12 Aug 2008

(QualityGal) That page fails at meeting user intent. No, really.

* Jim’s note: Feel free to Sphinn this.

Tough love. It’s something I’m going to have to start getting used to as the office consultant on user intent.

It’s hard to tell someone – like your boss, or a client – that their keyword targeting campaign is due to fail miserably because it doesn’t match up with user intent. You know, it fails the Your Mom Test.

I’m learning a lot about SEO. Before Jim hired me, the extent of my SEO knowledge was served up to me by a leading web content portal for which I was an author. There are different sets of rules for SEO writers and SEO gurus. I’m trying to absorb as much of the guru side as I can, but SEO is not primarily my job. Content is my job.

But once in a while, I’m called in to take a look at a web site and look at it from a user prospective.

"Pretend you typed in this phrase," Jim says, "and this was the site you clicked on. Tell me your thoughts."

It only takes me a second or two to establish what I would want to see for any given keyword phrase. (So far, at least, nothing has been overly technical.)

The most common problem I’ve had to point out so far is when a landing page – generally the index page for the site – contains only a passing blurb on the keyword subject.

As I’m going to be heading out soon to enjoy a concert at SPAC, let’s use [Maroon 5] as our keyword phrase. They happen to be one of my favorite bands, so I’m fairly comfortable talking about them.

So my hypothetical landing page that I’m looking at is musicrelatedtermhere.com. The index page is what I’m examining. The homepage blurb explains that the purpose of the site is to provide "you" – as a rock music fan – with all of the latest information on your favorite rock bands, including Maroon 5. The blurb includes one of the band’s latest single releases, "Wak eUp Call," but that is the extent of the band’s homepage coverage.

Oh, and the top link in the site’s navigation is "Maroon 5." Site navigation is a prominent left sidebar. The "Maroon 5" link is the first link visible on the page, right below the homepage logo banner. There’s no doubt about the link’s visibility and accessibility. Users landing on this page couldn’t miss the "Maroon 5" link.

So I click on the "Maroon 5" link. There are rotating band pics, with thumbnails linking to the rest of the band photo gallery. The band’s discography and upcoming tour dates are featured. The Maroon 5 page also has links to a fan forum, some Maroon 5 Myspace graphics, and some downloadable Maroon 5 ringtones. This page is amazing! I love it! This page passes and surpasses any user intent standards I could throw at it.

But it’s not the landing page I’m supposed to be looking at. I press the back button. Oh yeah, that’s right. I have a little blurb mentioning one of the band’s singles. And there’s a link to the amazing page.

Color me disappointed.

But how to explain this to my boss, or my boss’s client?

The easiest way is to describe how amazing the second page is. It’s virtually everything a user could want when typing in [Maroon 5]. THAT is the page I would want to see at the top of my Google results. (Or Yahoo, or Ask.com results. But I’ll be honest – I love my Google Toolbar.)

The homepage? Not so much. Why should I bother with the site homepage when I can go right to the Maroon 5 page? The homepage offers me no real value. A link is of little value. I clicked on a link to get there – the link from the SERP. Why click the homepage link instead of the Maroon 5 page link? As a user, my attention span is short, as is my patience. Sure, the link to the good page is prominent, but why waste my time with an intermediate page?

So what happens to the site owner who is targeting their homepage for [Maroon 5]? A great SEO campaign could very well get the homepage quite high in the rankings. Top 10 for [Maroon 5]? Top 5? Even 1 or 2?

Yeah. Until the search engine does a little investigating. Algorithms may have gotten the site to the top, but some search engines *coughgoogleandmsncough* use human reviewers, right? If newly acquired rank draws human eyeballs to the homepage, those human eyeballs could lead to a manual demotion if that particular human agrees with me about unmet user intent.

So what now? If the keyword campaign has been going for a while, and you get smacked by the HUMAN REVIEW hammer, that’s a lot of time and money down the drain. You have two options: add value to the homepage so that it meets [Maroon 5] user intent, or ditch that keyword for homepage and focus on what you actually offer there.

Chances are, the first option isn’t going to be very feasible when Maroon 5 is only one of hundreds or thousands of bands featured on the site, even if it happens to be one of the most popular ones. If the site runs on a smaller scale, and features only 5 or 6 rock bands, it could work.

But more than likely, it makes a lot more sense to focus your [Maroon 5] campaign on the Maroon 5 page, and target something more appropriately generic link [rock bands] on the homepage.

Take home message: A navigation link, no matter how prominent, does not equate value. Consider your keywords carefully. Make sure you target your keywords on a page level basis, or you could get smacked with the Human Review Hammer.

 * Jim’s note: Feel free to Sphinn this.