Influencing Search Engine Memory with Emotional Design

Keyword targeting is kind of pseudo-science that has emerged over the last decade in an effort to influence search engines in ways that we don’t fully understand. In general terms, you’re trying to tell a machine what you want it to remember about you. That being said, it’s not like Google’s search algorithm has memory like you and I. When we recite “Potato Salad” 20 times to ensure we don’t embarrass ourselves at the company party when we show up empty-handed, our brain isn’t just using our repetition to commit our intentions to memory. There are several other factors involved in creating a human memory, such as attention, emotional response and situational context.

The process of laying down a memory begins with attention, in which a memorable event causes neurons to fire more frequently, making the experience more intense and increasing the likelihood that the event is encoded as a memory. Emotion tends to increase attention, and the emotional element of an event is processed by an unconscious pathway in the brain… 1

To commit to the human memory, much more is required than basic repetition. Why don’t we treat search engines the same way?

Keyword Theory

Similarly to how we recite a phrase or word to try and commit it to our memory, we can derive a practice of influencing search engines. When a user types into google, “How to make an Apple Pie?”, they unknowingly reinforce the importance of keywords. Dissecting that phrase, we can see the strongest words for what they are. How, make, Apple Pie. A Search Engine takes these words, searches through their database of sites and recalls the sites that have terms similar to making an apple pie. This is where ranking becomes a competition, and the competition is fierce. 95 percent of web traffic goes to sites on Page 1 of Google SERPs 2. What can we do to ensure that we are on the front page?.

Many experts swear up and down the importance of keyword targeting, and I’m not here to disagree with them, just to offer an alternative perspective on the concerns keyword targeting has on the modern agency.

Behind the scenes, search engines always tend to know your website exists once it’s published. The trick is getting it to care about it. How do you quantify whether or not search engines think your content is worth displaying in it’s results? Interestingly enough, the answer doesn’t involve sending the Search Engine a bouquet of flowers and a handwritten note pleading “Please rank me higher than my competition, I can be what you want if you just give me a chance”. It doesn’t care about what you think, what your company does or how romantic your SEO Analysts are.

It cares about the experience of the people who use your site.

Keywords are not the penultimate way to drive rankings and they should not be treated as such. The way to have a successful online presence is to have great content. Sure, that content should be focused on your business goals or your marketing strategy, but unique and creative content beats out keywords any day of the week.

Enter Emotional Design

While keywords and structural optimization can cover the mathematical portion of our search engine influence, there is far more that can be done in the less tangible perception of our users. How do we make users feel comfortable with our site? What really defines “brand trust”? How do we measure the emotional response that our users will have so that we can invite positive memories and images of our brand?

These questions might seem like something far more important for user experience designers and marketers, but they are just as prevalent for SEO analysts. SEO is no longer just about formatting your content the right way, or making it easy for a search engine to understand what your page does and the information that it contains. To fully understand how to rise above the clutter, SEO Analysts need to be aware of their team’s content funnel, and how design decisions are being made. It will always be far more important to have amazing content, rather than decent content that is optimized for search engine crawlers. The reality is that we need to care about how visitors get to our sites, how they stay and why they leave. We need to measure the Emotional Response that our audience will have and how we keep them on our site. That’s where the real optimization lies.

Add a Little Humor to your Work

A proven way to help drive traffic and conversions to your site is to add humor in your pages, and your work. I would argue that the largest contributing factor to the viral take off the Dollar Shave Club start-up had was its hilarious video. Their entire site was riddled with humor and it showed just how powerful humor can be to drive traffic and sales. Even Forbes magazine has a top 25 richest fictional people list. Humor is an excellent way to convey to your visitors that you are human too. The human element can be a driving force in influencing shares and registrations.


Pay Attention to Your Message

Whether or not people realize it, language is riddled with bias and it’s easy to offend or confuse people with very few words. Product Hunt was recently under fire for using the word ‘he’ in some of their copy, in place of a more gender-neutral term. After women mentioned it on twitter to the Product Hunt team, the copy was quickly updated in order to remedy the situation. Product Hunt acknowledged their mistake and that they never realized copy like that could offend or be misinterpreted. The truth is that it can, and you need to be careful when writing copy of your own and that you are taking into consideration what your intended message is, and what your audience is going to interpret. If the two are different, then it might be time to take a second look at what you are writing!

The Beaten Path

Part of our job as SEO Analysts is to guide the flow of conversions. That means reducing the steps it takes for our visitors to become customers. The landing page method is proven to work, however, I don’t think that it is the end all be all for increasing conversions. Some methods that seem to work are:

Simplify your Forms

This is especially relevant for products or applications that require a lot of user information. (i.e. social applications, profile pages, etc.). Eventually, you do want all of this information from your users, but let’s try not to overwhelm them, ok? Perhaps make the bare minimum to sign up an email and a username, then show your new users all the cool features that they just signed up for. “Wow, if I give you my twitter username you’ll activate the dynamic timeline of all this interesting stuff?!? Sign me up!”.

Make it Magical

No, don’t actually make the experience like something out of a storybook (unless that’s what you want then by all means go for it). What I really mean by that is that users should really feel all of the work for them. If your website has a specific purpose, don’t muddy the waters. Smooth transitions and clear objectives help guide the user experience and should be taken into high consideration when optimizing your site for conversions.

Know your Goals

If your goal is to have users click a button, that button should be the greatest and easiest to click button that they’ve ever seen. If your goal is to have users not click the button, you probably shouldn’t do this. The point is to know what you want, you have to put yourself in the user’s shoes. How are they going to give you what you want if you hide it behind a myriad of videos, mottos and keyword text.

Remind Me, Why Does This Matter?

Search engines are smart, but they are not that clever. They are very reactionary to the trends of the web and the search terms being thrown into their engine. Even though they are trying to be much more predictive in nature, it’s impossible to know what the next search craze might be or how long it’s going to last. One day it’s “Madonna Falling at the Brit Awards 2015” and the next it’s “#theDress“3. Search engines are unlikely to forget these phenomena over the coming years, and that’s where we come in.

We can use the reactionary nature of search engines to our advantage. If going viral were easy everyone would do it. To optimize for search engines, we can’t just measure the tangible assets at our disposal. If your website was the most searched page in the world tomorrow, can you imagine the effect it would have on your business going forward? SEO Analysts need to utilize Emotional Design in order to fully understand why things go viral, and how we make our content become worth sharing4. Gone are the days where our primary concerns were our site’s meta-data and the next Google Penguin update. Now we need to set our sights on making our content better than everything else out there because that’s the only way to literally rise to the top. And honestly, isn’t that how it should have always been?