A Principal Goal Of SEO Should Be Customer Loyalty

Even though search engine optimization (SEO) has been website marketing strategy for a very long time, many website owners still believe that the primary goal of SEO is simply to achieve top positions. If a site is in the #1 position, then SEO is successful, right?

Perhaps one overlooked benefit of successful SEO is customer loyalty. I observe this in long-term search behaviors all of the time. When users/searchers discover a website that contains desired information, they will often use search engines to go back to that site (refinding search behavior). If the website is optimized well, then returning to the site, or a specific page on a site, is an easy process. Advanced searchers will often use Google or Bing (or their favorite search engine) to find specific articles on a site, such as the following:

lung cancer treatment site:www.cancer.gov

When I observed these frequent navigational queries, I realized that loyalty might be a major benefit of SEO. Google gullibility might be a behavior that SEO professionals rely on to get initial traffic for websites, but findable content delivered on a user-friendly website will get searchers to stay on the site and keep them coming back.

SEO and the System Usability Scale (SUS)

“Search specialists get paid to worry about getting people to a website through careful selection of words that attract users,” said John Sorflaten, Ph.D, who has designed user experiences using systematic methods that verify the quality needed for professional results. “There are additional ways of attracting users, too, one being ‘loyalty’ to a company or its website.”

One way usability professionals measure customer loyalty is through the System Usability Scale. Usability professionals use the SUS questionnaire to determine how well an interface serves its users. The System Usability Scale questionnaire is a commonly used, freely distributed, and reliable questionnaire consisting of 10 items. Scoring the questionnaire yields a usability score in the range of 0–100, its ease of administration and scoring makes it a popular choice among usability professionals (Finstad 2004).

“Substitute the word ‘website’ for ‘system’ in the questionnaire, and it works well for measuring how usability test participants feel about their web experience” said Sorflaten. “Founders Thomas S. Tullis and Jacqueline N. Stetson found that the SUS questionnaire served better than several other popular questionnaires that took longer to administer.”

“Recently, Jeff Sauro, a buddy who specializes in measuring usability found an interesting correlation between loyalty to a website and the usability experience visitors had at a website,” Sorflaten continued. “He found that one third of their ‘loyalty’ comes from the degree to which people feel the site is ‘usable’ as measured with the SUS questionnaire. For SEO folks, it means that you can include ‘loyalty’ as an additional draw for getting people to your clients’ sites. So you have to know techniques of usability to help generate loyalty.”

Sauro’s research showed that to get loyalty from your site visitors, your SUS questionnaires needed to have an average score of 80 or above out of a top score of 100.

“It’s nice to see concrete data to back up our interpretations of SUS scores,” said Sorflaten. “To get data, however, you must interact with real end users with usability testing and questionnaires. That’s usability. No ivory tower assumptions are allowed when you want to create good websites that get a loyal following.”

Usability and the searcher experience

As an SEO professional, I have long believed that findability is a critical component of website usability. To me, that means querying behaviors are just as important as browsing behaviors. In fact, the two behaviors are inseparable. Web searchers do not simply type a keyword phrase into a search box, click search, and stop. They scan search results. They read individual search listings. They want their user-generated information scents validated in search results and on corresponding websites.

Additionally, customer loyalty can have an effect on a site’s long-term link development. Two sites can have identical or nearly identical content. Which site do you believe people link to? You guessed it—the site that is easier to use. I like the System Usability Scale because it allows us to interact directly with searchers and makes upper management happy with numbers they can use and relate to. Understanding how and why searchers interact with websites tends will generate the best ROI.

Readings on Customer Loyalty


About The Author

Shari Thurow
Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).