SEO and Customer Experience: Serving up the Right Info, the First Time

Through a simple case study, a post at the LugIron Software Blog shows why SEO Matters When You’re Publishing Documentation. Implementing SEO principles should be a natural fit for technical writers, given our experience and natural affinity for indexing, but as the post notes, it’s surprising that “much of the documentation content put online completely ignores basic SEO principles.”

The post further explains that “documentation is a collection of answers to customer questions, and generally, customers have been trained to search before looking.” This means that they likely won’t visit your support or documentation site, without first asking one of the major search engines their question.

Studies have shown that users click on the top three links on search engine results pages 80% of the time, and that users spend nearly 70% of their time reading the content on those pages. When customers have a problem and find themselves needing an answer to get out of a jam, they will look first to Google for help.

To illustrate the importance to user experience of having your documentation appear first in search results, the post provides a real world example on how users from Skype—a company that provides Internet-based phone calls—seek assistance from Google, when they need to retrieve or reset a lost password.

The response users see in Google depends on what query they enter:

  • “If users enter ‘skype lost password,’ the first result in the search engine is the exact help topic they need, with the exact answer to their question.”
  • “If users enter ‘skype retrieve password,’ the first two links go to Yahoo! Answers, and the third link is the actual help topic with the answer—the one that was first in the results in our first query.”
  • “If users enter ‘skype password,’ no where on the first page of the Google results is any link to Skype’s documentation. Instead, the first link is to Skype’s forum, where the content on the page is totally wrong. There is a link within the forum post to a place where users can ask Skype for help by opening a ticket, but unfortunately this link is also broken and sends the user to the completely wrong place.”

The first search scenario is obviously the best user experience. Customers get the information they need, on the first try.

In the second scenario, the LugIron Software post explains, there are a large percentage of users who will not go directly to where the answer is. Instead, they will be sent to a question in Yahoo! Answers, where the “answer” provided on the Yahoo page is incorrect. It links to the wrong place in the Skype support center, and instead of sending users to the answer, it goes to the Skype support center’s homepage.

Fortunately, the first topic under the Support Center’s home page is “Popular Queries,” which links to the right topic in the documentation. In this case, the user frustration is not prolonged. (However, the post observes, Skype’s Support Center is the exception to the rule, as many Support Centers do not show Popular Queries.)

The last scenario is the least user-friendly. No where on the first page of Google’s results is there any link to Skype’s documentation.

The first link is to Skype’s forum–that’s good–but unfortunately the content on the page is totally wrong. No help for the random user looking to retrieve their password. There is a link within the forum post to a place where you can ask Skype for help by opening a ticket, but unfortunately this link is also broken (like in the forum post from the previous search) and sends the user to the completely wrong place.

According to the post, the cost of the last search scenario to Skype’s customer experience is high—about 20,000 searches that are dead-ended this way, each month.

Four Tips to Make Your Content the Most Authoritative on Google

I remember back in graduate school, when my technical writing instructors and work-place mentor advised me that it doesn’t matter how comprehensive or accurate your documentation is, if no one can find it.

They drilled into me early on, the importance of indexing to our documentation efforts. (I blush to think, how many times in the intervening years, however, that developing a good index has slipped by the wayside, out of lack of budgeted time in the schedule, or sometimes for me, the perception that such efforts would not have been regarded as an accountable use of my time.) As technical writers, we must fight this indexing apathy, which we ourselves are as much to blame for as anyone else, whenever and wherever we can, because maintaining and enhancing our search skills is key to our discipline’s prolonged viability. As we hone our basic SEO skills, technical writers must promote our profession as one that has always cared about and been good at, search and information architecture.

So, based on the LugIron Software post, here are ways your organization can ensure your customers find the right answer online, the first time:

  1. Follow Skype’s example and include a Popular Queries page on your Support site to direct customers to your most popular topics.
  2. Place search front and center at your Support Center, giving users an easy way to get what they need. Don’t force users to make decisions about where to find an answer. (For example, is it a knowledge base article? Is it a forum post?)
  3. Optimize most popular topics for more effective SEO. Use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to get new keyword ideas and ensure that users land on the right topic, regardless for example, of whether they search for “skype lost password” or “skype password.”
  4. Manage stale content. In the case of the Yahoo! Answers, the LugIron Software post suggests, “Skype could easily leave an answer of their own, directly on the Yahoo Answers page, that is more appropriate and linked to the correct page. Further, their own forums are providing incorrect answers. They should edit those forum posts to ensure that users reading them also know where the right answer is in the official Skype documentation.”

