SEO has a ‘not my problem’ problem

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  • June 22, 2015
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Director of Search

Delivering traffic to a website – that’s the SEO team’s problem.

What the website does with that traffic – that’s someone else’s problem.

Except it isn’t.

You could get away with that kind of thinking a few years ago, back when you could just spin more content, build more links, and ultimately get more traffic.

Since Panda in 2011, Google has been demonstrating that it cares just as much about what its users do as where they go.

The mobile friendly and content quality updates in May (and complete absence of Panda and Penguin for the past six months or so) shows that Google is starting to care less about punishing manipulative tactics and more about rewarding good experiences.

I’ve written a lot about return to SERPs and how Google measures the quality of its own search results – for a great exploration of the concept you should check out AJ Kohn’s article on ‘Time to Long Click’.

To summarise I’d say this:

  • Google can’t use the enormous amounts of data it has from its own Analytics platform or Chrome browser for privacy reasons, so it has to find other ways to measure a user’s satisfaction with the search results returned
  • What Google can measure is the interactions a user has with the search results themselves – what do users click on? How long do they stay on that result before they use Google again?
  • If a user returns to the search engine results page (SERP) by pressing the back button, or by searching for the same thing again, that’s an indication that the first result a user clicked on was not satisfactory and probably isn’t a good result to display
  • If enough users show the same behaviour in relation to a particular website and a particular query, then Google may take a view on how often it shows the website in its search results for those terms

What this means for SEOs is that sending more and more traffic to a website does not indicate that you are doing a better job if the website fails to keep users on the page.

If the team whose job it was to satisfy the users who arrive on the page (UX/design/content/ecommerce/marketing/whoever) fail to do their job, then Google will eventually want to stop sending traffic to those pages.

That makes it SEO’s problem.

It was much easier to work in a silo and not worry about other people’s problems in the days when we could just build more links and write more content to increase traffic.

But now we need everyone else – PR, content, ecommerce, development, design, UX – in order to do our own jobs.

…and PR, content, ecommerce, development, design, and UX all have their own problems.

If SEO wants to continue to drive traffic then it has to have a share in the solutions.

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