Virtually everyone with a website wants something back for their efforts. They may be selling something, or just want subscribers to their blog, but I think there’s some sort of conversion process in 99.9% of the sites on the Internet. That’s where search experience optimization, or SXO, comes into play.

If we have SEO, why do we need SXO?

Briefly stated, because we may be optimizing the wrong thing entirely!

In order to optimize something, you obviously need to be able to identify the true target. So let’s take a look at things from a different angle than we normally do when we’re thinking as search engine optimization practitioners. What should we really be optimizing? Let’s look at the big picture.

Photo credit: Ossie (NLN)

As SEOs, we optimize our clients’ sites for search engine visibility, of course, but sometimes we get so focused on the search engines, that we forget the real purpose of the site. Attracting users isn’t enough… they must convert, as well.

The “old way” of doing things was for the SEO to strive for SE visibility, the SEM crew to concentrate on getting the user to click through, and then the conversion funnel would guide the user to the climax.

A lot of problems can arise with this approach. First of all, when the SEO is focusing more on the search engines than the user, then the quality of the user’s experience can suffer. Also, there can often be a conflict between the SEO’s and the SEM’s strategies.

That can lead to a user encountering something different from what he expects, which will cause his resistance level to elevate. The CRO’s job is now made more difficult, as a result. Psychologically, the user has been made defensive, and the site’s conversion rate will almost assuredly suffer for it.

How is SXO different?

SXO focuses instead upon the user first, and the search engines second. By working to present purely relevant data, the search engines are kept happy, the users are given choices that better suit their search queries, and the site owner is supplied with users that are better targeted for the site’s offering.

It’s a win – win – win situation. And it translates into higher conversion rates, with the accompanying higher ROI. If anyone can think of a downside, aside from a little extra coding, I’d love to discuss it… I’ve looked, and can’t find any.

When we augment this approach with microformats or RDFa, we supercharge the effect. Now we’ve put more information In front of the search engines, in a tightly categorized fashion, which allows them to better determine our site’s relevancy to the search query.

In turn, the search engine can then present that amplified information to the user in the SERPs, which helps the user to choose the site most relevant to their needs.

Assuming our on-site work was fruitful, the user will have easily found a site that seems like just what he’s looking for, will arrive to find clear navigation and an attractive, functional website, and from that point, it’s pretty much the CRO’s responsibility to lead him to the prize.

This is where many SEO campaigns break down. Usually, the client maintains control over the conversion funnel… and not always in a very effective manner. All that highly targeted traffic we generated may fail to convert, for one of two very common reasons.

If the client isn’t prepared to respond to the inquiries we’ve acquired, many potential customers will be lost. Since the client often has it in his head that we’re going to bring him more business (read: SALES), he will often blame on the SEO what seems to actually be a drop in sales, even though traffic has increased.

On the other hand, if the conversion funnel isn’t effective, about the best we can hope for is flat sales, even in the face of increased traffic. Again, it’s almost inevitable that the SEO will bear the blame for the lack of results.

What’s the solution?

Obviously, there’s no single solution to every problem. However, there are strategies that can mitigate much of the risk of failure due to one weak link in the chain. That’s where SXO comes in.

SXO is NOT just a new acronym for SEO. And it’s NOT a new technique. It’s a new perspective! By blending the psychology of marketing and conversion with the technology of SEO, a new perspective develops… one that is heavily focused on the user experience. In short, we need to:

  • Make it easy for the user to find choices;
  • make it easy for him to select one of the options presented;
  • make it easy to understand and navigate the website;
  • make it easy to execute the transaction

The effect is one that will slowly build a higher level of susceptibility to the conversion funnel, beginning at the point the search query is first entered.  Each subsequent step in his journey will be met with a lower resistance.

Now if you don’t think that psychology really plays any part in sales and marketing, you should probably take up a new line of work, ‘cause you probably have little future in the game… except maybe selling water to wanderers in the desert.

Psychology has everything to do with sales and marketing! And sales are what our clients want to achieve when they invest in our services. Simply delivering X number of backlinks or submitting Y number of articles to some obscure directory does little-to-nothing for them, if not part of a comprehensive strategy.

An SXO strategy, combining everything that affects the user experience and the website’s effectiveness, will render much better results than a disconnected approach.

Comments (6)

  1. Is SXO something similar to Sematic Web?? Semantic Web also focuses more on relation between web pages with extra meta data about each page..

  2. No. SXO is simply a shift of priority from the common practice of worrying first about the search engines, to worrying first about the users. The main premise is that by focusing on the user experience, we can better predict and control the user’s response to our conversion efforts. A grumpy dad doesn’t buy a car nearly as readily as a proud father. 😉

  3. Thanks Doc for your prompt reply.. So its change in the perspective of the site owners about how they publish their contents online.. Not sure though how many people will be able to distinguish between the two approaches..

    • Obviously, “write for the users, not the search engines” isn’t a brand new idea. Matt Cutts has said it many times, along with many others. I was simply trying to point out some of the marketing benefits that can be enjoyed by keeping the users foremost in our minds throughout the entire process. Here’s a little more on the subject, if you’re interested.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Kunal!

  4. Always trying to broaden my SEO knowledge so thanks for the information – it is always good to learn from those in the know. Not come across SXO before, but your points are very well considered and something I will endeavour to follow when reveiwing my current webpage. Although the internet, SEO and blogging are not my profession, they have become as important to my business as the actual core services provided, (Architectural Design). As a DIY webmaster, posts like these are vey useful to enable us to get the best out of the internet to drive customers to our website, in order that we can build on our existing customer base and provide our services to people who would otherwise not know of our services. Keep up the good work

    • That you haven’t come across the term SXO before isn’t surprising, as it’s an acronym I coined just to make the point. Even old-school off-line marketers know that subtle things that improve a prospect’s experience and mood can greatly improve receptiveness to a sales effort. I just think that it’s possible to optimize for both search engines and users, as opposed to one or the other.

      Thanks for commenting! We hope to see you back again, soon.