4 Shifts in Online Searcher Behaviour That Most SEO’s Missed


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SEO has stopped being about high-volume fat terms with high click-throughs. It’s 2014 and searcher behaviour has changed for good.

Searchers are better than ever at getting what they want. Let’s cover four big search behaviour trends that you have to optimise for to stay competitive.

  1. Queries are more self-referential. It’s now common for searchers to type out entire questions, with the expectation that search engines will understand their intent and deliver a relevant result.
  2. Queries are longer and more descriptive. Fueled by the sheer amount of content production today, searchers can be very explicit about what they want, what the product looks like, how much the service costs, and so on. Searchers know what the statistics suggest: longer queries yield more relevant results (resulting in higher click-through percentage)
  3. Queries are more time-sensitive. Along with more content, there’s greater attention to getting more relevant content. Searchers know that the right information may change over time. Information from a year ago may be obsolete. And searchers are taking this into account.
  4. Queries are more crowd-conscious. You may also call it lazy. Searchers want to save themselves time by finding the best, cheapest, easiest, highest quality everything. Searchers are putting less effort into doing their own research and trusting 3rd parties more than ever.

So what do these macro trends mean for your micro-level approach to optimisation?

Self-Referential Queries

Increasingly, searchers are typing out entire questions instead of chunks of keywords to get what they want. Compare search trends for “oil change instructions” and “how do I change my oil?”

Google Webmaster Tools analysis graph

Google wants to match up searcher intent with content based on query semantics. Imagine someone searches for “How do I change my oil?” Now imagine two pages of content, one with each title?

  1. “The Ultimate Guide to Oil Changes”
  2. “How Do I Change My Oil?”

According to Google, #2 is more relevant and optimised for the query, so it will rank better, even if it’s a less natural page title. A page title that exactly matches the query will usually be marked highly relevant.

  • Takeaway: be open to producing content with titles you might find on a forum, Q&A website, or Frequently Asked Questions page, even if they’re phrased in 1st person and sound less creative/more practical.

Longer, More Descriptive Queries

Consumers are spoiled today. They know that 9 times out of 10, if they can imagine a product, it probably exists, and if it exists, they can search, find, and buy it online. The consumer wants a lime green cashmere sweater of a particular size? There’s nothing stopping them from searching for “medium lime green cashmere sweater.” Longer queries are on the rise.

Yet, site owners are still using generic keywords in their content, resulting in less qualified traffic, higher bounce rates, and a lack of differentiation. Your ecommerce pages may have sizing drop-downs or color-drop-downs, but don’t forget to include those kinds of descriptors within paragraph content and titles. Searchers are being more specific. You need to too.

  • Takeaway: make sure to optimise your content with any words that may provide even more description to the page. This includes colors, sizing, locations, and anything else that provides added detail.

Time-Sensitive Queries

Searchers want up-to-date information.

In some cases, a post from last year may have the same information as this year. But searchers use dates as relevancy indicators and may completely disregard good information for being too old. As a result, you can get higher click-throughs and engagement by keeping content current with the present year.

Specifically, searchers frequently type a query and add the year to the end of it in order to find more relevant posts. They would rather risk visiting a new page that may be poor quality than click on an old page that may contain better information. This happens because Google keeps old (and often irrelevant) posts ranking high for terms that don’t include a year. If people used to search for “best blenders,” they’re increasingly searching for “best blenders 2013.” You need to respond accordingly.

Google Webmaster Tools analysis graph showing volumes for best blenders 2010 and best blenders 2011

  • Takeaway: if information in your content is likely to change, include the current year in your post title and content as a relevancy signal. Update old content with new year numbers if the content is still relevant or gets search traffic.

Crowd-Conscious Queries

Searchers trust content producers to do a lot of the legwork for them. And people are busier than ever, which means less time to collect a lot of information and research all of the alternatives. Searchers want to jump right to the one page that will solve their problem perfectly. As a result, they use superlatives like never before.

Superlatives are adjectives that represent an end point. The best. Fastest. Biggest. Smallest. Loudest. Searchers are using these words because they want to trust the judgment of others and are typically very close to making a decision. Examples: best cards, best shoes, best headphones.

Google Webmaster Tools analysis graph showing best shoes vs best cars vs best headphones

Others use fewer superlatives, but still want their options narrowed down to a set of good options, using words like good, great, cool, unique, fun. People searching this way want a limited set where they can make up their own minds and use some personal taste. Example: good Bluetooth speakers.

  • Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to include superlatives and narrowing adjectives in your content and titles. It builds trust with searchers by showing them that you’ve taken some of the work out of their decision making.

In the best case scenario, you can find ways to leverage multiple trends in one go. There are frequent opportunities to use full questions, descriptive adjectives, dates, and superlatives to help searchers and increase your chances of converting them.

Image credit

 

Chris Redshaw & the Reef Team Head of Digital / Co-Founder

Here at Reef, I help our clients navigate, use, measure and optimise the huge range of online marketing options available to them.

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