By Stephen Pavlovich, chief executive of Conversion Factory
When Google was just a few years old, they wrote an article “Ten things we know to be true”. The first item on the list is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”
With the launch of the Hummingbird algorithm in September 2013, they’ve shown their commitment to this principle. Focusing on the user is more important than ever.
The Hummingbird algorithm developed Google’s ability to understand conversational or semantic search. At its simplest, the user doesn’t need to adapt their queries for the search engine - Google instead focuses on the intent behind the query.
Search Engine Land gives a quick example: “A search for “acid reflux prescription” used to list a lot of drugs ... which might not be necessarily be the best way to treat the disease. Now, Google says results have information about treatment in general, including whether you even need drugs.”
That means that SEOs no longer focus on sets of individual keywords - instead, they’re moving towards persona analysis, where we understand the needs of the user first, then deliver the best possible experience to them. And that aligns their goals with those of conversion optimisers.
This is where online marketing has been heading for years: instead of trying to “game” users or search engines, the focus should be on delivering the best experience for users. It’s logical that Google would want to rank websites with a better user experience higher than those with mediocre experiences.
And when we do this, we win twice over: not only do we get more traffic, we convert more of it into sales. That means measuring and improving conversion rates is fundamental to a website’s success. Websites that embrace conversion optimisation will expand their market share, while those that delay will lose it.
With Hummingbird now more than six months old, we’re seeing more and more websites follow Google's commitment to understanding user intent and behaviour. It’s likely that this will become more of a ranking signal in the future: websites that are relevant and offer the user the best experience will be ranked first.
We already know that Google has made a lot of progress with its ability to render and understand a web page from a user's point of view: it is no longer a search engine that understands only basic HTML.
Webmasters are more free than they were in the past to implement design and usability elements that would have previously confused search engine crawlers. Google is developing the ability to parse AJAX and is making progress with other development and design features.
Google still has a way to go, but its progress shows a clear intent to allow web designers and optimisers the ability to do what is best for a user, without negative consequences for websites' search engine visibility.
And that means websites that focus absolutely on improving user experience will not only gain more customers - they'll capture more traffic too.