitter @AlexisKSanders.
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