User Engagement Optimization – UEO vs. SEO -Search Engine Optimization – Who Wins?
Another acronym for some facet of the internet – great! Seriously though, the subject of user engagement optimization, or UEO, relative to SEO, has recently emerged as a topic in the online marketing world and advertising circles, and questions are starting to surface on how the lines are blurred between the two, how they’re not even close to one another, and what exactly UEO is to begin with.
Optimizing user engagement online plays a critical role in the success of most businesses that leverage their primary existence and/or sales based upon their web sites, apps, and other online systems, including major search engines, web portals, social media websites, e-commerce companies, and mobile app owners, whether they realize it or not. The key idea of online user engagement optimization is to discover and utilize the collected information about the behavioral patterns and preferences of your targeted audiences and to provide the features, functionality and experiences that attract a users’ involvement, facilitates their interaction and enhances the potential to build a long-term relationship by fulfilling their needs and providing value.
This article is for CMO’s, Marketing and Advertising Executives, Social Media Managers and SEO professionals to dispel any questions or mysteries around UEO and what it’s all about, how it’s related to SEO, and how it impacts your presence online. In addition, we also share several cool hacks and tips to improve engagement levels with your online marketing efforts. UEO is a relatively new topic that is just starting to be explored, and we wanted to pave the way for further discussion and your insights. UEO also has big implications for brick and mortar retail establishments, however, being that I have very little retail background and want to stay focused with the online world with this article, we’ll stick with its meaning and use as applied to the Internet.
Statistic show that optimized web pages convert better (29%) than their non-optimized counterparts (11%). But performance impacts other metrics as well, including a website’s Quality Score, which has a direct impact on the cost per click of paid search campaigns, as well as included into search algorithms.
Other metrics explain strong correlations that make a significant difference in engagement: a one second increase in website page load time leads up to an 11% drop in page views, a 7% drop in conversions, and a 16% drop in customer satisfaction. Yes – just one measly second does all this!
With updates to Google’s search engine algorithms placing a greater emphasis on the user experience, relevance, unique content, page load speeds, and visitor engagement measures – businesses need to be increasingly aware of the need to maximize performance and how to engage with the user in a more meaningful way.
So, lets dive right in.
First, I’ll explain and provide a refresher on SEO, what it’s all about, where the focus lies and what types of activities and tips you can utilize to improve your SEO. Then, we’ll follow that up with an in depth explanation of UEO and how its dramatically different in some ways, and similar in others to SEO, as well as provide some great hacks and tips on how to implement UEO best practices.
SEO is in most every aspect geared towards developing content, designing websites, and creating links in a manner that are optimized for a search engine algorithm – ala “search engine optimization”. By doing certain things with your content, images, website design, tags, backlinks, etc. this will improve your score within the search engine ranking algorithm which in turn elevates your position within a search engine’s results. There are literally hundreds of different ranking factors that contribute to your search engine score. Here are a few of the more common ones as an example:
- Social signals (links from social media sites)
- Page loading speed
- Content quality & relevance to the search query
- Backlinks from other leading authority sites
- Website coding and meta tags
- Mobile responsiveness
- Keyword usage in domain names, titles and website content
And many others.
There is actually a great reference article that outlines and suggests the different weighting of 200 search engine ranking factors and their significance in the algorithm that websites/content is measured against published by MOZ every two years (2015 Survey Report- https://moz.com/search-ranking-factors/survey).
I will not relist and go over the many SEO tactics and what to look out for as these articles already provide that and they’ve done a great job in doing the research and putting everything together. So, back to our discussion.
The thing about SEO is that there are so many elements that are involved, and the algorithm is always changing that it’s hard to establish and maintain a stronghold for certain keywords over a long period of time, especially the highly competitive ones, unless you’re already a known authority site that has been referenced and linked by thousands of others, including other authority sites and news sources. In addition, changes to search algorithms, such as Google’s Panda and Penguin changes literally kicked tens of thousands of sites off of their page one rankings due to content quality, spam back links, and many other factors. So, what may work today, may not work so well in the future – unless of course you’re just producing awesome content and publishing it from an point of authority, or that content is being referenced by other online authority based websites (ie: your article gets picked up and published by the New York Times or the Huffington Post). Even then, content that is newer, more fresh and has authoritative references has the potential to outrank you sooner or later.
In fact – on the impact of page loading speed, an item that shares both realms of SEO and UEO, in previous tests that Google conducted on the way they display search results, Google found that a half second increase in the time that it took the search engine to display results caused a 20% drop in traffic among test participants (yes – one half second). In another instance – Amazon found that every 100 miliseconds of delayed page load time cost them 1% of sales. That can easily add up to $10’s of millions in lost sales just for 1 second in degraded page load speed time – wow!
