How to Optimize for “Searcher Task Accomplishment”

As search engine algorithms and SEOers get increasingly sophisticated, the human experience becomes more and more the centerpiece of the search experience on the web. And that’s a good thing.

New tech isn’t groundbreaking tech unless it adapts to real needs in the user experience. It’s not about tricking robots anymore – it’s not about keywords stuffing or being a “player” in the search game anymore. It’s about positioning yourself as a real solution to the searcher. And if you can do that, Google will reward you, and justly so.

Because as marketers, shouldn’t our primary goal be to meet customers and searchers where they are and engage with them in their own language like they’re—well, humans? That’s the beauty of the new trend in SEO on the horizon called searcher task accomplishment—it puts the searcher’s needs on an even higher pedestal than before.

So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what searcher task accomplishment is, where we can find some bad, good, and great examples, and how to position yourself as the searcher’s answer—so you can be the one to guide them through accomplishing their task. And in turn, you and your website will be rewarded for that.

What Is Searcher Task Accomplishment?

Searcher task accomplishment stems from the idea that with every search made, the user has a specific goal to accomplish.

A more technical definition from oneupweb.com says that:

“Searcher task accomplishment is the idea that search results should be determined by the objectives of the user performing the search, and the satisfaction the user experiences when they receive those results.”

Think about it: hasn’t every search you’ve ever performed been to solve a problem?

• where was David Bowie born? —> the task you’re attempting is finding out more about David Bowie’s past

• stiff neck exercises —> your task: find advice for relieving tension in your neck

• drive from Charleston to Nashville —> your task: find out how long it’ll take you to drive from Charleston to Nashville

Because most people don’t just pull up their search engines to smash their hands on the keyboard and hit enter, virtually every search can be broken down into simple task attempt and accomplishment in this way.

Now let’s go back and notice there’s two parts to that definition: 1) did we help them achieve the objective? 2) were they satisfied with how we did (or perhaps, did not) help them achieve their objective?

It may not seem like two entirely separate criteria, but they are. Think about it like this: have you ever googled a question, and technically found your answer, yet feel as though your question could have been better answered in a different way?

Answers to your question that go above and beyond will leave you feeling like Google did a good job understanding your needs. Answers to your question that technically answered your question—but either 1) didn’t give you all the information you needed or 2) delivered it in an inconvenient format—leave you craving a better answer.

So let’s talk about examples of all kinds and how you can meet both criteria, positioning yourself as someone who goes above and beyond to give your searcher the best answer.

Examples of Task Accomplishment

What does it look like when:

a task isn’t accomplished;

a task is accomplished, but is only minimally useful to the searcher;

a task is accomplished and goes above and beyond to help the searcher  accomplish their task?

A Failed Attempt

It’s actually pretty hard to catch Google in a failed task accomplishment attempt. You’d have to be searching something pretty darn specific to not find the information you’re looking for. For this example, I had to think back hard on the last time I googled something and was left unsatisfied.

Why do we care about this? Why does it matter? Because we want to check our own online presence and make sure there aren’t any obvious holes in our website’s ability to answer customers’ simple questions. This is the easiest stuff to fix, so go make sure you have the basics down and fill out your site with contact information, FAQs, and basic knowledge relevant to your industry.

A “Good Enough” Attempt

Here’s what you get when you Google “drive from charleston to nashville.”

Well, that definitely answers my question. Here’s what I’m actually wondering though, something I’d currently have to perform multiple searches to figure out: should I drive from Charleston to Nashville, or should I fly? Are there any other options, like taking the train? (If you Google “should I drive from charleston to nashville,” you get pretty much the same SERP.)

I got my answer, but I’m not blown away. But if, say, one of these top guys on the SERP, like TripAdvisor, had a page for me on all my transportation options from Charleston to Nashville, I’d be super impressed. A page that looked something like this:

Charleston to Nashville – 8 Hour Drive – 1.5 Hour Flight – 1d 4h Train Ride – TripAdvisor

would really catch my attention. That’s our goal: go above and beyond and solve our searcher’s problem—almost to read their minds and answer their question more completely than they expected.

An A+ Attempt

Here’s what you get when you Google “how to find lost pet”:

All I’m thinking right now is, “I need a list of tips for finding my pet, and stat.” And that’s exactly what I get right at the top of my SERP—score. But the farther I travel through the SERPs, the more I’m finding out about other information I didn’t necessarily ask for, but that could end up being very useful to me.

I was only looking for a list of tips I can put into action right now, but I also got a lot of other info that could help me now and in the future. I learned about pet microchipping and registering so I can avoid this mishap later on, I found an article on how to train your other pet to help you search for the lost pet—something I didn’t even know was a thing—and finally I saw a heartwarming story about how a guy was in the same situation I’m in and had a happy ending: he was reunited with his dog after losing him for 12 days.

What’s the delineating factor between giving the searcher a literal answer to their question and giving them more than they need? What’s the key to bridging this gap and coming out on top with the best answer your searcher could hope for?

It’s anticipating intent. It’s taking a short set of keywords, a very straightforward set of search terms, and reading into them with a hyper-awareness that asks: what does the searcher actually need from me?

How to Position Yourself as the Answer

Now that we know the difference between the 3 kinds of search results, let’s talk about how we succeed at providing the best kind: one that anticipates intent and goes above and beyond to accomplish our searcher’s task.

Getting Started: Up Front Work

Here’s the stuff you do before you start making actual changes to your website/SEO strategy. It’s the footwork, the homework; it’s the intake process that involves listening, learning, and taking notes.

Understand the searcher’s task accomplishment journey.

