Google and The Power of Awesome User Experience

After a brief vacation from active SEO work for the past couple of months, due to the demands of my day job and a couple of new adventures, I’m back on the case.

We’re trying to navigate a shift in our product space (online word games), for which our site provides a derivative product (“player assistance tools”). It’s actually been going on for a couple of months but was a secondary priority since our traffic was building steadily (we went from #10 to #3 in original target search). However.. since that game is declining rapidly (total # queries down 70% since January), this will clearly limit my expected 2013 traffic from that keyword. The underlying dynamics of the niche are attractive, so I’m not exactly interested in pulling up stakes and moving on.

In practice, this means I’ve been doing a lot of tactical optimizations lately – page tuning and link building (blog comments and few other tactics). We’ve been trying to grab searches in our old target (such as hanging with friends cheat) and building new ones (scramble cheat, word jumble solver). Along the way, we’re taking notes on what seems to be working and not working. Which is where it hit me…

I look at our site as a product portfolio (not surprising, since my day job involves giving guidance and oversight to a product portfolio). Our hangman solver product is pretty good – the solver uses AJAX, unlike most of the competitors, and is bundled with other content which really helps the typical online hangman player. Our Scramble / Boggle product is downright awesome, AJAX based and with some unique UI features and usage recommendations which really position a player for success. And it shows – both of these product have very nice usage statistics and climbed the SERP’s very quickly.

The scrabble product… meh…  it’s decent (AJAX based, fast, handles special cells) but just doesn’t rise to the same level of awesomeness as our first two products. The truth of the matter is I’m slightly discouraged on scrabble. I’m running up against several highly entrenched competitors with similar offerings (no AJAX, but same core branding and basic UI) that have run multi-year SEO campaigns around their position, building up MONSTER traffic. The scrabble searches are a brick wall – I position the site to go after  a medium sized “beach-head” keyword and wind up bouncing off it a couple of weeks later. So most of my time investment goes elsewhere. And the stats show it: as one of my friends likes to say, it’s a “me too less 10% product”.

Changing gears, we published an article about building websites using bottle.py, with a supporting PowerPoint, fairly early in this blog’s existence. That ranked very quickly. Probably since there were not a lot of great articles out there on that particular aspect of a large subject (bottle.py). Other articles have had less impact; despite the fact they were better written and better back-linked (successful social news shares).

So here’s my hypothesis – when Google is picking who ranks in the top n searches, it isn’t just trying for raw “ranking power” – there’s some type of diversity factor at play. If the top 8 sites (by ranking power) are similar, #9 will be above the fold if only because Google wants to hedge its bet (in the event the searcher is looking for an article about scrabble solver algorithms vs. trying to just cheat at words with friends).

My supporting evidence:

  • The two solvers I thought were awesome, which are the first things out of my bag when I’m showing off the site to a person of interest, ranked very quickly. Google was able to figure out that we had something others in our space lacked.
  • Actually, the scramble solver ranked faster (in a week) than the hangman solver (which took about 30 days to hit page one for a major search). If I had to rate the degree of relative “uniqueness”, scramble was far more innovative than hangman.
  • We ranked quickly on a technical topic when we published what appears to be one of the first “entry level” presentations on the subject.
  • And our “me too less 10%” content appears to be going nowhere…. (the scrabble helper, plus various blog content which is getting minimal love).

So if you’re stuck on the outside of a search – in 2nd / 3rd page la-la land (it seems like most of the traffic in searches worth having never gets off the first page)… and have been there for a couple of months… it’s time to  BLOW UP YOUR PRODUCT. Or at least how you’re communicating the value proposition.

What do you have that is different (or can be rebuilt to be different) than 80% of the people in line ahead of you?

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