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User-Centered SEO: Creating Long-Term Value
Contributor Chris Marentis provides a helpful beginner's guide to user-focused SEO.
CMOs understand that by its very nature, SEO rarely stays the same for long. The shift to putting end customers and users front and center is quite different from SEO practices of yesteryear.
While this new SEO direction may seem daunting, it also opens up a huge realm of opportunity for those that are willing to adapt.
Why Focus On The User?
There are two basic goals associated with user-focused SEO. The first is to earn high-value traffic through the use of valuable and targeted experiences on the site. The second is to create an environment that allows a user to directly connect with content that is highly relevant to them. This leads to a higher user satisfaction and, ultimately, conversion.
Other benefits that can be reaped by focusing on the user include (but are not limited to):
- Protection against penalization, traffic loss, and ranking loss during site redesigns and migrations
- Increase in ROI, conversions, traffic quantity/quality, and user satisfaction
- Earned citations, links, engagement and social shares from high-value websites and industry influencers
Pour The Foundation
Once you are sold on the concept of user-focused SEO (which shouldn’t be too hard), it is time to get tactical with personas, keywords, and metrics.
- Developing Personas
Developing personas is key to user-centric marketing, as this process requires you to think critically about who your users are and what they need. Personas each have different goals and different conversion paths that will inform your keyword placement throughout a website. Developing personas in the planning stages helps get you and your clients on the same page from the get-go and prevents you from going down the wrong path.
- Keyword Definition
A thorough keyword review and analysis should be conducted with special emphasis on identifying and compiling a massive list of high-value keywords. These are not necessarily the ones with the greatest search volume, but those words and phrases with the greatest ability to appeal to target personas, drive traffic, build brands and — most important — convert. Later on, you will want to integrate these with your content, and let the page content determine the appropriate keywords for each page.
- Metric Identification
This should include determining what metrics are to be tracked, the method of capture, and the frequency of reporting. This is done for two primary reasons. The first is to ensure a closed-loop process for your clients utilizing ongoing data to continually refine SEO activities. The second is to provide an integrated way for you as a marketer to show your value and identify successes.
Setting these three elements securely in place gives you the springboard from which to work. Every aspect of your SEO efforts will be driven by and reflected in these areas.
Audit And Map
The next step you should engage in is a set of in-depth audits that will result in clear action plans. There are three distinct audits that should be conducted, as follows:
- Competitive Audit
Capture a full picture of what your clients’ top competitors are doing for SEO and note what is working and what is not, as both can be helpful when making plans for your clients. Define the most competitive keywords, identify what pages are ranking well and why. By observing what your competitors are doing right, you can replicate and improve on these successful tactics.
- Technical Audit
Get data on your clients’ current state of affairs for things such as tags, page loading times, navigation and more. From the results received, prioritize areas for improvement based upon the severity of fix needed and the potential level of SEO benefit. You will want to make all of these elements work together to enhance site navigation and to help the right consumers find the site, rather than simply focus on placing content for search bots.
- Content Audit
Of all three audits, this is likely to be your most comprehensive given the importance of content in all aspects of SEO today. Evaluate the current state of your client’s content assets and compare that to the already identified keywords and personas to logically showcase any gaps and areas for you to target.
This audit should encompass all of the following assets:
- Onsite content
- Social media content, including video
- Digital press releases
- Online reviews
- Directory listings
Where any of these fall short in meeting the determined keywords or personas, this is where you need to work. You should create a map that shows what topics, content types and delivery mechanisms are to be created as well as what existing content may be eliminated.
The result of these three audits should be a full production schedule that your clients agree to with you — including metrics reviews to provide ongoing checks and directional adjustments.
A Pragmatic, End-User Focus Works
While there are many other parts of the user-centered SEO framework that help define SEO, the above steps can help get you on the right track. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can then move into areas like GAP analysis, ROT analysis, user intent analysis, as well as update your content creation/marketing strategy.
Throughout all of this, remember that a user-focused SEO campaign creates long-term plans that target the end user, which is really the heart and soul of what Google is looking for today. It keeps your clients intimately involved in the process and your work, aligning you with them and building their trust in you.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.