Should Subject Experience Optimization Be The New Definition Of SEO?

I recently put forward the concept that we should rename SEO to “Subject Experience Optimization,” and I want to explain why I think all marketers should be on board with this. Google has made a lot of updates to their webmaster guidelines recently, and the common thread in most of these updates is to say that webmasters should focus on creating content that people can use and share.

Crafting websites with the goal of being usable and shareable can ensure that you create the best possible content while developing a site that will stay within Google’s guidelines.

The New SEO

The New SEO

With “use and share” as the ideal, we can encapsulate the customer experience on a modern website in a way that was never achieved by following Google’s old guidelines.

Use Of A Website

At Archology, we’ve defined “use” as creating websites that are free of technical errors (which can negatively impact user experience) and which speak to the needs of your customers. Search engines are busy computers. With billions of pages to crawl through, their programs actively seek out websites where they can extract information as easily as possible.

By creating a website that is free of errors and uses the most logical architecture possible, these busy computers can collect more information about your website which they can then feed into the search engine algorithm — which is the computer program that decides how your website will be positioned for various search queries.

It’s tempting to personalize search engines, but we must always remember that they are simply computer programs (written by humans) that follow set requirements. As webmasters, the best thing we can do is to follow all of those requirements, so that search engines can use our websites.

Consumers are busy people. The average attention span of a person in today’s modern world is 8 seconds. Most webpages take between 2 and 4 seconds to load. This means that you have, on average, between 4 and 6 seconds to capture a potential customers’ attention.

As webmasters, the best thing we can do is to make our sites load as quickly as possible, and show information that matches consumers’ intent closely enough to compel action. The easier a website is to use, the more likely consumers will have a favorable view of your brand. The people who write search engine algorithms know this, too, and they are more likely to favor a website that does what it can to engage consumers.

It is through this concept of “use” that we can dramatically expand what was typically known to SEOs as a “technical analysis.” For years, SEOs have been hesitant to make recommendations beyond technical elements like 404 errors on a site or duplicate content, not wanting to step on the toes of the usability analyst or the user experience professional. So, I propose that we throw out the old “technical analysis” and look instead at a “usability analysis” of sorts — which would have three parts:

  1. Core and Structure: How is your website structured? What pages do the search engines already value on the site? Are there any roadblocks impacting the search engines’ ability to crawl and understand the site? How can the webmaster fix these errors?
  2. Content and Experience: Next, we look at the stated goals of your site to see if the site does everything possible to guide the consumer to what you need them to do. We observe and take note of roadblocks in the user experience, gaps in content coverage, and opportunities to improve the search engines’ understanding of what the content on your website is about.
  3. Compliance and Guidelines: Finally, we check your site for compliance with stated search engine guidelines, as well as known legal, regulatory, or privacy requirements.

By addressing these three areas, we can ensure that the site is usable to both search engines and consumers.

Sharing A Website

“Share” refers to the ability and desire of users to share your content and your brand — what SEOs traditionally think of as link building and social media. The goal is to develop a customer experience that is so pleasant that customers will want to share it with all of their friends and colleagues. This is how a brand builds influence in the form of links and shares.

I mentioned above that search engines are busy computers and consumers are busy people. So how do they sort the good from the bad in an increasingly overwhelming and saturated marketplace?

SEOs know that search engines and people use the same method: they seek authority. Search engines measure authority by the quality and quantity of links you have pointing to your website, the number and activity of your social influencers (debatable), and the authorship or authority of your content producers. All of these technical elements combine to create a sort of “review” for your site. Where does your site fit into the myriad other brands available?

Your potential customers use a similar method of sorting. A study from Forrester Research found that online content in the form of product or brand reviews is trusted by 70% of U.S. consumers. A similar study by Dimensional Research found that 90% of consumers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews.

These studies focused specifically on reviews found in places like MerchantCircle and Epinions; but, the behavior illustrated is well correlated when the customer reads a positive comment on a Facebook brand page, gets a recommendation from a friend on Twitter, or shares a pin on Pinterest. What matters is not the form that the share takes, but that the share takes place at all.

As Eric Enge has said many times, we should think of link building as “brand building,” and seek opportunities to influence engagement and sharing behavior rather than seeing how many “likes” or “followers” we can get.

As SEOs, it is incumbent upon us to seek out opportunities to help our clients create shareable content, share it appropriately, engage with their customers, and drive loyalty and return business.

