If the goal of posting content online is to get people to look at it, then one of the most important and achievable things to do is make sure the title of the page is clear. This could apply to content on a website, newsletter headlines, or even on social media, and is best achieved when we consider how the user might access the information.
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More People Use Search
We know from analytics that an increasing online trend is more people tend to use an online search engine like Google to find information. For example, it.wisc.edu analytics data shows search referral traffic has increased from 36% in Fall 2016, to 45% in Fall 2018.
That means anyone who posts online content (and wants that content to be viewed, used and understood) should make sure their content can be easily found on search engines. This practice is what’s commonly called search engine optimization, or SEO. Google has a guide on best ways to improve SEO, and right at the top of the list is creating unique and accurate page titles.
Their language, not ours
Think of it this way: When searching for information, users will enter search terms into Google using the language that they know. “UW-Madison email” is a frequent example from the it.wisc.edu website. That’s not necessarily language that content creators might use to internally describe a product, service, or feature. For example, we might internally call our email system by the name “Office 365” or “O365”, but if the user is unfamiliar to the product name, they might just call it “email.” Matching the user’s language to our content can help ensure more connections to our content.
Therefore, when we match the page title to what the user inputs into a search engine, there are data proven examples that the likelihood of them clicking through to the content is higher. In providing clear descriptions of what the user can expect, it increases user’s confidence that they’ve found the information they want.
How to find search terms
So, how do you know what users are searching for? There are two key ways, ranging from more general info about search behaviors to information specifically from your website. Using Google Analytics, website owners can verify their site with Search Console, which gives you search terms in addition to a lot of other valuable site information. Google Trends is a comparison tool that helps you determine how often people use specific search terms, and compare them against other search terms to see which is more often used.
Does it work?
In September of 2017, DoIT’s Communications team implemented some SEO updates on the it.wisc.edu website, which included developing clear page titles. The results show an 9% increase in average monthly pageviews (180,000 in 2017, to 196,000 in 2018).
Results will vary, but creating or designing content in a way that focuses on how the user may access this content, part of what’s known as user centered design, is a good strategy in creating usable content.
Who can help?
DoIT now houses the Center for Digital Accessibility and User Experience, and can help with thinking through strategies like this, to help folks on campus meet their mission and goals. More information on how the Center can help will be coming in the near future.
–– Adam Hills-Meyer, Content Strategist with the Center for Digital Accessibility and User Experience