Here’s our searcher’s path, step by step, laid out for us by Rand Fishkin in a post for Moz:

1. Expression of need. This is where your search engine and user first interact: when the searcher presents a task or problem and hits the enter button.

2. Underlying goals. Google then uses sophisticated AI technology to uncover the intentions behind the user’s search. (i.e. this person just searched does cinnamon help you lose weight —> this person must be trying to lose weight.)

3. Evaluation of results. Google finds the content that best accomplishes these goals and displays it in a SERP.

4. Selection. The user skims, scrolls, and eventually ends up clicking on a search result. If a user doesn’t click on any result and performs a new search, that’s feedback, too.

5. Evaluation of task completion. Google uses information on the searcher’s activity within a SERP (how much time searcher spent there, what they clicked) as feedback to find out if they did a good job at displaying the most helpful results.

6. Discovery of additional needs. This is where, using my example about a lost pet, I realize (or Google realizes for me) that I don’t only need tips about finding my pet—I could also use some inspirational stories on pets returning home for my emotional comfort, I could use some contact information for local pet shelters, and I could also use some more info on microchipping so I can prevent this from happening again. It’s like Google knew what I needed before I did.

Now that you know how it works behind the scenes, you can use this searcher’s path to inform your decisions when developing a content strategy.

Understand how Google’s understanding of the searcher’s needs works (and how it ends up affecting SERPs).

Let’s talk more about step #5 in the searcher’s path above. Knowing how Google’s taking in feedback and using it to course correct for a better user experience will be valuable for you as you aim to position yourself as the right answer.

Know that with every update, every change that Google makes to its algorithms, it’s aiming to become more and more intuitive and human-centered.

The biggest indicators for Google on whether or not a result has helped you accomplish your task are 1) whether or not you click on a certain search result, 2) how long you stay there, and 3) how you interact with the content once you’re on that search results page.

If you click the back button after only 5 seconds on a page, Google is guessing that your problem hasn’t been solved and they’ll use this information next time this search is performed. Knowing this helps you turn your abstract goals into concrete ones: if you want to signal to Google that you’re accomplishing searcher tasks, you need to 1) get them to click on your result, 2) stay on your website for a decent amount of time, and 3) engage with your content while they’re there.

Exercise your ability to anticipate intent.

A big part of taking advantage of better searcher task accomplishment is just noticing how a certain SERP could be better—how you can stick out and go the extra mile, how you can be the most thorough (yet convenient) answer.

Think about all the last times you googled something. Perform those searches again and evaluate the SERPs you got back. Did any answer go above and beyond? What about it made it stand out as the better-than-you-asked-for answer? Notice these defining characteristics so you can mimic them in your own strategy.

What Next? Practical Tips

Now that we understand the processes behind searcher task accomplishment, let’s talk about what actions you can take to position yourself as the searcher’s #1 helper.

Offer solutions in the form of long-form content.

Deep dive into a topic in an organized way. Much like a WebMD or Wikipedia page, organize your knowledge into hubs of topics with links to related topics. Going in-depth on a topic in a way that’s easy for the visitor to sort through is the key to positioning yourself as the answer here.

Include visuals.

Not only are visuals a more appropriate answer to some search queries (i.e. “map of France” or “how to do smokey eye makeup”), but including them will also give you a leg up on the bounce rate front. Answering your visitor’s questions with videos, images, and infographics will have them staying on your webpage longer.

It’s way more helpful for a searcher trying to learn a new makeup technique to see it done on video vs. a wall of text, so it’s only natural that a YouTube video is what shows up first.
Write a series of posts on a certain topic.

Here’s how you win in that “anticipating need” space: you offer the information your reader will need next. If she searches “how to write a novel” and ends up on your page “Starting Your Novel: Outlining”, she should be able to easily navigate to the next step in the process. Here’s where you want to make it easy for her to find your posts on Writing Your First Draft, Editing Your Novel, and Should You Self Publish?

Not only have you answered her initial question (how to write a novel)—you’ve also guided her through the entire process of outlining and idea generation to publication, likely way more than she was hoping for when she typed her first simple search. Google sees her clicking around this series on your site as engagement and takes it as a signal that you went above and beyond to be the best answer.

This search result for “how to write a novel” gives me much more than that: while it offers a basic list of steps that fulfill my initial search terms, it also gives me book recommendations on writing techniques, links to courses I can sign up for if I want to learn more, and a list of simple action steps I can take right now—amazingly helpful, since writing a novel is such an abstract undertaking.
Offer what your competitors do, but better.

Google yourself, essentially. What keywords or questions do you want to rank for? Google those things and take note of what comes up. If there’s any information your competitors (high rankers) include that you don’t, take note of it so you can include it on your page, too.

If you offer all the knowledge your competitors offer and more—and can manage to do it all in one neat package—it’s only natural that you’ll gain traction as the most robust source of knowledge.

Make Yourself the Best Answer

That’s what it all comes down to—proving to Google and the searcher that you’re the best answer they’ll get, whether you do that with long-form content, videos, infographics, or organized knowledge hubs. Intuitiveness and thoroughness are the keys.

Do your homework, understand the process, and use that knowledge to make sure your content is as clear and as helpful as anyone else’s. That’s how you become the searcher’s favorite helper.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Tim Dugan

Tim Dugan is founder of Web Services CT, a digital marketing service specializing in SEO and website design for small to mid-sized businesses throughout CT. He is also the director of SEO for Zero Gravity Marketing located in Madison, CT. Tim has a genuine passion for helping small business owners succeed through effective SEO and digital marketing strategies. When he’s not optimizing for the latest algorithm updates, he enjoys fishing and spending time with his family.

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