For the first DeepCrawl webinar of 2020, we were very excited to welcome Ammar Badr, Senior SEO Manager at RBBI. Joining our host, DeepCrawl’s CAB Chairman, Jon Myers, Ammar explored how implementing a user-first approach to their SEO campaigns has helped his team at RBBI deliver positive results for a number of their clients. He also shared the process behind building an SEO user testing approach, and why focusing on user-first optimisations are important for success.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Ammar for his great presentation and for taking the time to share his knowledge and experience with us, as well as to Jon for hosting and all those who attended.
You can watch the full recording here:
And review the slides here:
Why do we need to follow a user-centered approach?
SEO has changed over the years, it is no longer just focusing on link building, technical optimisations and keyword stuffing. This shift has seen the focus move towards the quality of the website and user experience.
This is clear from the fact that Google actively encourages us to put users first, all of their recent algorithm updates have focused on rewarding sites with higher quality content and those that provide a positive user experience.
Google has also created several UX playbooks, which are being used by SEOs to build better campaigns that are focused more on users. Together with this, they also publish case studies around user experience on their site, Think With Google, which provide inspiration for building better SEO campaigns. Google are investing a lot of time and money in educating SEOs and developers about the importance of user experience, so it is clear we need to focus on this too.
Google are also focused on their own user experience. Their aim is to keep users happy, display the most relevant results for them and make sure they continue to use Google for future searches. They also want to be more than just a search engine, they want users to spend time on the search results and even convert from there.
This is clear by all of the rich results they are displaying, such as knowledge graphs, Google travel and schema markup. All of this is Google making sure they build the best user experience possible on Google itself, and this directly impacts our work as SEOs.
How can UX help us to improve our SEO performance?
Ammar explained the UX process is typically completed in 4 steps;
Working together with their in-house UX team, Ammar and his team at RBBI were able to get involved in each step and realise how SEO is important for each. In this webinar, Ammar focused on the key research and user testing elements of the process.
There are a number of user testing methodologies, such as interviews, focus groups and surveys, and RBBI focused a lot of their work around the user interview methodology.
How it started
RBBI’s whole SEO and UX process started after they were working on a rebrand of a website for one of their clients. Typically, when their UX team develops new wireframes, they will validate these through user testing performed within their in-house lab, which enables them to make decisions from real data and user experience.
The SEO team were also working with this client to generate more traffic for their site. Therefore, through discussions with both teams, they started to gather a better understanding into how users search for the website.
Asking the basic questions
The first step was to ask real users basic questions around their search behaviour. This included asking questions which covered how they make decisions, how they usually perform research and what information they typically look for before making a decision.
Following this, and using their eye tracking tool, the team was also able to review heatmaps of a user’s behaviour on Google search result pages. From these heatmaps, they were able to see where users are mainly focusing and which elements are most relevant for them.
The value of user-focused optimisations
From this research they were able to discover valuable insights into what users search for, some of which hadn’t even been considered before, as there was no keyword search data for these topics.
This enabled Ammar and his team to make small changes to on-page elements such as the meta titles and descriptions of some of the key pages. They then rolled these optimisations out and used A/B testing to discover key results.
After just 2 months of these user-focused changes being live, they were able to increase the click-through rate by 32%. And after one year of implementing these small optimisations, the site received a 31% increase in overall organic traffic year-on-year.
Building an SEO user testing process
Due to the valuable results they had been able to generate with these small changes, the SEO team worked together with the research team to build a user testing process, specifically for SEO purposes. This included performing a full, innovative user research session for one of their clients. Ammar detailed each of the steps they undertook to successfully complete this.
The first step was to build a screener. This is essentially a document which helps to identify the type of users of the website in question that will be necessary for the interviews. It is important to ensure you recruit the most appropriate users to answer the questions and this is achieved through several steps:
- Utilise GA demographic reports to understand your current users, including insights such as languages, devices, nationality, age groups, etc
- Use market segmentation research already collected by the client (if available)
- Link these insights with the business objectives and target audience. This enables you to understand if new targeting is necessary
- Recruit between 5 – 8 participants to conduct user interviews with
The second step is the protocol, which is comprised of the questions that you are going to ask the selected participants. The best way to build this protocol is by:
- Listing all of the questions that you are aiming to get answers for
- Grouping the questions appropriately and putting them into a scenario or story
- Making sure your questions are not direct and do not lead or influence the users to giving specific answers
- Adding the answers into an Excel document and developing a note-taking sheet in order to easily collect the insights
Real scenario questions
Ammar also shared some of the questions they have asked participants, based on a real life scenario, these included:
- What would you do when looking for a specific result? (As an interviewer, you would consider both where the user looks as well as the actual keywords used)
- Can you tell me why you wrote these words?
- Can you tell me why you chose this specific link?
These questions will provide some insights into how you can optimise your site based on a real user’s needs.
Testing day checklist
Before performing the user tests, there are a couple of key things which need to be considered and implemented. These include:
- Ensuring both the interviewer and note taker understand the purpose of the questions and what you need to get out of the users
- Make sure the interviewer practices asking the questions and explaining the scenarios. This helps the interviews to feel more natural and generate more valuable insights
- Make sure your users feel at ease throughout the whole process. Start with some ice breaker questions unrelated to the topic of the interview
Build insights and action points
Once the user testing interviews have been completed, the next step is to review the insights and create action points from these.
Start by going through the answers generated on the note-taking sheet and within the recordings to identify trends. You can then translate those trends into actions and put together an implementation plan.
When creating the implementation plan, always start with the critical insights that will provide the highest impact, then move on to the nice-to-haves. After you have this plan, you can work with your client to implement the changes you have identified as valuable.
From their full day of SEO user testing, RBBI were able to undertake a number of valuable actions, some examples of these include:
- Generating new optimisation ideas for a website which they had previously been working on for 2 years
- Improving several on-page elements and the overall content structure of the site
- Creating a new content strategy together with a full content expansion plan. This research also helped them to build a case for their client to add new content to the site
- Their client was also very happy with the innovative approach and the results that were achieved
- Keep your users at the heart of your work by focusing on them from the beginning. This helps to make your SEO efforts even stronger and protects your site from any Google updates, while also meeting client expectations.
- Optimising for users will help you to keep one step ahead of your competitors, as you will build trust and engagement through this approach.
- SEO should be more human focused than just technical optimisations, link building and keyword stuffing.
Ammar concluded the webinar with the sentiment of focusing on search experience optimisation rather than just search engine optimisation. Ensuring you are providing users with the best experience possible is very valuable for improving SEO results, as well as the overall user experience.
Hear more from Ammar in our upcoming Q&A post
The audience asked so many brilliant questions during the webinar and we have collated all of these for Ammar to answer in an upcoming Q&A post which will be available soon on the DeepCrawl blog.
Get started with DeepCrawl
If you’re interested in learning about how DeepCrawl can help you to identify technical issues on your site which are impacting both search engines and users, while also assisting with your optimisation efforts, why not get started with a DeepCrawl account today.
Don’t miss our next webinar with Jill Quick
Our next webinar will be taking place on Wednesday 25th March at 4PM GMT/12PM EST with Jill Quick, Co-founder at The Coloring In Department. She will be exploring how we can use Google Analytics to measure the effectiveness of SEO at every stage of the user journey, as well as common GA issues which could be costing you dearly. You can view the webinar recap here.