Robin Allenson
Aug 23, 2020

User-centric pages are the secret to organic growth & SEO

What a lot of SEO Product Managers and Growth Product Managers don't understand is that there is a simple secret to organic growth. It's not about keywords, indexation, dynamic rendering or ranking.

In fact, to succeed at organic growth, you can flat out ignore most of the short-term SEO tricks. Instead, there is one golden rule: focus on doing what's right for the user. It almost seems too simple a concept among the rest of the marketing trends, but if you do what's right for the customer, Google will take care of your organic growth.

Is user-centric SEO the secret to organic growth?

Our core concept at Similar.ai is that sites can unlock growth by following a few simple principles of user satisfaction. One of the most important of these is that every page online should be a great answer to a real user need, and every relevant user need should have a page.

What is a real user need?

Real user needs are things for which people search. They might search for a single need in many different ways. For instance, a user who wants to buy a second-hand blue BMW might look for a bmw m4 blue, a blue bmw i8, or an estoril blue bmw. These have the same underlying need, even though some are more specific about the model or the hue of blue.

Sometimes, we call the needs of search engine users their search intent. Intent is often used in the world of SEO to mean whether the customer is implicitly expecting an informational page, a navigational result or a transactional result (or some other, finer grained, sales funnel stage). We use it a lot more broadly to mean:

  • The implicit understanding of what someone means by their search query, and

  • The implicit expectations about what types of content and user experience are the best answers to it.

Why should every page be a great answer to a user need?

A website consists of many pages, linked together. Each page has an audience of current and potential users. Rather than define an audience by demographics, we focus on the common needs that they have.

Every page on a website should be defined, designed and built around what a group of people actually needs. When building a new page, you must begin with the user in mind.

For even quite unusual needs, there are many possible pages on the web against which your site competes. The best answers aren't necessarily the ones with the most listings, the biggest page or the most content. The best answers are those that are explained in the user's own words, that understand what that user wants and why.

The best answers have empathy for their users.

Why would anyone build a website that doesn't answer user needs?

Growth Product Managers often find themselves in a bind: they understand that they need to make every page on their website user-centric, but the standard ways of doing that simply don't scale to the number of listings, pages and markets they have. Our customers often have one or two Product Managers working alone or with a development team on a site with millions of listings, a few category pages in the main navigation, a bunch of attributes and filters and a lot of search result pages.

The truth is that organic growth and user experience have always involved manual work and needs intelligence and understanding. Manual work doesn't scale. Software doesn't have the intelligence to solve user-centricity problems.

Common methods are to use your site's main navigation and product attributes (which we sometimes call your taxonomy) to create new search pages connecting users to listings. You might find all the possible ways of combining those attributes to give lots of granular, long-tail search pages. Assuming that you step over the common trap of having the same pages with lots of similar duplicate content from your faceted navigation, you're still left with many ways of searching listings that have simply never occurred to users and never will.

Instead of trying to be all things to every audience, websites do much better by focusing on a few types of users for which they have superb content. Limiting the number of pages you create but ensuring that every page you do have is an amazing answer to a question a significant number of users has is counterintuitive—but it works.

How can I figure out what pages my site should focus on?

First, work on one page at a time.

Create a list of intents and keywords for which that page could rank and would bring you relevant traffic if it did. In other words, the audience with that need would be great customers for you. Add up the search volume for all the keywords for that page; that's your page's total demand. Make sure to include the traffic that each page has generated.

Choose a minimum demand threshold: below this, the group of user needs is too small to worry about. Check that the pages that are under this minimum total demand don't have some minimal but significant amount of traffic; if they do, the page is probably worth hanging on to. However, many sites with a listing-based information structure find that over 90% of their pages don't answer sufficiently large user needs. You can see that clearly when you look at the percentage of your site's pages which are active, i.e. they've received more than one organic search engine click in the last month.

For each of the pages that don't answer sufficiently large user needs, redirect them to a parent page that does or to another relevant page. Two things will happen immediately after this cleanup:

👉 First, the percentage of active pages will rise dramatically: a greater proportion of your pages will get organic traffic.

👉 Second, your traffic may drop (if some of the pages you redirected generated some traffic). It will take a little while for search engines to catch up, but as they do, traffic will go up again, and go above your baseline traffic level.

How does reducing a site's pages help grow organic traffic?

Reducing a site's pages helps grow organic traffic by focusing search engine resources on the popular, unique content. Search engines have a tough job: they need to connect all the pages on the web to all the customers in the world. They solve this by focusing their resources, used for crawling, rendering, indexing, ranking and searching, on sites that look like they will have more novel and sought-after content.

Rather than crawl every page for every site, they crawl a few and test whether the content was unique and matched the needs of lots of users. Sites whose pages had more novel or sought-after content get more of their resources, and sites whose pages had more duplicate content or didn't answer a user need get less.

When you redirect a lot of pages with low demand, you leave more attention to the sought-after content for which your site has great information and answers; pages that answer a real user need.

Every time Google invests resources in one of these pages, it becomes a little more interested in investing more resources to your site. It reflects that by connecting more of your pages with more users.

If you're interested in how to scale user centricity for your large site, have a look at how we can help organise your site's pages around user demand.

    Robin Allenson
    Aug 23, 2020
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