The User Journey: Be Prepared for Search

Here’s how it looks at my place right now.

We lost our electricity for three days. Since I work entirely online, I couldn’t get any work done for that whole time. While the sun was out, I did some filing, but essentially I had three days off.

It would have been so much better to have had three days off without being huddled by the fire reading with a flashlight.

Oh, there were some nice candlelight Scrabble games and we had guitar music, along with the creepy sound of trees breaking and falling.

And it did give me the chance to read those stacks of magazines I’ve had piling up, and I saw an excellent reminder in the snazzy pages of Practical Web Design. There was a discussion of the ways that people search: broadly, for general information; then narrowly, for further information on points they’ve come up with during the first search; and finally, with a specific transaction in mind.

PWD was making the point that we may only see the traffic arriving at our websites through the transactional searches. Google Analytics doesn’t show that they initially found us during informational searches and only then narrowed in.

In fact, if you’ve done a good job with your content, it’s likely that your visitors will have seen you on the search enigne results page for a query or two before they click — many people now get as much information as they can from Google before settling on a website to visit. So, if you sell accounting software, your visitors may have noticed your website as an offering for a search for “accounting software” and “integrated accounting software” and “good choices for accounting” before they finally settle in and search for you by name.

I can actually see a bit of this at my educational blog. The tracking I have there shows the last page visitors were on before reaching me. Often, they’ve been to a set of things like “global warming activities” and “global warming lesson plans” and “climate change lessons.” When they actually click through repeatedly from the different pages, I can see it. When they’ve merely seen my article a number of times before deciding to read it, of course, I don’t know that.

The message is that we need to be present at all the points of the search. Your website’s content should consider not only the specific terms your clients use to find you, but the more general kinds of information they may be searching for before that. We can’t measure the effects of that presence, but logically we can understand its importance.

The good news is that you can accomplish this by providing useful information at your website. In fact, so many search techniques boil down to having useful information at your website that this should continue to be your highest priority.

However, there is another takeaway here, it seems to me. Your meta description, your title, and the headings of your website copy are very likely to be the things those visitors see on the search engine results page. So I think you might want to pay particular attention to those items when you’re polishing up the useful content for your page.

It’s suprising how often those very pieces of content are left for the designer or developer to write, rather than being carefully written along with the main content.

I’m very thankful to have electricity once more. Our experience was made easier by our having candles and flashlights and warm clothing. Is it too much of a stretch to think of our websites in the same way? We need to be prepared for all the points of the user’s journey at which we would like to be found.






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