Sophie Brannon believes that SEO in 2023 should be all about making the user experience as smooth and streamlined as possible, particularly in regard to visual elements and the arrival of multimodal search - which is just around the corner.
Sophie says: “You should streamline the user experience for video content and images across multiple forms of searching - at every touchpoint of the user journey.
It’s all about the users and satisfying their intent in the quickest and easiest way. With the goal of achieving this, UX and SEO will be more combined than ever going forward. Visuals will be hugely important for eCommerce sites. With the multimodal search on the horizon, images and image quality will be even more significant. They need to be a high resolution without impacting site speed. They must also be properly optimised, have proper alt text, attributes, title text and be visible on multiple devices and screen sizes. A lot of websites are struggling with this at the moment, but it’s going to play a really big part in picking up traffic across different types of searches.
There’s lots of speculation about the next generation of searchers and their preferred methods for accessing content. They’ll probably want to access information quickly and easily without reading through reams and reams of content. TikTok has even suggested expanding its services into a search engine capacity.
With the help of Google Lens, multimodal search is going to be a big player going forward. Since Google Lens was introduced, we’ve seen some interesting developments. The helpful content update that recently rolled out could have an impact on sites that have lots of content which isn’t particularly helpful. Perhaps, going forward, an image or video could be more helpful in explaining a particular subject. Everything will need to work in close collaboration and the user experience is going to be a big part of that.”
Regarding multimodal search, can you clarify what that means for SEO?
“Multimodal search is more around the way searchers are searching for things using multiple platforms and new technologies. The whole purpose of Google Lens is to take a picture of something and derive search results for your query. You can then assess information about that particular thing, go shopping for it, see videos around it, and learn lots of other things pertaining to that image.”
Let’s say you have an eCommerce store and you want to optimise for more progressive forms of search. How could you optimise your existing content and future-proof the way your results appear in search engines?
“Going back to the basics is really important. There’s not that much information about whether there’s a particular way to optimise for multimodal search. You should focus on doing certain things in order to be visible, but ensure your images are of the highest quality. If you’ve taken a picture of something, your image should be shown and be one of the most visible. You should make sure that it loads quickly and on multiple devices. Images are often displayed inaccurately, which is something that’s influenced by what devices the images are viewed on. In these cases, the consumer won’t be able to see what they’re trying to purchase.
Rein your approach back and focus more on the user-friendly side of things. Be on top of the latest developments, and be experimental with what you’re doing. Make sure your alt text and title texts are really well optimised for the types of things people might be searching for. Try not to go overboard with it. You’ll need to do lots of experimentation over the coming months and years before you’ll get a true appreciation of what you need to be doing. The basics will always apply.”
Is it best to use a CMS that will automatically create images in multiple sizes, optimised for different platforms, and send different versions to different devices?
“That’s certainly one way to do it. It’s really important to do more of a manual test as well. You can’t always just rely on automation and lots of CDN platforms. Cloudflare will work well to import, export, and show images in certain formats and sizes depending on the device it’s viewed on. Make sure the original image is of really high quality without impacting site speed. That doesn’t mean simply getting loads of high-resolution images across all sites. This could cause everything to slow down to the point where people can’t access your site. It’s all about striking the right balance.”
How would you define a high-resolution image based on pixel size?
“It’s difficult to state exact numbers, but numbers aren’t always everything. It’ll be about how the image displays. It’s about testing and experimenting. Test and test again until you find the right outcome. See what people like and see what you can do to make sure things don’t slow down.”
How do you optimise video for better UX and how does that improve your SEO?
“That’s a really interesting question that’s developing with the multimodal search and everything around that. A lot of the time, the way SEOs approach SEO is by writing reams and reams of content. Hopefully, the helpful content update will have an impact on that and prevent people from pushing out lots of content for the sake of it.
There’s lots of research to show that people interact well with video. In many cases, a video can show more to the user and be more aligned with the search intent. The way you’d look to optimise a video is around the descriptions, whether you’re uploading it to YouTube or embedding it into your website. Make sure that it’s tagged correctly with all the information Google needs for the new Search Console report that’s started to roll out and pick up whether videos are being indexed or not.
Video will be important and Google will be paying a lot more attention to them. In fact, you can observe this in the search results already. Whenever you enter a search query you don’t really get 10 URLs anymore. You get images, carousels, social media posts, featured snippets, Knowledge Panels, etc. Being aware of all these things – of what’s ranking and how it’s ranking - means you can direct your strategy around that. Users are generally interacting very well with video. This shouldn’t be disregarded just because you feel like Google can’t read video. If it’s good for the users, Google will start to prioritise it.”
