Search engines can be a very important customer acquisition channel for retailers. Consumers are searching for products every day, and they're use search engines to connect with retailers. To say organic search engine rankings are important for retailers is an understatement.
It's also important for retailers, and especially online pure-plays, to know the latest trends in organic search marketing, enabling them to stay ahead of the curve and optimize their sites accordingly.
Google is turning its entire search engine into an artificial intelligence (AI) machine. RankBrain, Google's AI program, allows the search engine to understand how users interact with it to deliver the best results for individual queries.
In addition to RankBrain, Google has been making changes over the past year to give its users the best results possible. This doesn't involve backlinks or keywords on a page; it involves user experience. Here's how Google is doing it.
Interstitials are pop-ups, which appear on a page once someone visits a website. Google wants to give its users the best experience when they link off to a site from the search engine, so if someone goes to a site and receives a full-page advertisement they cannot delete, it defeats Google’s purpose of providing the best information.
Google decided to crack down on these intrusive advertisements. If you give someone a poor experience with intrusive advertisements when they first visit your site, Google may drop your position in its organic search rankings.
Here are examples of OK-to-use interstitials:
Here are examples of interstitials that aren't recommended:
Make sure you're focusing on the user experience and not making it difficult to provide them the content they're looking for.
Google doesn’t want a user to click on a page in the search results and then leave the page seconds later. That indicates the information they found wasn’t what they wanted.
Google wants to give its users the best experience right away, not have them bounce from page to page. In fact, Google is so serious about this that bounce rates now affect organic search rankings. In the SEO industry, this can also be referred to as dwell time. Google puts a cookie in your browser when you search the site, and then it can see how you react within its search engine results pages. Based on your behavior, Google can affect the results that it shows to you and other searchers in the future.
Google realizes that the majority of users now search on mobile devices, and that this number is going to continue to grow rapidly. In fact, today, nearly 60 percent of searchers are using mobile devices. Based on mobile’s prevalence, Google decided to optimize for the channel. Google now ranks websites based on how they look to users on mobile devices. If the mobile version of a website is slow, not responsive and uses interstitials, Google won't give it as much authority as other pages. Google has also adopted a mobile-first index, meaning it indexes websites based on the mobile version of the website and not the desktop. To say mobile is important would be another major understatement.
Google bases its user experience factors not only on your websites, but also on how the websites perform inside the search results. If your meta information (i.e., the information that shows up in the search results) is poor, incomplete, has grammatical mistakes or other problems, you'll definitely suffer, as users will be much less likely to click on the listing.
Google wants brands to have accurate meta information optimized to entice clicks. If you do, Google will reward you for it. In today’s SEO world, clickthrough rate optimization for meta information is one of the more modern tactics, especially for retailers.
By using all of this data on “what a user really wants," Google also can leverage RankBrain for keyword assimilation. This means that Google can understand that when someone searches for “Women’s Heel,” “Women’s Pumps” is also relevant. This is called keyword assimilation, and it allows Google to infer what users really want based on past behavior and searches. This is really just the beginning for RankBrain and Google’s AI algorithm change.
As you can tell, Google is changing how online retailers acquire customers. Google requires not only SEO best practices, but also a focus on giving the user the best experience (which is all what we really want when it comes down to it). SEO is no longer a shady black hat practice; it's the practice of improving customers’ experiences.
Ronald L. Dod is the co-founder and CEO of Visiture, an e-commerce-focused search marketing agency.