SEO services come in a wide variety of angles by which people go about ranking websites, whether its using social media, article writing and blog posts, getting high authority back links and social signals, using other web2.0 sites like Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress, or business directory sites like Yelp or leveraging YouTube or Google My Business, and focusing on the website based “on-page” or “on-site” factors such as meta tags, page load speed, describing and tagging your images, and using the latest schema and canonical references. The types and ranges of SEO that can be utilized to help you score higher on the search engine algorithms and rank better in the search results is pretty wide ranging, and ever changing as mentioned before. For those of you who believe SEO is dead – I believe you’re dead wrong! SEO is here to stay and is actually more relevant than ever before when it comes to helping businesses maintain a competitive advantage online. However, there are other aspects to the Internet and connecting with your target audience that are just as important, if not more important than SEO.
Here’s the thing that many people forget to think about, which I actually dropped a hint about earlier in this article. Once people find you in the search engines and click on your link, if your content is not well laid out and is not highly relevant and engaging, your audience is not going to be very responsive to it and will likely click away as quickly as they clicked to your article to begin with. That’s the big difference right there – developing great content for people vs. designing websites and content for a machine. With that said – here’s the perfect starting point for your online marketing: Create. Awesome. Content. For. People.
That’s where User Engagement Optimization (UEO) really starts to kick in and where this all starts to make sense. User engagement is really getting somebody to interact with your content to the point where they follow your call to action (ie: opt-in to your email list; register for the webinar; buy now, etc..) or have connected with your content on a higher level and take it upon themselves to interact with it by clicking to the next page, adding a blog comment, sharing it, liking it, or cross referencing it within their own developed content, article, or blog post.
User Engagement Optimization also delves into human psychology, group dynamics (you’re typically writing for a particular audience or group of people), eliciting an emotion, and creating an experience for the reader. Just as an example: when you last shared and article, video or image that you found on one of the many websites that you regularly visit – it’s probably safe to say that you felt or imagined the experience and perhaps even internalized the particular event. In addition – you likely felt some sort of deep emotion or connection to the person or subject matter of the content you shared. Are we correct?
Whether it was a video of a kitten dancing around and making you laugh your butt off, or a blog post that deals with a very touchy subject like gun control – you felt compelled to react and share it or leave a comment on it – you engaged with that content on a very high level.
With UEO, there are so many factors that are involved with the optimization part, many of which are subjective to the particular user group or user themselves. Remember – we are not dealing with a machine algorithm here, UEO combines the art and science of the human psychology and marketing and is wide ranging and dynamic based upon your target audience, industry niche, geography, and the like. In short, you’re trying to influence a person’s decision making process to drive them to take a certain action or elicit a specific response, while also engaging in the exchange of ideas in the attempt to build upon a new relationship with that person or audience.
Factors such as trust, likeness, relevance, word positioning, use of images, writing style, title of your content, and the like all go into UEO. Essentially, you need to capture the reader’s attention and keep them entertained enough to keep them on your content/article/video, etc. While these are all contributing factors that get baked into what level a person’s engagement is with a website or article, there are many ways to track and measure different levels of engagement. Here’s a list of the more common measures of user engagement:
- Click Through Rate (CTR)
- Time on site
- Page views per user/session
- Unique user sessions
- Cost per click
- Sales conversion rate
- Number of likes and shares
- And many more…
Looking at these metrics above reminds me that there is an entire subset of User Engagement Optimization that has its own category that we can go down the bunny hole on a nice tangent (which we will not do to stay on topic here) which is Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). CRO definitely can make a big difference to the results you produce in any campaign, however, we believe it’s part of the bigger picture and one facet of UEO.
One of the best measures of user engagement optimization is when a piece of content goes viral. Your article, video, blog post or image is so awesome and elicits such a strong emotion that a person can’t help but to like it and share it with their friends. In many cases, something will go viral without the producer or writer even planning for it to go viral – it just has the right elements, at the right time, in the right place. Marketers, content developers, and SEO professionals alike are still trying to crack the code of what makes something go viral and literally engage millions of people in a very short period of time at little or no additional expense. The virality or viralness of a piece of content also has its foundation in user engagement. Discussing the nature of what makes content go viral is an entirely different article, however, for the sake that we believe it’s a subset of UEO – here are the main elements that we think contribute to what makes something go viral:
- Elicits a strong emotion (love, happiness, anger, fear)
- Relevant with a top of mind or current subject (Presidential candidates, gun control, football season)
- Connected to a venue and a large audience with sharing capabilities (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter)
- Has a catchy or inquisitive headline hook (UEO vs SEO – Who Wins?)
