The practice of mapping a user’s multiple pathways from search engines to a website through to a goal is a fundamental component of any web based project. But how often do you really consider the role search engines play in getting customers on the right path to meet their expectations?
Search experience maps are often used by organisations that are keen to understand how and when a customer engages with its business. They’re designed to map out a customer’s journey from start to finish and normally tied to a goal or required outcome.
Experience maps can be used for all types of projects, particularly those where search engines are the key contributors of potential customers. Recently, while working with a major University, a great deal of time was spent interrogating the journey students took when researching and selecting a course to study.
We gained insight into the role the University website played at various points throughout the process of selecting a degree course. It was only when we mapped the journey out – from initial awareness right through to the first day – that it became very clear we were dealing with an 18-month ‘customer’ experience, with a vast number of touch points.
How to Create a Map
Good experience maps will combine an illustrated representation of a each customer journey with documentation of where they start and where they finish. First break down the users into groups defining the needs and objectives of each group, implementing this process will help identify how experiences need to vary across each different group. Map out where each user journey starts, which page you want it to start from and where it should finish. For example, an Undergraduate course specific user journey starts most likely in search engines.
Here is another example of the user journey of an Undergraduate who is at the end of his/her university/course shortlisting phase:
The maps should be easily understood by everyone, most importantly the client. Often these maps help influence other marketing channels both online and offline providing valuable insight.
Creating Step-by-Step User Experience
Great search strategy is the strategy that helps a business reach full potential at every step of the user journey.
First think about what you want searchers to see in your organic ads. It is true that search engines tinker with how content is displayed and they even display content from the same page differently depending on search criteria and intent they predict for each searcher. However the clickable blue link is almost always thewhich can be shown either in full or in part depending on relevance and other signals. For example, a university may want to show a Undergraduate searching for ‘psychology courses’ the total number of courses available matching the subject, featuring a couple of specific courses and encourage them to apply for the next year entry now:
Organic ad content is entirely at the direction of the client or third party agency, however, its importance should not be underestimated, the quality of its structure and content is very much part of the user journey and it will influence outcomes.
The next step is to plan what content and functionality the page should have to meet customer expectations and technically deliver the markup and content structure that will deliver top performing search engine results.
Naturally, the search results must align with the business and website objectives. Content must be outstanding and it must be delivered in a creative and optimised way. Gone are the days of different specialists working in isolation: designers working without a content strategy in place; copywriters writing pages of text in isolation without close collaboration with designers, UX specialists and SEOs; developers working without a clear understanding of the projects wider objectives.
Working in Harmony
You must create a “Single Project View” looking at the business, creative, technical and digital marketing objectives as a whole, with every specialist involved in its delivery working in close (and version controlled) collaboration to achieve the same business goals.
I am fortunate enough to work in a forward-thinking agency where collaboration of key specialists is an integral part of the agency process. There are many tools available for collaborative user experience creation, but at Delete we use Axure RP to build rich interactive prototypes where every contributor can clearly communicating his/her requirements. Prototypes help clients visualise the website content strategy and functionality. It also helps SEO’s to direct developers and copywriters with confidence.
Every element on the prototype can contain comments aimed at the different collaborators. This approach can also help multiple agencies working on a project where a “Single Project View” is at risk of becoming disparate.
For example, an SEO specialist may want to inform a front-end developer about how HTML should be structured around the course title on the course details pages:
An SEO specialist may want to provide instructions on how to dynamically generate URL,or meta description:
An SEO may also define which microformat should be used for certain types of content:
A UX designer may want to show a client or a front-end developer how on-page navigation should move when the page is scrolled down and how it should freeze at the top of the browser when page is scrolled past a certain point:
Working together on any project helps to understand business objectives and the audience. Being a part of the user experience strategy gives you the space and time to learn, think and plan.
Search engine strategy must always be at the heart of your UX design and development process. Remember that search engine optimisation is not optimisation for search engines; it is optimisation for searchers who are your customers.
The beauty of mapping user journeys and collaborating through interactive prototyping is that it will illustrate all requirements and insights to all parties involved in a visual way rather than ending up in a forgotten document somewhere.
If done right, you will be pleasantly surprised how well this way of work will be received by a client. So, next time you start work on your big project, think about how many people will need to work together to achieve the same business goals and how you can improve collaboration and achieve the project’s full potential.