SEO, the SERPs, and Your First Impression

Web designers and usability experts dole solely in the interaction between a site and its visitors. These professionals take to heart the look and feel of site templates, content messages, and visual cues to ensure that the consumers of the site content will remain on pages longer and follow the intended purpose or funnel of the site. But what about how web searchers interact with your site, before they even hit the landing page?

For those in the search engine optimization (SEO) world, it's difficult not to fall into the obsession toward keyword placement and rankings and to lose focus on the user experience. Several SEOs and online marketers have covered in-depth the ideology of writing for the engines as well as for users.

On-Page SEO

Where many people go wrong is in the arena I deem "Front Door SEO." These areas are the title elements, meta descriptions, and URL naming conventions found within the site, but also within the search engine results. These are the first encounters with a potential site visitor because this is what the search engine results page (SERP) viewer based their initial click on.

Gone are the days of over-use of keywords in title elements for the sole purpose of ranking. If no one clicks on your link, what was the purpose of a first page ranking in the first place? No pun intended.

Your title element should begin with a targeted term, but also include supporting text. Search engines don't consider "stop words" in title elements, so you're open to bypass the engines concern over exact word usage. Instead of "Acme Bricks, Acme Stone, Acme Tile," take a lighter approach -- for example, "Acme Bricks and Stone from Rock World."

A well-rounded on-page SEO campaign, as well as a sound internal and external linking strategy, will still grant you the ability to rank as well as you did before, and now your title element is a little more personable.

The meta description should follow suit with a compelling description. This isn't a keyword stuffing opportunity. While this description isn't always the chosen snippet by a search engine, it doesn't hurt to make this 180-character segment as compelling as possible.

Impressions vs. CTRs

A great way to analyze how your web searchers interact with your search engine listings is to assess impressions vs. click-through rates (CTR) in Google Webmaster Tools. This nifty offering has been available for around four months now and is a great way to assess how many SERP viewers choose your listing per impression and also at different SERP positions. This is a more variable way to test your "Front SEO" elements with those searching for your targeted terms.

Once you recognize that you're suffering from a low CTR for your first page listing, you can then test text transitions in your title, meta description, and (if necessary) undergo a rewrite for revised URL naming conventions.

Organic Keyword Referrals

Another consideration that must be met is if the right page is ranking for your targeted term. This can often be overlooked as many might not check SERPs and assume that any traffic referred from "keyword x" was drawn from the "x keyword-targeted page. Many times, this isn't the case.

Consider looking in Google Analytics in organic keyword referrals. Also choose Landing Page in the adjacent custom field and assess what pages refer keyword referrals. You might be surprised that your intended page isn't drawing the intended traffic.

There can be several reasons for this. Perhaps you haven't attained a proper amount of deep links to internal pages and, while you have an internal page on-topic, the home page is the decided ranking listing. Or, perhaps you have subliminally built another page to rank for the intended keyword through improper keyword usage in body copy or text usage within internal and external anchor text.

It never hurts to make sure that you're squared away at the front door of your organic search campaign. Take a minute to step outside the box and worry less about your on-page elements. Focusing more on what your placeholder in the search engines says about your site can help you drive additional traffic -- the right type of traffic.