The Right Balance Between Optimization & People

Businesses, bloggers, and independent creatives share a common frustration when it comes to their online presence. Keeping visible in a sea of websites is no easy task. With billions of active websites competing to attract the attention of online visitors, professionals must be strategic to stand out from the crowd of HTML code. That’s the core purpose of digital optimization; it is designed to boost brand awareness and visibility online. 

There’s only one problem with digital optimization: Its many, and constantly evolving rules. As long as Google remains the preferred search engine, it will continue to dictate the optimization rules via its algorithm. The latest update, the May 2020 Core Update, has already brought new volatility in the search results. What does this mean? A website that ranked close to the top in SERPs could have dropped a significant number of ranks, losing crucial traffic in the process. Following algorithm updates and changes in ranking factors can make it hard to design an effective digital strategy to boost your visibility. 

More importantly, a lot of businesses focus on developing content specifically to meet the needs of search engines. As a result, while they may get hold of the ranking trends before it affects their results, many fail to appeal to their audience. Content created for search engines can sound unappealing and artificial, which means it fails to drive traffic despite meeting ranking factors. The most significant challenge when it comes to digital presence is to hit the right balance between optimized content and content created by people for people. Ultimately, your website should appeal to people rather than computers, yet it needs to pass the IT tests before reaching out to its real audience. It’s a tricky balancing act, and it’s one that requires an eye for SERP components and for human needs at the same time. These are complementary and not mutually exclusive factors of success. 

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You need a pro

Regardless of who your audience is, you can’t afford to ignore the ranking factors set by the Google algorithm. With an average net market share of over 73% in 2020, Google remains the market leader and continues to set the ranking rules for the near future. As such, businesses need to know how to keep updated about the latest ranking changes to avoid losing their traffic share. That’s precisely what SEO agencies provide. An SEO expert who understands how to use natural ranking factors such as linked and theme-based keywords to optimize your presence can make a huge difference. More importantly, a marketing agency can also help to identify goals behind your SERP ranks. Being number 1 for the sake of it is not a strategic objective. However, improving your visibility online to attract the right audience can lead to measurable improvements, such as an increase in conversions and online revenues. Professional marketers are trained in designing optimization strategies that prioritize your audience – and hence boost conversions. 

Help people find you

Does being visible on Google SERPs mean that you can attract more customers? In theory, visibility can drive conversions. However, visibility requires one crucial step, namely audience awareness. If your audience doesn’t realize that there could be a solution for their problems or that they have a problem, they will not search for you, let alone find you. Online ads, on the other hand, could bridge the gap. Online advertising can come in various forms, including Social Media advertising, Pay Per Click (PPC), Display Advertising, Remarketing, Audience Targeting, etc. PPC ads are some of the most popular for businesses that are new to using Google AdWords. However, they are not always the most effective to increase awareness of a problem. Audience targeting on professional networks such as LinkedIn or via Display and Sponsored content can help shift minds. 

Screen readers are not HTML optimization

Are you optimizing for screen readers? Of course, you say. Your HTML code is clear and clean, and perfectly optimized for search engines. Great news! But screen readers are NO search engines. A screen reader exists to give people with visual impairment access to your website. It would be foolish to believe that because crawlers can index and understand your content, the same rule would apply to screen readers. Writing for screen readers could help optimize your online presence, but it isn’t the purpose of the exercise. When you design screen reader friendly content, you write for people who can’t experience your website any other way. Every image needs a contextual and meaningful alt text. It’s not just a matter of inserting as many keywords as you can. Write as you would describe the images to someone who can’t see them. Declaring the page language will also make a difference: Screen readers read aloud! 

Everybody uses popups… but you shouldn’t

Nowadays, most websites use popups. The window appears on top of the content to engage with the readers. As a result, businesses can use the intrusion to boost conversions and capture new data. BitNinja, for instance, claims to have increased leads by over 160% using popup strategies. McDonald’s uses popups to direct web visitors to their closest restaurant by asking for their location. Kellogg’s promotes its loyalty scheme with a popup. Colgate uses popups to increase newsletter signups. In other words, popups work for now. However, customers are becoming digitally-savvy. More and more web users complain about how distracting and disrupting the small window can be to their website experience. As users become tired of popups, they will likely develop harmful responses: Providing fake email addresses, leaving the site, etc. Ultimately, ask yourself one crucial question: Will an intrusive popup truly convince tomorrow’s visitors to buy from my brand? Optimizing your website for a better digital presence also means reducing frustrating methods that irritate visitors. 

Collecting data on the go is overrated

Gated content strategies are popular, especially with brands that want to capture early leads. However, gated content can backfire, as users are reluctant to share personal information. For inbound marketing to be effective, you need to draw a line and give enough of your content for free without asking for an email address. User-savviness is creating unhelpful responses, from fake emails to high bounce rates. In a world where a business needs to optimize their online presence to reach out to their audience, it becomes evident that data collection is an obstacle more than a goal. The argument for users is that they can find similar content elsewhere for free. Many visitors are unhappy to share data because they consider that optimized content should be ready for consumption. 

What Optimization for People Also Means:

Reach out to your audience

Search engines may index your website, but it is only going to be read by people. Consequently, no optimization strategy is useful if it only targets your visibility. Being visible doesn’t mean your content is going to be read. Your audience still holds the key to the brand profile online. As such, the priority of every online optimization strategy is to figure out what people want to see. Monitoring engagement rates and competitors’ activities can offer some valuable clues. Creating the right content is about meeting people’s needs and listening to their complaints. The comments below blog posts or an online survey can prove helpful in gathering information. There is no point in developing a killer content marketing strategy for your blog if your audience prefers video content. Great content for people will always find its way to your audience via word of mouth and resharing. 

Optimize for best use in priority

Where do you start optimizing your website? The answer: Put people’s needs first. Ranking factors such as differentiating your redirect links and creating a sitemap for search engines are necessary elements. But they don’t help people access and enjoy your site. Instead, focus on removing obstacles that could tarnish their visits and create accessibility issues. Keeping your page load time as low as possible will make sure nobody is stuck in a waiting loop. Other essential optimization changes that put the users’ best interest first are the following: 

  • Mobile responsiveness, as too many mobile-friendly websites, continue to feel clunky and unfriendly on smartphones and tablets. 
  • Clear, structured, and simple navigation because nobody wants to get confused during their visit. 
  • A domain name that is memorable for users who know your brand’s name but can’t remember the website. 
  • As mentioned earlier, writing your content with screen readers in mind will make a difference. 
  • Etc. 

Keep your content accessible

More users are familiar with two HTTP status codes: 404 for broken links, and 500 for server issues. But there are many more HTTP statuses that can affect the way they discover your content. Keeping content accessible and user-friendly begins by clearing unnecessarily damaging status codes. Codes 401 for unauthorized clients and 403 for forbidden access can be especially frustrating when your content appears to be indexed and available to search engines, but not to people. Content that should be confidential or gated for safety reasons should remain hidden for search engines to avoid frustration. 

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Optimizing your website to boost brand visibility and awareness online is a tricky exercise that combines strategic SEO and digital improvements know-how and meets your audience’s expectations. Failing to remember to put people first when you create and publish content can only backfire against your brand and its online presence.