Search Experience Optimization

Search experience optimization is a concept that has been gaining steam in over the past year or two. I love the rebranding of SEO (and dislike calling it SXO) because I think it more accurately describes what the SEO practitioner must focus on - the searcher's experience. It's been a long time since an SEO had as an ultimate goal the achievement of rankings and visits from those rankings, though some still don't know it.

Search experience optimization also happens to imply the multi-disciplinary nature of SEO, meaning that it incorporates the functions you would traditionally think of when the word "experience" is in play - design, usability, user research, information architecture, copy writing, and AB or multivariate testing. 

That sounds complex. "I thought content was king," some may say. Isn't it that simple? Unfortunately it's not. Content is fundamental and it can go a long way toward your success, but that content has to be really amazing, truly unique or comprehensive for people to overcome suboptimal experiences in order to interact with it. There are often many choices for similar content, people's tasks are broken up into multiple sessions on multiple devices and attention spans are more fractured than ever reducing tolerance for poor experiences. This is why efforts like the Amp Project are so important.

One of the older and well-written articles naming search experience optimization is by Ben Potter on the Econsultancy blog. In the article Potter makes a great point to keep top of mind: the competition is just a click away, so there is very little cost to the consumer to try another option. Potter also poses a question that's worth thinking more about: "How will this approach or activity deliver a memorable & superior experience for my customers?"

The key piece of that question is his choice of the word "memorable". Imagine someone's visiting you for the first time from search and they manage to complete their task, which looks like a conversion to you. That was a win on both sides, right? Maybe, for the moment. But if you're in a business in which that consumer may have need of your service or product catalog again, you want them to choose you to fulfill their subsequent needs. 

Ultimately you'd love a direct visit. Almost as good would be if that consumer searched for your brand name in a search engine. Next best would be if that consumer searched for a product or service you offer and chose your result even if you weren't in the first position.

While we can't know exactly how a search engine would weight those signals, they should all be positive since they indicate a preference for you over competing options. These sorts of behaviors would be desirable even if you were running an offline-only business (the parallels being visiting your stand-alone location, visiting your location in a mall, or choosing your product from among others at a general retailer).

That behavior sounds like customer loyalty, right? None of those things are likely to happen if you didn't provide a memorable experience for that searcher the first time. That first visit gave you the opportunity to establish an ongoing relationship with that searcher. It's up to you to make the most of that opportunity.

Here is some further reading both practical and thoughtful in nature pertaining to search experience optimization. But for possibly the best manifesto on being customer-focused, read the 1997 Amazon shareholder letter

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