7 Things That Are More Important Than SEO
SEO is definitely a buzz word in the web development world these days and SEO-related requests are easily among the top reasons that people contact me. Can I help them improve their website’s SEO? Help them get to #1 in Google search results? Get more users onto their website? The answer is maybe, but SEO is actually low down on my initial list of things most likely to help you achieve your website goals. Contrary to popular belief, search engine optimization (or SEO for short) won’t provide the magic fix for all of your website woes. Instead, I’m going to talk here about 7 things which get far less airtime, but actually outweigh SEO in importance.
- Having webpages that convert – all the website traffic in the world won’t do you any good unless your users are performing desired actions when they visit your site. If you’re not sure what it is you want your users to do, it’s a good idea to spend some time clarifying this. Is it mailing list sign-ups that you’re after? Or do you want website visitors to purchase a product or make a donation? A “conversion” is the web term used for these actions and while the specifics vary from website to website, being clear on what conversions you’re seeking is important. It’s also a step that’s often overlooked when focusing solely on SEO.
- Knowing who you are talking to (and talking to them) – do you know who your website users are and what they will want to do when they visit your site? If not, you’ll want to find out as much as possible about them so that you can build a website that speaks directly to them. It’s important to make a site that’s engaging for your users: that connects them with what you do, helps them fulfil their own goals and encourages them to take the action steps that you identified in #1 above. One other tip: it’s easy to focus your content on talking about “us” (the organization), but instead, consider using more “you” language, which speaks directly to your users.
- Having a content strategy – your site content is really the most important part of your website so you’ll want to give some thought to the types of content that will be most effective in engaging your users. What is it that your organization has to offer and how can your website reflect this? Do you want to have a blog? Slideshows? And what content will you share on your homepage? Focus especially on any new or creative ways you have to engage your users, such as offering contests, webinars or using sign-up forms.
People often want to do keyword research to see if the words they are using on the site are worth targeting and thus, would help improve SEO. While this will be helpful, SEO should still be secondary to a focus on the content strategy that will best connect you with your users.
- Knowing what users are doing on your website – you’ll want to keep track of what people are doing when they visit your website. Which pages are they visiting the most? Is it mostly new users visiting the site or is there also a high number of returning visitors? Are people staying on the website for any length of time or do they leave almost immediately after arriving? A tool like Google Analytics will provide you with a lot of information about your users’ activities, which can help you fine tune your website and also measure user activity against the goals that you have for the site.
- Using A/B testing – this strategy involves creating two versions of a page with a specific goal in mind. For example, you might want users to sign up for your mailing list on a specific page so in your test, you would send half of your users to one version of the webpage and the rest to the other to see which one gets more email sign-ups. A tool like Google Experiments can help you track the results.
There don’t need to be major differences in the pages – even small tweaks can impact user behavior. For example, Which Test Won? recently highlighted the Truvo website which experimented with the way it displayed different popular categories on a page, either as text or as icons. They found that the page with the category icons received a much higher rate of clicks then the text version and so decided to go with that version.
- Having a modern and mobile-friendly website design – it's important to have a site that has a modern look and feel: a design that’s simple and easy to use and that highlights your content effectively. And mobile is continuing to grow, so be sure that your website works well on mobile devices. A recent client of mine saw a 34% increase in conversions after a site redesign made the website mobile friendly.
- Performing user testing – in my last blog post, I talked about the importance of user testing, which can be very helpful in checking how closely your website goals mirror those of your users. Real users are shown the website design and asked questions about what they would expect to find on the website or how they would use the site. This testing provides valuable feedback that can help guide the design process.
Going through these 7 steps may sound like a lot of work, but I assure you, it will be worth it. I’ve seen impressive results from clients who have shifted their focus away from SEO toward the actions outlined above. Once you’ve worked through these 7 steps, your website users will land on a proven website that will convert for you. At that point, focusing on SEO will help you return even better results.