Again, this significantly expands the traditional role of the “Search Engine Optimizer” and overlaps with the roles of “Social Media Marketer” and “Social Community Manager.” This is why it is so essential for the “Subject Experience Optimization” team to be working in all of these areas, creating and executing a strategy that allows for holistic success.

I’ve encouraged SEOs to step on a lot of toes with this article, so before you come at me with your pitchforks, know that I’m not advocating eliminating any of the above critical positions. I know it’s impossible for one person or even one position to be the expert and be responsible for all of these areas at the same time. There is a reason that our industry has matured into various niche specialties. But I’m also not advocating the use of “SEO” as a “Subject Experience Optimizer.”

Creating websites that can be used and shared by the subject of the sentence (your target market), is no easy task and requires an entire discipline, with myriad experts working together, hence the term “Subject Experience Optimization.” If I haven’t yet convinced you, go read up on entity search and the concept of triples, then come back. Or just argue with me in the comments.

(Modified Stock image via Used under license.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | SEO - Search Engine Optimization


About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

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  • Martin Pezet

    I’m going to try and ignore your wearisome linkbait headline due to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.'s_law_of_headlines

    Despite this, I liked your article. In our company (we are an in-house team) we now call ourselves “Digital Optimisation Consultants” as we cover SEO, PPC, Social & CRO/Split Testing. We work alongside separate Customer Insight & Analytics teams so I agree with the fundamentals of the points you’re making about evolving and expanding job roles. I started off as a pure SEO guy about 5-6 years ago and have been quick to evolve when required.

  • Paul Bruemmer

    no argument here Jenny, well said. Technical and editorial factors are the two primary factors influencing organic rankings; the foundation and backbone of all good SEO. Providing “Subject Experience Optimization” as a litmus test for all new sites going live should prove highly successful, great vision, solid concept!

  • Bryan

    Jenny great article. I think SEO definitely needs to be rebranded and move toward focusing only on consumer experience.

  • Miranda Miller

    Creating shareable content is even more difficult when writing for personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys. No one wants to like or tweet such depressing material. And, it’s a niche market: not everyone takes a defective drug or suffers an egregious surgical error; nor do previous clients want to be reminded of their pain. That said, any suggestions would be most appreciated. :)

  • Jenny Halasz

    Thanks Paul! I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Mad respect for you- I’ve referenced your entities article yet again. ;-)

  • Jenny Halasz

    thanks for your comment Bryan. :)

  • Jenny Halasz

    Fascinating – I didn’t know about Betteridge’s law of headlines. And (secret) that’s not my headline. The editors at SEL changed it. ;-)

    Glad you read the article anyway and actually enjoyed it!

  • Jenny Halasz

    If you get any, let me know. We’re struggling with the same issue here on one of our clients. It’s the same with things like hemorrhoid cream. How are you going to get people to share? But there has to be a way…

  • Vishnu Gupta

    Thanks Jenny, for sharing very informative article… Really website must be error free and must have quality content to perform well in search engines.

  • Vishnu Gupta

    Thanks Jenny, for sharing very informative article… Really website must be error free and must have quality content to perform well in search engines.

  • Tracy Mallette

    I like the article and maybe we should reconsider the SEO definition. My main problem with the term Search Engine Optimization is that it’s misleading. We’re not optimizing search engines. :)

  • John Britsios

    I already brought up this topic on the 28th of August 2010 here which Andy Beard published on the old SEO community Spinn, where the SEOs complaint and claimed that it is not necessary. On the 20th of November 2012, Matt Cutts mentioned the use of the term “Search Experience Optimization” here, which seems to have been ignored again.

    Very nice that you bring that topic back to life.

  • Ali R. Khan

    It’s amazing to see how jenny has connected Busy Computers with busy customers and created a need for Faster and Mobile optimized site for every business.

    As I’ve already predicted, 2014 is the year of Responsive and Faster web and if you believe in technology and online marketing, you should go for it.

  • Ali R. Khan

    It’s amazing to see how jenny has connected Busy Computers with busy customers and created a need for Faster and Mobile optimized site for every business.

    As I’ve already predicted, 2014 is the year of Responsive and Faster web and if you believe in technology and online marketing, you should go for it.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Thanks John! Yes, I know it’s been proposed many different ways that we redefine SEO. I’m hoping the time is finally right to make it happen!

  • Jenny Halasz

    I could not agree with you more, Tracy. :)


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