WebProNews talked to a lot of interesting people at Search Engine Strategies in New York this week, and one theme that ran through more than one of these conversations was the relationship between user attention and usability and how this relates to search marketing.
Note: There is plenty more useful information in the videos embedded in this article than the points I have referenced. I suggest watching the interviews in their entirety for some helpful advice.
Chris Boggs of Rosetta talked about digital asset optimization, or optimization of non-text content within web pages, and how they can affect rankings (things like video, images, rich internet apps, Flash, etc.).
"It really becomes a matter of resource allocation," says Boggs. "We've found, especially within specific verticals such as consumer product and retail, or healthcare, there's closer needs that align to the development of such content, whether it's a video that explains how to replace a printer cartridge, or what the bumps are on your five-year-old son's arms."
"There's a lot of reasons that people may look to the Internet and do a type of search that lends itself better to a video result or an image result, or even an interactive application," he adds.
This is essentially why the search engines now deliver blended (or Universal) search results. Marketers should take into heavy consideration, that in addition to the old-fashioned SEO for organic results, that Universal Search not only takes up a good deal of that SERP real estate, but commands user attention. Google has released eye-tracking research efforts on this in the past. What captures a user's attention on their screen can play a large part in whether or not they click through to a search engine result.
In another conversation at SES, Shari Thurow of Omni Marketing Interactive talked about recent eye-tracking research, which she says, "endorses universal search". This is why you must consider the elements of blended SERPs that are relevant to your content.
WebProNews also discussed eye-tracking with Dr. Susan Weinschenk (aka The Brain Lady), who talked about research from a more biological standpoint:
The information obtained from eye-tracking research means more to marketers and business than simply how you may attract the attention of search engine users. It should also be taken into consideration within your own site (and landing page) design. Google's own research was basically aimed at enhancing the usability of Google. While Google's usability is ultimately important to how searchers may find your content from Google, your own site's usability is even more important to you.
Ultimately, your goal is to get traffic to your site, and get the conversion. In fact, Tim Ash of SiteTuners.com even started a whole conference based upon this principle. "You really need to consider the efficiency of your landing page first, regardless of how you get traffic there," he tells WebProNews.
While user attention (as highlighted by eye-tracking research) may play a significant role in that efficiency, it is not the only element. As Shari Thurow touched on in her interview above, architecture is also a key. Long time usability expert Kim Krause Berg talked about this more with us as well.
"What happens is, first they design the website, they achieve search engine results and rank, then when the conversions take a nosedive, they come back and they say, 'I need some help with my usability. Let's improve the user experience...'", she says. "So the next thing we start to look at is the foundation of the website. We find that there's a lot of problems in the navigation..."
Search engine rankings don't mean much if the traffic doesn't convert. Users must be delivered an ideal experience once they click through to the website. This is why Google is talking about taking site performance (or speed) into consideration as a ranking factor.
It's about giving users the best experience possible. If that experience is not there, customers will be less likely to convert anyway.