A recent development that's causing much excitement is the concept of real-time search. "As social networks have evolved, the idea of searching what people are writing on the internet right now has become a reality," said Larry Page, speaking at Google Zeitgeist Europe in May.
"At first, my team laughed and didn't believe me. Now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about real-time."
The surge in popularity of Twitter is the core driver behind the wider acceptance of real-time search. Twitter's search enables anyone to search what users are talking about on the web as it happens. As posts are made, they're instantly indexed and included in Twitter's search.
Initially, Twitter hid the search facility at search.twitter.com, but in an indication of how the importance of real-time search has increased, it's now available directly from the Twitter homepage.
This is almost certainly in response to Facebook releasing a much-improved real-time search engine, alongside other real-time search engines such as Scoopler.
The power of real-time search is clear. Results in real-time are more relevant. News stories in particular can lose impact very quickly over time. Within a few hours, the news can have spread from the original source or ceased to be of any relevance. To be in the know, more and more people are turning to real-time search resources.
So you've achieved a high ranking in the search engines. But your work isn't over yet. A successful SEO strategy also needs to consider how your visitors will be treated once they arrive.
That's because a good SEO strategy isn't just about visitor numbers but about visitor conversions. The way conversions are measured will vary from site to site – it may be a sale made online, or an email address collected, for example.
A suggested formula for measuring the success of transactional sites such as these is: Business (B) = Visitors (V) × Conversions (C) × Loyalty (L).
This process is called Landing Page Optimisation and is all about understanding your users and optimising your web pages to boost the number of conversions. While this topic is worthy of an article in itself, the main elements are focused around a principle developed in 1989 by Elias St Elmo Lewis, who mapped out the stages involved in a consumer completing a purchase.
Today this process translates perfectly onto the web and is another fundamental element of a successful optimisation strategy. The decision process is made up of four key stages, which can be remembered using the abbreviation AIDA.
1. Awareness (Attention): If the visitor can't find something on your web page, it may as well not exist. Think about the main goal of the particular page: are you trying to get a user to complete a form or buy a product? Whatever it is, ensure that you have a clear call to action.
2. Interest: Now you have the visitor's attention, you've got a few split seconds to interest them before losing them with a click of the mouse. The key to creating interesting pages is to understand your visitors and tailor pages to meet their needs.
3. Desire: Now that the visitor is interested, do you have what they want? Aim to make them feel safe, appreciated and under control. Client testimonials, video demos and facts and figures are great ways to convince a user your product is right for them.
4. Action: At this point we've convinced the user to take action and complete our goal. The key is to make sure that the steps leading up to completing the goal are as streamlined as possible. Reduce the number of required fields in a form, remove steps from the sign-up process and aim to make the process as easy as possible.
The virtuous circle
Don't be lulled into the false sense of security that once a site is live, your work is over. Constant monitoring of your site in order to continually improve performance is a must. And remember, the real experts on the design of your landing pages are your website visitors.
Recording information about your visitors is essential, both in terms of understanding how people are finding your website and what they're doing there, as well as helping you plan for the future. In addition to visitor numbers, locality and pages per visit, analytics packages can provide invaluable insight into how your website is performing.
Equipped with this information, you're able to base further improvements on solid data. Some examples of interesting reports to run on your websites are:
Top landing pages vs bounce rate: Discover the top landing pages (where users enter your site) and highlight any high bounce rates (when a user instantly leaves your site). Use these stats to identify pages that need improving.
Most valuable users: Search traffic, returning visitors, UK visitors – segment user types and identify which are converting the most.
Goals tracking: Identify and track goals to calculate your site's conversion rate – the percentage of visitors who complete a goal.
Correctly tracked, you'll be able to compare conversion rates from paid search traffic, natural search traffic and display advertising.
Analysing visitors and adapting your site to improve user experience can yield fantastic results, build advocacy and help your site grow. A perfect example is the story of how by simply changing a button on its site, a leading online retailer increased revenues by $300m (bit.ly/r1bVp).
Writing for SEO When writing content for the web, it's important to think about your audience. Every website is different, but by following a few simple guidelines you can produce content that's friendly to both users and search engines.
Before you start writing, ask yourself: who is my audience for this content? Why should they read this? What keywords should I target?
Apply this thinking to the following areas of content:
1. Friendly URLs: Boost SEO and make your URL easier to remember, improving user experience: eg www.mysite.com/recipe/rich-tea-biscuit.
2. META description: Use the META description to provide a concise and accurate description of your content to entice visitors from the SERPS. Eg: 'Make the best tasting rich tea biscuits to enjoy with your afternoon cup of tea using our favourite recipe'.
3. Page title: Choose a title that effectively communicates the topic. Eg: 'Rich tea biscuit recipe – Make the best rich tea biscuits'.
4. Headings: HTML heading tags are used to structure your content. H1 is the most important tag and should be similar if not identical to your page title. Less important headings can use H2-H6.
5. Page content: The first 100 words of content carry more weight and should be used to provide a brief description of your content.
6. Use of images: Choose a descriptive filename eg rich-tea-biscuit.jpg. Use the ALT attribute to describe images: for example, 'The perfect rich tea biscuit'. Provide an image caption to add context.