This approach will take coordination between the different disciplines.  It requires a champion within your company, empowered to manage the entire customer experience, and to integrate the various silos of content.

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SEO Checklist: 105 Tips from MarketingProfs B2B Forum (#mpb2b)

Disclosure: This month, I celebrate my year anniversary as a Contributing Writer for MarketingProfs Get to the Po!nt newsletters, on search engine marketing. After recently attending the MarketingProfs Business-to-Business Forum, in Boston, MA, I also offer my personal lessons learned, on SEO and SEM. MarketingProfs hosted some pretty amazing teachers. Read on.

At the recent MarketingProfs Business to Business Forum in Boston, MA, TopRank’s Lee Odden explained that “SEO is a set of methodologies that make it easier for search engines to find, index, categorize, and rank web content.” Core SEO, he noted, includes “keywords, content, a search friendly site, and links.” (You can still see Odden’s complete MarketingProfs presentation, Content SEO Best Practices, available on vimeo.)

In a different session, Larry Davis, from PTS Data Center Solutions, described the benefits of defining and implementing an SEO strategy, as demonstrated in his own business, where the PTS website accounts for almost 20% of all new sales (data from end of 2009). According to Davis, when integrated with traditional, paid search, and social media marketing initiatives, SEO can help you:

  • Increase sales.
  • Fortify reputation.
  • Increase awareness.
  • Generate new inquiries.
  • Increase actions from site visitors.

These were just two of the speakers that I heard at the B2B Forum in Boston, which hit an all-out SEO grand slam this year, with the following three information-packed presentations and dynamic speakers:

Recap from the B2B Forum

Just three of the MarketingProfs presentations, and over 100 actionable SEO tips. To hit your SEO ball out of the park, start implementing these steps right away:

