Four ways user data can inspire Google-relevant redesigns
It’s not just SEO hype — search is becoming more data-driven, and metrics like goal conversions and user engagement are more important than ever.
All signs point to a shift in how we use search engines to navigate the internet. Google’s Knowledge Graph, Knowledge Vault, and Accelerated Mobile Pages projects, for example, are clearly designed to provide snippets of data to mobile users. This is significant, as Google’s continued existence relies on its dominance of the content search market, with nearly 68 percent of users using it.
Trying to outsmart Google has always been a short-term play. Google’s evolving algorithms and investments in machine learning and artificial intelligence provides top advertising revenue, and it’s not ceding its own position at the top anytime soon. The focus of search may evolve, but the long-term strategy of using data to drive authentic content into a usable design is still as valid as ever.
A match made in marketing heaven
I’m often asked whether SEO and design are at odds with each other, and the answer is a resounding no.
Talented designers can deliver exceptional user experiences within the constraints of data-driven marketing. Just look at how Google successfully transformed itself from a data-focused business into a leader in web typography and user experience innovation.
Your company can learn from Google’s success. Here are four strategies for using data analytics to drive your web page designs and redesigns and keep up with the pace of search engine changes.
Review existing analytics prior to a redesign
Every redesign should start with a thorough review of your site’s top-level analytics. This data provides a wealth of information about where visitors come from, what content interests them, how long they spend with it, and where they go after.
However, don’t mistake low content engagement numbers for clear indicators of what’s deficient with the old website. Often these statistics are the result of the very problems that your redesign intends to solve: invalid or outdated site architecture, unclear content hierarchy, poor website navigation, or antiquated search. These and other design flaws may actually be responsible for content underperforming in search engines.
Review In-Page Analytics and, if resources allow, leverage tools like Crazy Egg and Clicktale for detailed heat maps to determine what areas of key pages like the homepage most users are accessing. If your budget allows, consider a formal usability test to uncover key areas of user confusion or frustration.
These tools help identify roadblocks in the current user experience and highlight exactly what drives visitors to certain content. The data they provide can tease out common issues like poor SEO, slow UX, and lack of mobile optimization while getting to the heart of what visitors like about the old design.
Boost conversions with strategically placed CTAs
Some marketers enjoy the luxury of a clear conversion goal where buyers visit the site, perform some actions, and check out with a purchase. This clear goal for visitor interactions allows monetary values to be assigned throughout the buying process and influences the development of financial models to support further investments in marketing, advertising, and tech.
Many (especially B2B services) marketers, though, have a harder time demonstrating ROI. The buying path is longer and more complex, and 70 percent of small business B2B sites lack clear website conversion. Unless you embed measurable calls to action throughout your website and tie those results back to actual purchases of service engagements, it will be hard to justify your investments.
These goals should be identified upfront for a redesign and considered as the website design evolves post-launch to optimize the presentation of CTAs in future iterations. Every email sign-up, subscription, information request, and gated content download should be recorded to build your customer data record and track your ROI.
Know which features Google can’t read
For higher quality analysis, view your website from as many perspectives as possible, including Google’s. Its Search Console includes a “Fetch as Google” feature to ensure that its web crawler can read and parse your content. You can also pick up some interesting design tips this way, such as how search engine web crawlers often can’t mimic user behavior with infinite scroll to display content visible to users and so can’t read it either, unless specific steps are taken by your developer.
Consequently, many features used in popular websites like BuzzFeed and Twitter — click-to-expand, for example — may hide (or diminish the value of) valuable content from Google. While you may not wish to index certain content on Google, that’s more the exception than the rule. In general, you never want to limit your audience’s access to finding your content, and a lack of indexing could be hurting its ranking.
Monitor analytics post-redesign and continuously thereafter
When a website is new, it’s hard not to look at the analytics, but too many organizations let it fall by the wayside post-launch. While this could be due to a lack of resources, it takes constant vigilance to monitor key performance indicators for website analytics and refine content and design to optimize these. Luckily, Google provides some amazing free tools to do it, such as Google Analytics Assistant, which provides automated insights.
Google Data Studio can also create fairly sophisticated data visualizations using your analytics, which is valuable in tracking KPIs. More granular tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and PageSpeed Insights are equally valuable for continuous website optimization and to ensure efficiency and speed for both mobile and desktop users when any changes are made or content is added.
Beyond the honeymoon phase
Google has always worked hard to ensure all websites focus on the user, and the shift to data-driven mobile search is now being fueled by how people access and search the web. In this environment, website analytics hold the key to staying both compliant and competitive. But to avoid inadvertently gutting what is working, you have to know what you’re looking for.
A client of ours once launched a successful website featuring clearly articulated, well-thought-out client testimonials, for example, and everyone was happy. Over time, though, that content was diluted with rote news stories and industry announcements. Short, snappy teaser content and bright, colorful photography gave way to lackluster paragraphs and ineffective visuals. Not surprisingly, visitor engagement dipped.
Refocusing on analytics led to some key insights into what content should be visible at all times and what could be subordinated to tabbed content or other pages. With a detailed analysis of and ongoing tweaks to modular content, we turned the company’s site around. The initial investment was disruptive, but the redesign soon restored the earlier levels of engagement the site had enjoyed.
Are you ready to transform your organization’s website design using analytics?
Jaron Rubenstein is founder and president of Rubenstein Technology Group, an enterprise software firm that harnesses technology and deep sector expertise to transform leading law and professional services firms.
Reprinted with permission from the June 1, 2017 edition of MarketingTech.