Influencing User Behaviour through Search Engine Optimisation Techniques
Author: Dejan Petrovic
Published on: 2 February 2011
1 – Introduction
“You’ll sometimes want to attract robots, or lace your website with spider bait.” (Lieb, 2009)
Grappone and Couzin (2011) define search engine optimisation (SEO) as a diverse set of activities one can perform to increase the number of desirable visitors to visit your website via search engines. Just as all people who open up a shop or any business are interested in attracting clients above all else, all developers of websites, be it personal or business websites are interested most in attracting visitors to their site. Most businesses and web developers have come to understand that the best way to attract customers it to know how consumers behave and find ways to influence them. An important aspect of online user behaviour that researchers have noted is how consumers search for content online. 85% of consumers, according to Vertexera, go to the most common search engines (Google, Yahoo and Ask!) to look for vendors or suppliers of a good or service. The user then usually looks for the results given by the search engine, with 73% of consumers never going beyond the first page of the results given by the search engine, with many of these only looking at the top half of the search engine webpage (Petrovic, 2010). The main purpose for Search Engine Optimisation is to make sure a website’s product or information appears as high as possible when a search is performed on a search engine using as many keywords as possible. The main aim of this paper, therefore, is to establish the styles and benefits of using SEO to positively influence user behaviour.
1.1 – Search engines
Before launching into how user behaviour is influenced by SEO, it is important to first understand how search engines work. There are two types of search engines: crawler-based and human-powered search engines. Crawler-based search engines sends ‘crawlers’ to search through websites. Crawlers, at times called spiders or robots, are programs or automated script that scuttle through websites finding and copying text in them to create a vast index in a process known as ‘spidering’ (Lieb, 2009). This index is essentially a database from which a search engine will use to create results as fast as possible. Google uses this technique to create its search engine results. Human-powered search engines, on the other hand, require a short description that will be placed on the search engine directory. This description is usually written either by the company running the website or by reviewers. The most famous directory that exits as such is LookSmart. Some hybrid search engines such as Yahoo and MSN provide both crawler-based and human-powered results.
1.2 – Online Consumer Behaviour
It is also important to understand online consumer benefit as it will act as a guiding theme throughout this research paper. A study conducted by Cotte, Chowdhury, Ratenshwar & Ricci in 2006 revealed that among the visitors of websites, there are four distinct intention and motivation categories.
Petrovic’s research shows how there are three main steps that users who go online take when looking for information about a brand online.
1.2.1 – Step 1: Initial search
Consumers’ first search for certain keywords associated with a product indicated that a significant percentage looked for product brands. It is by search for the available brands of certain products that consumers start looking for a product. This search is always done online starting with the most common search engines like Google, Yahoo and Ask!
1.2.2 – Step 2: Finding the product
After successfully search for the brand, the consumers then sift through the available search results, with the highest percentage of potential customers visiting the top results of the search results. Only 7% of the customers bother to ever to beyond the third page of the search results.
1.2.3 – Step 3: Practical testing
Once online users click a website of interest to access it, they can then use the available data in the website to find the necessary information they need about a product.
However, there is an issue that Petrovic observes among online consumers: patience. Most online users are increasingly becoming less patient in waiting for a webpage to load. According to his research, most users are only willing to wait 5 seconds for the webpage to load. The following pie chart shows how long consumers are willing to wait for web pages to load.
Figure 1: Pie chart showing percentages of how long people are willing to wait for web pages to load.
2 – Benefits
2.1 – Branding
One way of attracting customers and therefore optimising the number of clients that visit a website is building a strong online brand. Rob Frankel, described as the top branding expert on the planet, describes branding as not about getting your prospect to choose you over your competition; but about getting your prospect to see you as the only solution (Gerhart, 2002). A high ranking in a search engine means there is a higher chance that clients get to see the product a company is selling even if they do not buy it. In fact, twice as many consumers are likely to recognise a business ranked in the top 3 of a search engine result than those appearing in prominent banner space (Vertexera Inc.). Not only is online marketing a lot less expensive than offline marketing, it also exposes the product a company is selling to a huge market.
By using techniques like predictive heatmaps and keyword manipulation, a brand is bound to appear at the top of the search engine results. The main benefits of this are:
- When a brand appears near the top of search engine results, more people are bound to see it and therefore build an association between the brand and certain needs. For example, if clients are looking places to buy ceramic cups online, the keywords they are likely to search are ‘cups’, ‘ceramic’ and possibly ‘home delivery’ or ‘cheapest’. By optimising their website to have these keywords captured by search engines and have their brand appear first on the search engine, companies will have internet users who search frequently for these products online know the following about their brand.
