We have been searching from the earliest days of human history: sometimes for food, a mate, even meaning. This did not change with the emergence of the Internet: since then, digital systems such as Delivery Hero, Friendscout and Google have satisfied the needs of countless seekers. But from the dawn of time, also, human beings have held back from searching until confronted with a pressing concern: hunger, mental/physical loneliness or a precipitous and niggling thirst for knowledge. And from the earliest days, human beings have responded to the results of their quests: unpalatable food, unsuitable partners and useless information almost instantaneously transform a positive mood into an icy demeanour. Unacceptable results cost energy, time and valuable resources!
How is that relevant to SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimisation”. The term implies a streamlined process within an information retrieval system, but actually means the manipulation of so-called ranking factors to improve the identification of certain websites for defined search queries within search systems. More advanced search engine experts also talk of “search experience optimisation”, which describes the optimisation of the user experience during searching. None of this jargon truly characterises what is actually communicated: longing and fulfilment in a digital search– alongside the ability to retrieve and convert the results.
‘Conformity with expectations’ is what it comes down to: what do I hope to obtain when I start searching? Do I find what I expected? The ability to convert of digital content – the art of transforming a seeker into a buyer – requires experience in the design of such systems and profound knowledge of conversion optimisation (in short: CRO). And suddenly we are faced with the exciting question:
At what point in history did ‘SEO+CRO’ suddenly become ‘SEO. CRO.’?
Let’s beam ourselves back to 1996: the human seeker sits perched in front of a PC with a dazzling 15-inch screen boasting a resolution of 800×600 pixels. After quickly checking and correcting the modem’s stop bit parity he finally manages to hook up to the Internet via AOL. After only a few minutes of page loading the Netscape Navigator stands ready for use, while the search engine Altavista patiently awaits the input of the chosen search term.
It took a few hiccups, but eventually the human operator realised that overwhelming this search system with complicated queries was likely to fail. This marked the dawning age of the Homo keywordus: a human being, hunched over a desktop PC hooked up to the Internet by fixed cable connection, pounding individual terms (‘keywords’) into the narrow prompt bar of a search engine. But this was only the start of a magnificent computational undertaking: moving at lightning speed, the search system swept through all kinds of documents featuring the search terms, categorising the results with an esoteric methodology, while nevertheless remaining unable to decipher what the person was actually looking for.
After entering the search term, Homo keywordus would receive a list with 10 blue links. This is where the actual work started: each document peeking out from behind the link might just satisfy the seeker’s expectations – or it might not. Anyone who has ever attempted to locate a good navigation device using Bing’s largest competitor (Google) will almost immediately understand what this means: frustration is practically pre-programmed, as huge numbers of websites have been manipulated to ensure good visibility, but not for a particularly satisfying convertibility.
A search system is quite simply unable to deliver better results, as it cannot establish any contextuality with essential secondary factors than the data themselves permit. And in many cases the data consisted entirely of the term that the seeker had typed into the narrow prompt bar. For instance, the system was faced with an immense challenge if this term was ‘bank’: does the user mean a financial institute? The memory bank on a computer’s motherboard? Perhaps a place to sit down? In many cases, then, the search systems had no choice but to offer one link for each different topic in the hit list, and then to analyse what the seeker selected.
Modern SEO can be explained as follows: “The optimisation of contextual retrievability and the conformity with expectations of digital assets for persons entering a search request.” Naturally, this doesn’t sound quite as snazzy as ‘search engine optimisation’, but it is a more precise description of the task at hand. And this description slowly but surely calls ‘search engine optimisers’ to task, demanding that they move away from the convenient role of purveying website traffic and that they instead become ‘conversion optimisers’. After all: SEO traffic is worthless until the moment of conversion.
Optimisation for cross-system retrievability instead of Google visibility
It can be a trifle laborious to tap preconceived keywords into the prompt bar of a search system shown on a smartphone display, and then to visit the first ten websites in the millions of results, if all the while one is caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday urban life. Indeed, a Google search request for “Restaurant Prenzlauer Berg Berlin Address” spoken quickly into the iWatch or iPhone is far more likely to end up as “Hey Siri, I’m hungry”.
Interestingly, Siri doesn’t ask Google. In these cases, Siri accesses Yelp. That’s bad news for restaurant owners who have only optimised for Google. Of course these restaurant owners are digitally visible somewhere, but ultimately impossible to locate for people using Siri and Yelp. Visibility and retrievability are two different things. Smart and responsible SEOs ensure optimum cross-system retrievability instead of just boosting visibility within the Google universe.
At this point, online marketing managers frequently disagree and use Analytics content to demonstrate that in fact these non-Google search systems do not deliver any noteworthy traffic. In many cases they are right: website operators who neglect to optimise their digital content for important search systems are unlikely to receive much traffic along these channels. And so, completely unnoticed, some specimens of Homo keywordus have evolved into the genus Homo search assistant. What happened to the desktop PC? The fixed line Internet cable? The ten comfortingly familiar blue links? They appear to have vanished, and now a wild horde of young people seem to be running around talking to round boxes without a display or keyboard, and expecting their smart watches to provide answers– the best answers. This is not good news for providers who allow their competitors to deliver the information.
Genuine responsiveness, darling!
Just yesterday, SEO was nothing other than providing a mobile version of a website originally designed for a static desktop PC. It only takes a glance at smart watches and search devices without screen or keyboard to realise that this idea was obsolete before it started.
Genuine responsiveness primarily includes the situational context of the person initiating the search:
- Which hard and software does the seeker use?
- Where is the seeker currently located?
- What time is it?
- Which cognitive capacities does the seeker currently possess?
- Which search system is the seeker using?
Responsiveness can mean that the device does not have a screen, or that the screen is switched off (for reasons of security or convenience). Instead of long and involved content, it is only necessary to provide a few easily memorable sentences.
Responsiveness can also mean that because of the geographic position or the time of day, it is important to provide information on whether and to what extent the product or service is currently available. In many cases this will improve the handling of expectations.
Responsiveness can mean that the seeker is out and about. In consequence, he or she is currently unable to engage in any protracted search requests, and most certainly doesn’t have the time or headspace to scroll through a seemingly endless hit list. In these cases, it’s important to keep things simple.
Genuine responsiveness goes beyond simple (web) design to encompass the textual and graphic content, user processes and the user interfaces.
It follows, therefore, that when designing a concept for ‘SEO’, marketing managers are well advised to engage the brain a little more when pondering the following questions:
- How will SEO work if the device doesn’t have a keypad?
- How do I measure and optimise rankings if search systems prioritise results based on the seeker’s context?
- How will SEO work if the device doesn’t have a display?
- In which systems do I have to be retrievable?
- How will SEO work if there are no active, explicit input features?
- How will SEO work if the specific gatekeeper in each device decides which search system to use?
There is no doubt that the online marketing disciplines of SEO and CRO belong together: SEO activities only acquire meaning once convertibility has been established.
Traffic on a digital service is worthless until conversion. Convertibility is achieved by means of digital, cross-system retrievability, genuine responsiveness, the creation of high conformity with expectations, and the ability to provide feedback.
Featured Image: © xurzon – Fotolia.com