Web Analytics, SEO, and Site Usability

  |  February 12, 2007   |  Comments

The boss is not going to spend thousands of dollars on the products and services you offer on your Web site. But your visitors will.

One of the biggest mistakes I see during the optimization process is poor or inaccurate search usability analysis. The first part of any SEO (define) program should be a thorough analysis. No SEO professional can accurately gauge implementation strategies without fully understanding how the target audience searches and browses a site for desired information.

Position-checking data yields little useful information about searcher behavior, whereas Web analytics data reveals far more useful information. Of course, Web analytics data is no substitute for high-quality usability testing. Nonetheless, analytics data can reveal information about both positive and negative search behaviors.

Web Site Business Goals

One of the first items I request from new clients is a list of their sites' specific business goals. Business goals for an e-commerce Web site are often quite different from those for a publisher's site, though some goals are common to both types. Usually, common business goals include the following items:

  • Increase the amount of qualified search engine traffic.

  • Increase the number of new visitors.

  • Increase the number of repeat visitors.

  • Increase the number of page views per visit.

What I find interesting is Web site owners don't realize that increasing the number of page views per visitor can be either a positive or a negative search behavior.

In an ideal situation, a Web site's business goals jibe with both user and searcher expectations. A user and a searcher are often the same person, and search behavior isn't only limited to querying behavior. A user-centered design (UCD) accommodates a variety of search behaviors, not only querying behavior.

Closely monitor increasing page views per visitor. On a publisher site, for example, increased page views per visit means increased advertising (income) opportunities and closed sales. However, if page views per visit increases because of pogo-sticking behavior, the searcher is left with a negative user experience.

Pogo-Sticking and the Search Experience

What exactly is pogo-sticking behavior? Let's use a SERP (define) as one example.

Suppose a searcher types in an accurate string of keywords into the Google search box, such as "pediatrician doctor Barrington Illinois" and views the SERP. She clicks the hyperlink in first position of the natural search results. The information available on that page isn't what she seeks, so she clicks the browser's "Back" button and clicks the hyperlink in the second position. The information available on that Web page isn't what she desires either, so she clicks the "Back" button again and selects the hyperlink in the third position. And so on. The searcher is pogo-sticking between the Google SERP and landing pages.

Now suppose a searcher is viewing a category page with links to specific product pages on an e-commerce site. She clicks on a link to product page three. She doesn't see exactly what she wants and clicks back to the category page. Now she clicks on the link to product page five. She doesn't see what she wants, so she clicks back to the category page. And so on. This searcher is also exhibiting pogo-sticking behavior, jumping back and forth between a category page and individual product pages.

If a searcher displays considerable pogo-sticking behavior, she's less likely to take a desired call to action, such as adding a product to her cart or signing up for a newsletter.

How does pogo-sticking look in Web analytics data? If the software is set up to calculate the average number of page views per visitor, the increase could be due to pogo-sticking behavior. Sure, you've made the boss happy by increasing page views. But if visitors are pogo-sticking, you're not making them happy.

The boss is not going to spend thousands, or millions, of dollars on the products and services you offer on your Web site. Your visitors will.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Web site design and content should strike a balance between business goals and user expectations. Any SEO methodologies must support that balance. Usability and SEO aren't mutually exclusive concepts.

Increasing the number of page views per visit is a legitimate and desirable Web site business goal, but only if the click streams exhibit a minimal amount of pogo-sticking behavior. Only a true SEO professional quits focusing on positioning as a primary metric and focuses instead on search behavior metrics. Minimizing pogo-sticking behavior is one metric to strive for.

Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies in London, February 13-15, at ExCel London.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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