What percentage of your visits are coming from search queries? Would you like more? When they find you, do they bounce away just as quickly?
If you want more people to find your site via search engines, you have to do a better job packaging your content. If you want them to stay, you need to make sure the important stuff is “front-loaded”.
Let’s look at a very popular story today on the News & Observer’s site about UNC’s basketball championship last night. The title of the article is: “Not even close: UNC rolls to title”. The headline is the #1 story on their homepage.
Let’s look at a few different ways to view that headline.
From a pure search perspective, the only word in it that may get searched this morning is UNC. Nowhere in the headline are other words that will show up in searches, like tournament, ncaa, basketball, tar heels, michigan, detroit, college.
For a print newspaper, that title works fine, but not on the web. There is reams of research that shows you only a word or two to grab someone’s attention. Jakob Nielsen’s recent article suggests you have 11 characters. If you chopped all your headlines down to 11 characters, would your readers still understand what you are trying to say? In the example above: “Not even cl” = FAIL, we have no idea what that link is going to be about.
There’s no reason professional writers and editors should be making a mistake like that, it’s a simple change to get; “UNC wins title: not even close”. The first 11 characters: “UNC wins ti” gives you a pretty good idea of what the link is about.
When a visitor clicks on the link to go to the full story, the CMS injects the headline into the title tag of the page, meaning they’ve just increased the amount of “lame” in that headline by a factor of 2. For the search engines, the page title holds a lot of weight.
The funny part of the News & Observers weak headline is that their sub-headline is much better: “North Carolina sets records in building a 55-34 halftime lead, then holds off Michigan State to win its second NCAA championship in five seasons”.
Moving on to the second half of the equation, bounce rate. Visitors will bounce when they get to your page and it’s not what they want/expect/need/or it’s just lame looking. In this case, Google’s research shows that you have roughly 8 seconds to grab their attention. Let’s go back to the example. Here’s about what you get in 8 seconds, “DETROIT — As he went down the bench, alternately pumping a fist and hugging his teammates with a minute left Monday night, you could see it…”. Did that grab you? There is also some small color and black & white photos rotating within the story.
Once again, would work fine in print, but not so great on the web. It just seems a little flat to me, but I know my friends who are Tar Heels will tell me there’s nothing flat about a UNC championship story.
If the N&O had me on the payroll to advise them on SEO, I would have set up a special NCAA Tournament section 2 months ago. I would have been pouring small stories into it that were optimized for all the keywords March Madness generates. I would have been trying to tap into the craziness of the NC State, Duke and UNC fans. Getting them to text back updates from the tournament. Upload photos, tweets, facebook status updates and anything else that would overwhelm other tournament coverage sites (especially for ACC teams).
It’s not rocket science, it’s thinking about your content is a particular way. Our brains are processing information from left to right – so start thinking left to right when you’re composing.