Is it worth having self-hosted video nowadays or is YouTube the all-encompassing beast you need to embrace going forward? Will using YouTube videos help you get organic traffic from YouTube itself?
“YouTube is always going to be a big player in the market. The way search results are at the moment, you can see Google does prioritise YouTube. But there’s also that site speed factor to consider. If you’re embedding videos, that will have less of an impact on your site speed than hosting the actual video on that page.
It’s all about that testing side of things, to make sure you’re learning from your experimentation. You can see what works better, what engages the audience in a faster way, etc. Make sure your user is able to get the information they need as quickly as possible.
As experienced SEOs, we can give all the tips in the world. We can establish what we know works or have seen work with clients. However, every website is different and every audience is different. Take what you feel will work based on the knowledge of your audience and just try things out. This is a recommended approach to SEO in 2023.
Optimising performance is a matter of trial and error. Some things will work, and others won’t. We can see the direction that Google’s going in with multimodal, which is why you should have lots of different types of multimedia on your site. We are moving towards a strong user experience more than stuffing some keywords in a piece of content. Try out all the different ways you feel you can satisfy your user’s intent and what your users are going to best engage with. This is the best way to approach any kind of strategy.”
What is Google looking for in written content and how do you deliver great UX through written content?
“The way people write content and Google’s understanding of good quality content has evolved over time. The landscape has changed, but many people haven’t evolved with the times. People are still producing keyword-spammy content - especially small businesses with location pages. It’s not as easy as inserting terms regularly within your content and assuming Google will like it because your site is well-optimised. That’s not really how things work anymore. You should always go back to user intent. It’s all about knowing a topic and being an expert on that topic. The EAT guidelines are not a ranking factor, but they are a great indication of what Google sees as good quality content within the search quality rater guidelines.
It’s important to have really comprehensive content around a subject that’s both relevant to what you’re offering and engages users. Make sure you’ve got strong authorship and people who are writing/checking that content off. Ensure that whoever your content will be associated with, it’s going to be a strong signal. If you’re in a content-focused industry heavily impacted by big algorithm updates, you’ll need to showcase your expertise even further.
Ensure you’re not just writing a certain number of words simply because an SEO told you to. Avoid having a big chunk of content at the top of your eCommerce page category, so people can’t find the product they’re looking for.
It’s all about balance, but content will never die out. We need to understand our audiences. With things like Tik Tok, it’s evident that new generations want information quickly. Big volumes of content won’t necessarily help your strategy. The way you should develop your content strategy is around understanding your audience, knowing who you’re trying to target, the stages of the user journey you’re trying to target, and being available at every single touchpoint of that customer journey. Position content so it’s focused around their issues. Ultimately, people will search for something when they’ve got an issue or they’re trying to find something. You should understand every single point of the journey through to the point of conversion.
People are reading content, looking at reviews, watching videos, and doing comparisons more than they ever have before. Why? Because they’ve got access to vast swathes of information. It’s about being available at different stages to balance how the content needs to be, based on that journey. Do you really want to list lots of content like a PDF at the point where people will convert? No, you’ll want them to see why you’re better than competitors. That’s the kind of content you’ll want at that stage. If the searcher is not quite sure what the problem is or they’re trying to understand what they need, this will be a great opportunity to offer informational content.
Content should be focused on users. User experience and SEO should be side by side.”
Is it possible to improve what you’re doing from a links and UX perspective at the same time?
“From a UX perspective, it’s difficult to align that with links. You can look at your creative content and focus on strong creative content that’s user-friendly and acts as an asset. That’s the kind of thing people will want to link back to anyway. Things like really strong video content are going to be great for the user experience. If it’s a really valuable asset for users and it provides a lot of information, you might also find it’s going to be a really valuable asset to drive links back to the website. It’s all about finding that balance and testing the processes. Links aren’t going to be something that will die out soon. How we build and gain those links will continue to change with things like digital PR.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“Don’t push content out for the sake of it and don’t keyword-stuff content. This sounds like really basic advice, but we’re still seeing content like this emerging day-to-day. Maybe this will eradicate over time. In the wake of the helpful content update, lots of SEOs are hoping for content improvements. In 2023, make sure all of your content is hyper-focused on your audience and what they’re searching for. Don’t just push out content for the sake of it.”
Sophie Brannon is Client Services Director at Absolute Digital Media and you can find her at sophiebrannon.com.
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