Digital Experience Masterclass on SEO

prepare for the future of search graphic with screens Written By Jake Picken
We were recently asked to present at a free virtual event that was geared towards organizations looking to improve their digital experiences. 

The event, Exceeding DXpectations Masterclass, was hosted by Progress and included sessions covering topics like digital transformation, search engine optimization, personalization, and other sessions to educate marketing and IT teams on ways to create better digital experiences for their customers.   

Smooth Fusion was asked to present a topic that would be of interest and relevance to marketers.  

At the time, Google was releasing the Page Experience Update, so we decided to put together a session that touched on this update and talk more about the always-changing landscape of search and how creating great digital experiences can help prepare your site for future success in search results.  

In the session, we focused on one overarching goal which was providing the best user experience possible for visitors to your site. A goal that Google itself has primarily focused on from the beginning of its existence.  

We take the goal of providing the best user experience possible and break it into initiatives that not only improve user experience but support and align with the ranking signals that are considered when Google ranks webpages in search results.  

These include optimizing your site for speed, personalizing content, adding interactive elements to your site, and ensuring your site is technically sound.  

At the end of the session, we shared some helpful tools to measure and track the performance of your website. 

 

The Future of Search and Google's Page Experience Update

 

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT 

Presentation Title: Are you prepared for the Future of Search? 

Thank you for joining today. My name is Jake Picken and I’m the Director of Marketing here at Smooth Fusion. We have been a Sitefinity Partner for more than a decade and a little fun fact is we celebrated our 20th anniversary as a company this past year.

It was interesting to look back at when we started and how the technology landscape has changed since then.   

This sets us up for this presentation and what we will be diving into first. 

Just as I mentioned about us as accompany looking back in time, that is how we are going to start is by thinking back 20 years ago. 

What Search Was Like in 2001

Here is a screenshot of what Google search results looked like back in 2001. As you can see the search is for iPod and nothing comes up because the iPod wasn't released yet.

Two other search engines you might be familiar with are Alta Vista and Ask Jeeves. 

Here is what the early days of search looked like and what Google search results looked like. You had things like the advanced search option which was a really cool feature at the time but now they don't need it anymore because their algorithms are so sophisticated and so much smarter than they were back then. 

Features in Google Search Results Today

Today, Google displays search results in different ways like featured snippets, maps, images, videos, stories, knowledge graph, rich lists, and direct results. 

All of these features would be shown on results depending on the search query that you do but I'm sure all of you have seen these features and know what search results look like today.  

Google's Dominance in Search

Some might argue that Google is the most dominant tech company to ever exist and some of those reasons might be because they have over 90 percent of the search market and this is as of February 2021. 

Google has also had an over 2000% increase in search traffic in the last 20 years, and what company or brand can say they were added in the dictionary as a verb.  

Search Engine Market Share Over the Years

I do not think I need to tell you which line is Google on this graph. This graph shows just how dominant they are and have been since they were launched.  

How has Google Become Such a Dominant Leader in Search?  

Their entire business model from the very beginning was focused on providing the best user experience.  

And they did this by responding as technology and customer demand changed – many times ahead of everyone else and even influencing the marketing strategies of the largest companies in the world.  

Google's Algorithm Updates Over the Years

Google has made hundreds of thousands of updates to its algorithm over the years. A lot of slight changes and some major changes have dramatically impacted search rankings.  

If you are familiar with the names of their updates over the years, then you will understand why I have these graphics on this slide.  

Panda was an algorithm update released in 2011 that aimed to lower the rank of lower quality sites.   

Penguin was released in 2012 that penalized sites that went against Google's webmaster guidelines, specifically sites that used black hat link-building tactics like link schemes to manipulate search results.  

RankBrain was an update that introduced machine learning capabilities to the core algorithm.  

Hummingbird update was released somewhere in 2013 and was a complete overhaul of the algorithm, a more sophisticated algorithm that sought to understand the user intent behind search queries.  

Now if you are a marketer and SEO falls under your job responsibilities then you understand the tension between trying to get your website to rank high on Google and Google constantly making changes to their algorithm.  For many marketers, it can be frustrating.  

So…how do you keep up?  

Well, let us boil it down to one thing.  

Aim to provide the best user experience possible on your website. 

