Search experience optimization will be the next iteration of search engine optimization, according to Google’s Head of Webspam Matt Cutts. While the latter focuses on best practices for getting search crawlers to give domains higher rankings in search results, the former prioritizes end users’ satisfaction.

Focus on content quality

Cutts first declared the search engine would be leaning toward SXO at the end of 2012, and he has continued to hint at the rising importance of website quality throughout the year. Webmasters are urged to consider users’ benchmarks for judging good and bad website content, including the quality of writing, design and originality. Cutts has even suggested the search engine will start to care less about basic ranking signals like backlinks and more about complex metrics that indicate users are finding online content relevant and useful.

As Google develops new algorithms, websites might be rewarded with better positions in SERPs if readers are bookmarking their pages, converting on site and sharing content with other users. This marks a vast shift away from the search engine’s objective ranking signals such as keyword use in meta-descriptions, title tags and backlink profiles.

While Cutts has said links still have a good number of years ahead of them, he has also advised publishers not to become so focused on gaining links from reputable sites that they lose sight of what matters most – giving page visitors the best experiences possible.

Solicit feedback about experiences

If SXO is the future of search, many webmasters will have to revisit their content marketing and SEO strategies, incorporating new practices that enhance sites for end users. In a Webmaster Help Channel video, Cutts adds that many marketers become too focused on link building, when they should be developing sites that users enjoy visiting. Well-designed domains perform better in search results than websites that are hyper-focused on SEO.

As further evidence of this shift, the Webmaster Central Blog announced it will support satisfaction surveys on websites. Now, publishers can paste a snippet of code in sites’ HTML, which will display a discreet survey about users’ experiences. Google will aggregate and analyze data from the questions to give publisher insights about whether their pages meet visitors’ expectations. Standard questions are free, but webmasters can customize them to receive tailored information for a fee.

To prepare for these changes, webmasters should make sure their sites feature accurate and relevant content, are easy to navigate and include visually appealing graphics.