Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, semantic search, Hummingbird and Rank Brain are just part of a dizzying array of technical terms and reserved words used by search professionals at the developmental and marketing levels.
These terms, at their very base, all refer to processes and technologies used to determine if a page on your site should return as No. 1 in the search results.
It is my contention that this bewildering and ever-growing vocabulary can be easily turned into operational SEO, if the site owner simply focuses on a few clear principles and then executes against them. This may sound simplistic, and it is at the 20,000-foot view. Look out — the ground-level view is much more complex. Here are the principles:
Search Is About Users Wanting to Find Your Site
If you are an e-commerce vendor and have on offer a nice selection of desirable merchandise, then the task is straightforward.
You must make sure that your site clearly conveys what you are selling — more clearly than your competitors do, or Google will put them ahead of you.
This requires a single-minded focus on making sure that your users know what you have on offer, can find it on your site, and that your content and navigation facilitate the process. Focus on what you are selling, and on guiding the customer to your merchandise.
Search Is About the Customers, Not About the Company
I once had a strange experience evaluating a business-to-business site. After reading the entire site carefully, I had no idea of what the company did. I actually had to call the site owner and ask for the elevator pitch on the company.
The company had a talented and experienced management team (or so the site said). There were lots of references to Six Sigma and lean manufacturing, as well as an impressive list of clients; but nowhere was it clearly stated what the company did.
The content could have applied to dozens of different manufacturing companies. They did not have a search problem — an SEO problem. What they had was an internally focused site that did not consider who would want to find it, and what the searcher coming to the site might need or want.
The business wanted more customers and had built an impressive site in hopes of attracting more customers, but they had forgotten about what the customer might want.
Takeaway for Marketers
Years ago, when sites were little more than brochure-ware, the website functioned as a corporate capabilities document. Some of this thinking still leaks into site development.
Search is then expected to be layered on top of the final construct. This is backward.
The searcher should be front-and-center if you expect to garner lots of traffic from search. Every decision should be made with the finder, the searcher, and the end-user in mind.
Search Is About Words and Content
Until artificial intelligence advances to a non-verbal level of understanding, words and content are essential for guiding users to what they want. It does not matter if the searcher is using a voice or a keyboard, words will be streamed together to articulate, however poorly, what the individual wants.
If you want searchers to come to your site, you must make sure that your content meshes with the words a searcher might use. We have freighted this process with the terminology like keyword analysis, but it is really much simpler in principle. It requires an understanding of your user’s intent and the building of a rich vocabulary for describing what a searcher might want to find at the site.
Takeaway for Marketers
If you build your site with these three simple principles in mind, then all of the rest of the technical aspects of search will fall into place more easily. Yes! It gets very messy at the ground level. Each section and each page must be agonized over (I do mean optimized). That is the stuff for future posts, so as they say: “Watch this space.”