Constantly asking the question: Do my customers get frustrated when they visit my website or are they delighted by their experience?  

User experience used to be something nice to add to your site but over the years it has become the focus of websites – from design to development.  

And now if you want to rank higher than your competitors, then it is something you need to continue focusing on. 

SEO and User Experience

At the end of 2020, Google announced that it was making changes to its algorithm to consider the experience someone has when they visit your website.  

I am not going to go into full detail in this presentation because there is a lot to it, but the focus is on speed and user experience.  

In addition to the Page Experience Update, Google also announced the June 2021 update, which already rolled out at the beginning of this month, and another update coming in July. There has not been much info on both updates.  

Now, if you have already made user experience a priority for your website, then you are in pretty good shape, just continue doing that.  

If you have not made it a priority or want to optimize your website, then here are some ways to improve the user experience.    

Page Speed

Within one second is the target. You want your pages to load in one second to provide the best experience and this is no different for desktop and mobile.  

After 3 seconds, the probability of someone leaving your site starts to increase.  

After 5 seconds, it's for certain that your site visitors are going to bounce – that means only 10% of people are somewhat patient.   

How to Optimize for Page Speed

To optimize the speed of your site – you need to be continually monitoring the performance of your site. Performance from the front-end to the server. 

These performance optimization best practices you can also find in the Sitefinity documentation.   

Personalize the Experience

The next thing is personalizing the experience for your site visitors. 

Stats on Site Personalization

Here are some stats that I am sure you have seen before or at least something similar. 

  • 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.​ 74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalized.
  • 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them.​
  • 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more a personalized experience.

Resource: 50 Stats Showing the Power of Personalization

The bottom line is consumers want personalization. 

How to Personalize the Experience

So how to personalize. 

The first and simplest way is to personalize content.  If you are a bank and you have data on a user who falls in the target audience of a young professional, then maybe you want them to see mortgage offerings and services or credit card information when they land on your site. 

Switching that mentality from "we will give our audience what we think they want" to "we will give them what they want."  

And the way to make this possible is by getting software like Sitefinity Insight, where you can see the customer journey and set up touchpoints and lead scoring so you can target these individuals.  

And then another thing would be to ensure you are merging your customer data across systems. Especially as 3rd party data is going to be more difficult to access to utilize in the next few years it is important you do this to start building out your first-party data.  

Get More Interactive

Next is adding more interactive elements to your website.  

It does not have to be super flashy but even simple things like how elements appear on a page as your scrolling.  

Here is just a little example of this. You can see how this underline comes in and how the elements are set in place on the page as your scroll. 

Those little things will help your website stand out.  

Ways to Add Interactive and Engaging Elements to Your Site

Some other ways to make your site more interactive are by adding things like infographics that are interactive.  

Animations and quizzes, calculators, especially for those companies in the financial industry, and even surveys are also great ways to get feedback from customers.  

Your customers might not take a standard survey you email them but I bet they would if it was a fun and interactive quiz on your website.  

Optimizing for Mobile

Next, is optimizing for mobile. I am sure you have been doing this since Mobilegeddon, but mobile usage continues to rise so to prepare for the future of search it is important you continue with your mobile web strategies.  

There are a lot of tools to test the performance of your site on mobile – the most common issue is poorly optimized images so a good place to start would be looking at your images.    

Ensure Your Website is Technically Sound

The final way to optimize user experience is to make sure your website is technically sound. Now, this would take into account all the previous points but the way you do this is by getting a Technical SEO site audit

Tools to Measure Website Performance

Here, I have added tools that will help you optimize your website in addition to some of the tools I have mentioned earlier.  

Page Speed Insights will give you a breakdown of page speed and also go into Core Web Vitals which is a big part of the new Page Experience Update.  

Chrome Dev Tools will help you dig into a lot of the technical components of your site.  

Search Console is used to check the indexing status of pages on your site and also the visibility of those pages in search.  

Web Vitals extension is another great tool that allows you to quickly check the core web vitals of a page you are on.  

HubSpot Website Grader gives your website a grade, like Page Speed Insights.  

I do not have a specific tool listed but having a tool that allows you to monitor your entire infrastructure is important when it comes to optimizing the performance of your site.  

So, that is the end of this presentation. I hope you learned a thing or two and if you have any questions, I will be sticking around to answer those. Thank you for listening.