  1. Analyze what business benefits you will achieve from SEO. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  2. Set goals as search, traffic, inquiries, and sales. (Lee Odden)
  3. Identify the purpose of your website. For example: Lead Generation, Build Awareness, Provide Content, E-commerce, Support/Resource, Build Community, Branding, Ad Revenue, Provide a Service. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  4. Define your B2B Content Optimization Strategy:  An optimized strategy includes keywords, personas, SERPs, assets, editorial, mappping, operationalize, off page DAO, promote, and measure. (Lee Odden)
  5. Develop and implement an SEO strategy,  which includes classic SEO, paid search, blogging, and social media. (Larry Davis)
  6. In-house versus an Agency: Use the E-Myth approach to decide whether you have an existing person who has the bandwidth, if you need to hire, and/or if you need to supplement with external resources. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  7. If you use an agency, consider these key factors: experience in your industry versus working for your competitor, black hat vs. white hat optimization approach, and references. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  8. Scheduling: Set aside about 70  hours to get a site optimized for 30 or so keywords. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  9. For 30 or so keywords, set aside 40-50 hours to research recommendations. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  10. For 30 or so keywords, set aside 15-20 hours for copyrighting/editing. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  11. For 30 or so keywords, set aside 8-10 hours for programming. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  12. Understand how users are getting to your site. In what context do they “think” about your products and services. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  13. Research converting visitors. 1st time, 2nd time, or 3rd time visitors, geographic location, current or new customers, different companies or organizations, last time they completed a goal, how did they get to the website, common search terms (support sites), and pages they completed goals on. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  14. Use research on converting customers to optimize your site, improve goal completion, and improve marketing effectiveness. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  15. Leverage site surveys and usability for actionable data. To leverage event tracking, customize Google Analytics to collect customer feedback through search results, content, and promotional offers. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  16. Referring Site Traffic: Review referring site traffic to identify quality traffic sources, identify new or at risk link opportunities, and improve existing partnerships. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglione)
  17. Select keywords; it all flows from here. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  18. Find the keywords your customers use to find your products/service. (Lee Odden)
  19. Brainstorm based on solutions & customer needs. (Lee Odden)
  20. Interview or survey customers. (Lee Odden)
  21. Review current web analytics. (Lee Odden)
  22. Poll sales and Customer Service staff. (Lee Odden)
  23. Review competitor content. (Lee Odden)
  24. Develop a Keyword Glossary: category, popularity, competition, and relevance. (Lee Odden)
  25. Use Core SEO Keyword Tools: Google AdWords Tool, Insights, Trends, Keyword Discovery, Wordtracker, Wordstream, and (Lee Odden)
  26. Keyword Optimization: Identify which keywords to optimize, including keywords with high conversions, and keywords with high search volume. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  27. To rank well on both Google & MSN, use as a rule of thumb 5 mentions of the keyword (if a keyword is a phrase, we would suggest the whole phrase be mentioned at least twice, and individual terms be mentioned at least 3 more times) for the first 250 words of the copy. If a page is longer than 250 words, we would suggest 2 -3 additional mentions of the keywords for each additional 250 word count. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding, quote from follow-up, at MarketingProfs Daily Fix post)
  28. Keyword Performance Report:  Align analysis to goals. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  29. Keyword Performance Report:  Segment/categorize terms for multiple goals or different customer segments. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  30. Keyword Performance Report: Identify top performing keywords based on goal behaviors. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  31. Keyword Performance Report: Maintain trends on top keywords to spot changes in performance quickly. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  32. Keyword Performance Report: Understand the effectiveness of your SEO efforts, including an increase in traffic over time and an increase in goal completion over time. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  33. SEM and SEO: “Research continually proves that when paid listings appear along with natural listings, they reinforce each other. Better yet, in study after study it is the organic listings that get clicked, so you get the benefit of paid search visibility, without the per click cost.” (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  34. Integration of SEO and PPC analysis: Learning can occur on both sides of the house. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  35. Integration of SEO and PPC analysis: Consider using Long tail keyword strings as a cost effective PPC alternatives. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  36. Integration of SEO and PPC analysis: consider using paid search as testing ground for new content. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  37. Integration of SEO and PPC analysis: Look for new content development opportunities from successful paid search campaigns. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  38. PPC Analytics: Tie the right metrics to the right step in the conversion process and make improvements. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  39. PPC Analytics: If your impressions are low, you may want to select a keyword with more traffic. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  40. PPC Analytics: Improve the likely hood of a click by testing ad copy. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  41. PPC Analytics: High bounce rates indicate that visitor left without action. Make landing page improvements. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  42. PPC Analytics: Low conversion rates indicates problems in the funnel that you need to fix. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  43. Meta Content Optimization: “Make sure you always include a relevant and enticing description (usually less than 155 characters) in your header Meta content.” (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  44. Develop onsite content—copy that works for humans and search engines. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding).
  45. Develop multimedia content; it helps when all things are equal. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  46. Optimize 1-2 phrases per page (title tags, headings, paragraph titles, keywords in body copy, anchor text in links, image alt text). (Lee Odden)
