Audience

Why Optimize for Search Engines? Let’s Optimize for People

For years, digital marketers have served one master: Google (okay, and other search engines). Search engines zigged and we zagged to play by the rules they’ve set. Keywords on the page matter most for rankings? Alright, let’s get to a keyword density of 6% and call it a day. Links are seen as “votes of confidence” that will make my site rank higher? Submit to a few more directories, intern!

Digital marketers have evolved over time, but mostly just to serve search engines.

As we’ve stayed laser-focused on Google and its algorithm, the folks who are actually doing the searching—people—haven’t been put first. At the end of the day, Google isn’t browsing your site, reading your content, and submitting lead forms—people are. It’s easier to monitor Google’s algorithm changes than understand something really tough: the motivations, experiences, and needs of actual people.

We build an entire service to optimize for search engines (SEO) and forget about what we should be doing: optimizing people’s search experiences (PSX). And it’s not just about “optimizing,” we need to be discovering, understanding, and supporting them.

Turns out, the Golden Rule also applies to digital marketing: Treat others as you’d like to be treated (online).

SEOs need to put themselves in searchers’ shoes

If you are expecting a child and searching for information about which baby products are safest, are you thinking about the strength of the sites you’re reviewing as an SEO, or are you a soon-to-be first-time parent trying your hardest to create the best environment for your child? You’re not reading the H2s to see how well-optimized they are, but rather, if those sections of text will answer your most anxiety-inducing questions.

If a site is blindly following SEO “best practices,” then, at best, they’ve used Google’s “People Also Ask” (PAA) questions to determine what topics to include in the article. But, are they really answering your questions? Is their paragraph about safe baby product materials skimmable and optimized, yet it doesn’t include opinions from pediatricians and other trusted experts? Was this written by an underpaid copywriter who isn’t wrong, but doesn’t answer any of your concerns with any depth?

What people actually think about your content matters.

And although Google has evolved to include behavior signals within its algorithm, we need to create content that isn’t just high-quality from a search perspective, but from a people perspective.

For instance, if I get to your blog about child safety products, but you’re not really answering my anxious questions about safety, I will quickly move on to your competitor’s site, even if your content is well-optimized. You don’t get credit for being “optimized for search engines,” you get credit for answering my most nerve-wracking questions in the depth and breadth I need.

How do you find out what people need? While keywords give us huge hints into what topics people want to learn more about, it’s only a direction. It’s not a roadmap of what you need to write about. If I want to rank for safe baby product ingredients, I can put together a pretty decent post based on related keywords and PAAs, but, do I really know what they need? How can I give them the answers they’re looking for? We can use the tools at our disposal and put our best guess out there, but we’re making assumptions.

To move away from this, we’ve been conducting our own research on our client’s audience—from leading interviews with target customers and internal customer service teams to analyzing chat logs to conducting user search sessions.

We’re not just content on letting Keyword Planner guide what our client’s content strategy should be. Instead, we’re learning about the experiences and needs of people.

Maybe it sounds like a waste of time, but it simply does not make sense to spend $1,200 to write a blog post on a topic based on keywords and assumptions only to publish it and find that it’s not performing well. Not only do you spend more time and money making updates based on “hunches” as to why that content isn’t working, but you lose trust in the eyes of people who looked to your site for answers and came away with nothing.

It’s a smarter, more methodical move to take the same amount of money, invest in a survey or handful of interviews to learn about what answers people truly need and then use that information to create excellent content that gets it right the first time.  

Putting an audience-centric approach into action

For more than a year, Seer’s been living in an audience-centric mentality. At any point of working with a client, we need to make sure we’re keeping the people who are searching for our client’s information, products, or services in mind. And, it’s not just our clients’ audience that’s benefiting from our shift, but our client’s, too.

One of our clients in the SAAS space was looking for better ways to connect with their audience. They were already ranking well for their target terms but were seeking greater connection to improve their conversion rate.

Seer interviewed 12 of our client’s existing customers to ask what information they needed on the landing pages and what type of experience they’d prefer. From those interviews, we identified common themes and overhauled a test group of landing pages. After conducting research to optimize people’s search experience and serve them with the best version of content to meet their needs.

There was a 31% average increase to the conversion rates on the test pages.

The existing content wasn’t terrible by any means—we just found that by talking to people, we better understood how to tailor the content they were looking for. For more examples, check back to our case study page as we update it with more client stories.


At Seer, we’re thinking beyond SEO to focusing on PSX, people’s search experiences. We’re focusing on how to make our client’s website experience better for the person who will be browsing and reading it, not search engines that determine ranking. That doesn’t mean we don’t consider ranking important anymore … we still do.

But, we believe that by focusing on people, we will be rewarded by the folks doing the searching, not just search engines themselves.