- The company has best ceramic cups in the market.
- These ceramic cups are most likely relatively well priced compared to other cups in the market.
- The company offers extra services like home delivery and any other service the company may have.
- Once clients are aware of these facts, they are most likely to click the company’s website when searching for this product and as a result are more likely to visit the website. It is important for websites to also improve the ease with which customers can navigate their websites as this improves the relationship customers will have with the company’s website. Having websites that are full of graphics and are therefore hard to navigate, or having websites that do not have an adequate number of inbound links would quickly discourage clients from ever visiting the website (King, 2008).
2.2 – Direct target
Another benefit of SEO is increased direct target traffic. By optimising a website by using certain keywords, the website targets certain customers only by ‘weeding out’ online users not interested in the product. A website selling sports shoes only, for example, will have keywords like ‘sport shoes’, therefore getting rid of untargeted clients like those looking for leather shoes, sandals, sneakers, loafers etc.
2.3 – High Return on Investment
SEO services are often provided by companies that help websites optimise their websites for business. Unlike using banner ads, research shows that SEO costs a lot less yet increase the number of clients almost exponentially (Enge, Spencer, Fishkin, & Stricchiola, 2009). Research done by Vertexera Inc. has shown that banner ads cost between $2,500 and $35,000 while SEO costs about $1,000. However, as discussed in the previous section on branding, clients are more likely to notice results of a company on a search engine than banner ads. A gastric bypass surgeon who optimised his website for search engines had the number of clients he generated from his website increase from 2-3 per week to 50-70.
2.4 – Long term visibility
Banner ads are usually placed on websites and online advertising spaces for a certain period of time, with that period paid for by the company. Once that time is done, the advertisement is pulled down unless the company pays more to have it kept up. This means therefore that if a company depletes its marketing budget, the ad will no longer be available for clients to see. On the other hand, if a company maintains good SEO practices and makes sure its website’s content remains relevant and up-to-date, the chances of having it appearing among the top 5 results for a search on any search engine could remain high for as long as possible.
3 – Combining usability and SEO
3.1 – Website usability
Usability refers to the way one uses or experiences a website (Clay & Esparza, 2009). A good website is supposed to be usable to a large part of the online population, with clear links and a well-done layout. The following are ways in which a website can be tweaked to improve its usability.
- Simple navigation system – the navigation system of a website has to be simple to navigate, with appropriate text links, consistent menus and a search box.
- Clear content – content of a website should be clear to read or even just scan. There is a reason accessing the internet is called ‘browsing’. Most internet users hardly spend time reading content of a website. Content should be kept minimal and colour contrast should be kept neutral to avoid tiring the visitors of the website easily.
- Support the brand – it is important to make the website about the brand, not the company/individual. A website is supposed to promote brand purchase intent since it is the purchase intent that is supposed to link the brand and the response (Jaffe, 2003).
- Provide client feedback channels – this is probably the most important step. Clients should be able to provide the company with feedback regarding the website since they are the ultimate deciders on the success of the site. It is important for clients to advise the company how they find the websites ability to aid with decision making, its shopping cart limitations and abilities and how it stimulates them to buy the product. Testing the site on real people before launching it could help improve these features of the website a great deal.
3.2 – Combining with SEO
Up until recently, most web developers and users never saw the link between search engine optimisation and usability. The goal of building any website is making sure it is simple to use for all users and it gets as much traffic as possible. Many scholars, however, argue about which is more important, improving usability or improving SEO. The truth is that a balance of both works best. In fact, if cleverly done, improving usability has the potential to go a long way in improving SEO. The first step is to find out what SEO and usability have in common then put them into balance. The key to creating a useful SEO is not just having keywords showing in your website but having keywords that are relevant to the content of the website.
The table below shows how improving website usability often improves the SEO of the website as well.
Researching to find out where clients are looking for the company.
Combines with keyword search.
Building a network of links coming from external web pages to increase the number of people that can find the company’s website
Gives search engines the perception that the website is an expert website therefore increasing link equity.
Improving the usability of the site.
Helps search engine spiders find keywords of the site easily.
Writing clear pages on what the site is offering
Helps search engines determine what the site is about
Uploading the site to fast reliable servers to provide good site performance to users
Improves the speed at which search engine spiders access the website (Quick, B. 2011).
4 – Conclusion
The aim of this paper was to determine how user behaviour online can be influenced by improving a website’s SEO. This paper targets companies who want to improve the number of products they are able to sell online by improving the ranking their websites receive on popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask!
The paper starts by explaining important themes upon which the paper would be constructed. It then goes to explain the benefits of SEO and finally how usability of a website can be combined with SEO to bring out a website that best benefits the business.
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