  47. “Adding new content pages in the form of articles, resources, or blog posts can increase your search engine traffic. You create more indexable content for the search engines to crawl, as well as attract more links. And remember, it’s very important that the content be interesting enough to attract links on its own.” (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  48. Keep content up-to-date; stale content is so 1999. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  49. Content Optimization Tool: Scribe is unique because it focuses on the content of your site and not just the structure of the site. (Lee Odden)
  50. Page Optimization: Use best practices, such as clear call to action, limit the choices, more white space, less text, and keeping it simple. (Chris Warwick)
  51. Page Optimization: At this point, take the time to understand who is completing goals on your site. Spend time looking into funnels to find out the pages that need improvement. (Chris Warwick)
  52. Avoid crawling issues, such as Multiple URLS to duplicate content and temporary redirects. (Lee Odden)
  53. Avoid site navigation with Ajax, Flash, and Javascript. (Lee Odden)
  54. Make URLS search and user-friendly. Avoid unecessarily complex URLS & session IDs. (Lee Odden)
  55. Apply SEO best practices to title tags, content descriptions, and alt text. (Lee Odden)
  56. Implement limited Flash, well placed Javascript. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  57. Develop fresh, themed content, with logical site structure, categories & subcategories. (Lee Odden)
  58. Site Load Speed: Consider site load speed, as a new ranking factor. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  59. Generate a report that shows your error pages. Example: Search: No Results, Error Page, and Page Not Found. Improve conversion by using the Navigation Report summary to fix broken links to that page. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  60. Develop a strategy for acquiring in-bound links from authority sites on each keyword. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding, Larry Davis)
  61. Use subject matter or referring site type to find more quality links. .gov and .org site are strong link opportunities, when relevant to your site. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglione)
  62. Investigate links to blogs and forums to see if there are further opportunities to showcase your products or services through contribution. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglione)
  63. Use these helpful link building operators: Replace “keyword” with your target keyword to find new link  opportunities, including blogs and forums. Perform searches on all the engines: intext:keywordallintitle:keyword, allinurl:keyword, directory keyword, favorite links keyword, favorite sites keyword, intext:keyword, intitle:blog keyword (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglione)
  64. Use keywords in link text. (Lee Odden)
  65. Earn links with great content. (Lee Odden)
  66. Promote on social networks. (Lee Odden)
  67. Link up with marketing partners. (Lee Odden)
  68. Cross link internally. (Lee Odden)
  69. Embed links in news releases. (Lee Odden)
  70. Leverage social bookmark pickups. (Lee Odden)
  71. Syndicate content via RSS. (Lee Odden)
  72. Optimize all your digital assets, including social media (text, MS Office docs, images, videos, blog/RSS, media coverage, and social news/bookmark). (Lee Odden)
  73. “You should be monitoring social media outposts even if your company doesn’t have a blog.” (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  74. Generate buzz, which can result in inbound links. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  75. Make sure to optimize your LinkedIn profile. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  76. Drive traffic to the main site with digital outposts. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  77. New Platform Optimization: Optimize for the iPad, mobile phones, etc. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  78. Real-Time Search: Important to monitor the conversation–quick response is critical. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  79. Personalized Search: Make sure your web site is well-branded and delivers on promises to remain relevant and attractive to searchers. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  80. Mobile Search Optimization: Make sites formatted and searchable from these smaller browsing platforms, as well as optimized for mobile search, easy to load, and easy to navigate from the mobile screen. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  81. Investigate your sites mobile trend. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  82. Understand the actions mobile visitors are taking, including browsing, buying, and reading content. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  83. Understand how your visitors got to the site. Examples: search, Inbound marketing efforts, and Referring sites/apps. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  84. Identify the opportunity. Example: mobile site, mobile app for content, mobile app for purchasing, mobile advertising.) (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  85. Local Search Optimization: Make sure your business has its local profiles set up. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  86. Make sure your website is optimized for local search queries. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  87. QDF (Query deserves Freshness) Link Quality: Include publishing blog content and press releases around a hot topic. (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  88. Measure against Goals: Are you achieving goals? How to improve? (Veronica “Niki” Fielding)
  89. Measure against Goals: Pay attention to KPIS, including pages indexed, crawling errors & Webmaster Tools Reports, rankings relative to your own site over time, inbound links (quantity, quality, and longevity), keyword referrals from search, link traffic, social media citations and traffic, goal pages and conversions. (Lee Odden)
  90. Prioritize Goals for Web Analytics. Lead generation: Registration pages, inquiries, new contacts. Build awareness: % new visitors, unique visitors, engagement. Provide content: Top content reports, exit pages, downloads. E-commerce: Checkout process, popular products, order value. Support: Return visitors, internal search, frequency of visit. Community: Active accounts, engagement, conversation rate. Branding: Brand perception lift. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  91. Track Site Goals in Google Analytics: Specify end goal and prior actions. Assign a value to each action. Begin tracking non paid contribution. (Chris Warwick, Hans Keil, Steve Viglion)
  92. Site Re-Design Tip: Consider keeping the same file naming structure. (Lee Odden)
  93. 301 redirect all old or changed URLS. (Lee Odden)
  94. Create custom 404 error pages. (Lee Odden) Site Re-Design Tip: Look for broken links. (Lee Odden)
  95. Create a HTML site map. (Lee Odden)
  96. Create an XML site map. (Lee Odden)
  97. Maintain consistency with optimized content. (Lee Odden)
  98. Update inbound links. (Lee Odden)
  99. Tell your SEO. (Lee Odden)
  100. Next Step: Update your optimized content strategy. (Jiyan Wei)
  101. Next step: Leverage digital assets. (Jiyan Wei)
  102. Net step: Leverage all content.(Jiyan Wei)
  103. Next step: Promotion is ongoing. (Jiyan Wei)
  104. Next step: Develop channels of distribution and social links. (Jiyan Wei)
  105. Next step: Leverage web and social media analytics. (Jiyan Wei)
Photo Credit, p_x_g’s photostream
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