Give Users (and Search Engines) What They Want

If you’re building a new Web site or restructuring or redesigning your current site, listen up. I’m here to tell you about a simple way to build your Web site so it speaks to both your users and the search engines.

The New-Site Trap

Many people are so excited at the prospect of a new site design and a new look and feel that they forget the fundamental piece of the puzzle: content. Content is what feeds your users and the search engines. Content is what they come to your site for. Pretty pictures and animation are great, but actual content, and how it’s structured, organized, and presented, is what really makes or breaks a site.

The key to effective content is to take a consumer-centric approach, building a site around users’ information needs. If you want your site to truly satisfy your audience, it’s essential to develop content with your audience’s motivations and interests in mind. By uncovering your audience’s key topics of interest, you can create content areas that reflect those instead of guessing what they might be. Further, by understanding the language your audience utilizes, you can begin to more easily employ user-centric language on your site.

Ask yourself, “What are they searching for?” Answer this, and you’ll serve up a Web site that meets your users’ needs. And a site that meets its audience’s needs is a successful one, almost without exception.

Information Architecture and Keyword Research

How do you figure out what your audience is searching for: Interview the sales team? Conduct a statistically significant survey among your target market? Pay for a session with the local seer?

None of the above.

To answer this question, simply look at users’ past search behavior. In the world of SEO (define), this process is most often referred to as keyword research.

If you’ve ever performed SEO, you understand the importance of thorough keyword research. Keywords are the basis upon which SEO is conducted, and knowing which ones have the best opportunity to garner results is a tricky and time-consuming task.

Usually, keyword research is performed on a specific site page to determine which terms to optimize that page for. I recommend keyword research before your site is built to help determine what information is most desired by your audience and what content you’ll ultimately put on your site. This research will feed into your site’s IA (define), basically a hierarchical road map of all the site content: what it is, how it’s organized, where it will appear on the site, and how your users will navigate to it. The process of undertaking keyword research to this end is what I like to call a consumer search behavior initiative.

Conducting the Initiative

The simplified steps in a consumer search behaviour initiative are:

  1. Undertake keyword research on the various areas related to your Web site topic to uncover exactly what people search for.
  2. Document and organize these findings in an easy-to-use format (spreadsheets are great).
  3. Work with your information architect or user experience specialist to build an IA around the key themes that emerge from the research.
  4. Write site copy with the keywords you uncover at top of mind.

This approach ensures that your site consists of content your audience actually searches for and that the copy is written in a way to employ the most frequently searched queries in any content area.

Around the topic of real estate in Toronto, for example, new home-seekers may be searching using the following variations of terms:

  • “Toronto real estate”
  • “Toronto homes for sale”
  • “New homes in Toronto”
  • “Toronto CA homes”
  • “Real estate in Toronto”
  • “Toronto home real estate”
  • “Toronto new homes”
  • Keyword research helps determine which of these terms your audience most frequently uses, so you can then employ the specific term within the Web site. This increases relevance for your users and ensures your site employs keywords that will reap significant search volume.

    By creating content that’s closely aligned with consumer search behavior, you’ll make not only your users happy but also the search engines due to enhanced relevancy. Clearly, building a site with the way people search in mind is a great first step to building a foundation for a search-engine-friendly Web site. And accomplishing this will ultimately enhance the ability of your site to be found and accessed by your audience.

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

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