- Utilizes strong imagery or visual cues (images and videos help people internalize and relate to content easier)
- Great content that is well written
- Ability to connect with people that have large networks and are influencers
If you can land a connection with an influencer and hit at least four of the remaining six factors – you’re well on your way to stacking content to go viral.
User Engagement Optimization is about discovering meaningful knowledge about your users or target audience, their interests and behavioral patterns which will provide you with the ability to create customized experiences that are tailored to their specific needs. Facebook’s ad platform for example has the ability to build custom audiences and define your advertising towards specific interests, buying patterns, relational subject matter, and the like to really pinpoint who your buyer is and the best preferences and places to target them.
User engagement typically starts with great, highly relevant and engaging content. Notice how we stated “starts with.” That needs to be followed up by the tweaks and changes that delve into human psychology, the subtleties of the subconscious mind and the marketing strategies that are being used.
Here are three user engagement and conversion hacks that I believe are very fitting to share. In doing our own research for projects we’re working on and in preparation of writing this article – we came across several hacks, a few of which stood out. Not only are these examples surprising in that they worked and moved the needle to begin with, but how far and impactful the conversion rate increase was. These little tweaks deal with the subconscious, usability and pattern mapping which results in the user taking action and moving to the next level of engagement with content:
- Credit Card vs. No Credit Card for Trial: A test of offering a free trial with no credit card vs. previously requiring a credit card increased sign-ups by 500% and overall paid customers by over 50% (Yotango)
- Placing an “Add to Cart” button above the video on their sales page increased sales conversions by 38% (Kimberly Snyder Fitness)
- Make the Call-To-Action More prominent. By putting the call to action in the main content area and making it easy to click on above the fold – conversions were increased by 591% (Nature Air)
These simple design changes help people engage with your content easier and at a much higher level.
As we mentioned before – User engagement has so many different elements to consider that the best thing to do is to take care of the fundamentals and stack the likeness and positioning of your content in as much of your favor as possible.
Here are five best practices and simple fundamentals to keep in mind when developing your content and marketing materials (note – this is part of a previous article we wrote about engagement marketing):
1) Create a persona of your target person and speak to them, as an individual. Really dig deep on what their interests are and what type of demographic profile they are a part of. In building this persona – you are zoning into what is relevant to the people you are trying to connect with and what they find important to them. In addition, you’re creating a common thread which helps break down the barriers to building a relationship and trust.
2) Be where they are or will be. Keep in mind that not all marketing channels are created equal. What may work for some companies or industries, very well may not for others. Many of the social media sites provide advertising platforms the do a great job of targeting certain interests and custom audiences, and are a good place to start.
3) Provide compelling content that has value and is well written. Crappy articles or poorly edited content is a real turn-off. Be different, rise above the noise, write content that has real value, and don’t be afraid to use images, infographics, or even a short video.
4) Design your content and story around the persona you designed in step 1 above. It should not be about you, or what you offering or trying to sell. Be clear on how the reader and your target audience benefits from your content – what’s in it for them and how they can relate to it.
5) Illicit some emotion in the story to get them hooked. You can employ fear based marketing where you solution eliminates their problem or how their problem will persist and get worse without your product or service. Or, you can put a more positive message out there that is solution oriented and benefits based.
With that being said, we could not move forward with this article without stating that you need to be testing and analyzing your campaigns to improve them and be more effective. Split testing or A/B testing gives you the ability to test every little aspect of your content, whatever it may be, with the variables that you change being as far ranging as you can imagine. Our three examples provided earlier are just the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates how a little change such as where a “Buy Now” button is placed can create an extreme impact.
So in conclusion of our original question, SEO vs UEO – Which one wins? we believe both are very important for any of your online marketing efforts and connecting with your target audience. Both are standalone practices that aim at different audiences, primarily a machine in SEO compared to a person in User Engagement Optimization. While there may be a few areas that can be considered overlap, such as having a highly relevant and catchy title to your article or blog post, or showing social signals (likes, views, or shares) from the prime social media sites (social validation is shown to improve engagement and conversion), we believe the differences and focal points are far greater than the few instances where the lines are blurred between the two.
If we were to select only one to focus on and which one wins, it would clearly be UEO for us! You can have the best laid out website with great links to it, and do all the right things in terms of on-site SEO ranking factors, but if your content sucks,– you’ll never have any meaningful user engagement, let alone build a relationship with them. In addition, we strongly believe that optimization of any content or campaign should always be designed with the end user or client in mind.
The whole point of user engagement is to create a connection with your readers and audience as the starting point of a relationship with them. If you think about it – that is one of the core purposes of having a website. When you start with your core purpose in mind, and build meaningful and valuable content that helps and serves your audience, you’ve already won half the battle.