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User Satisfaction and Content Measurement with Jen Boland

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Jen Boland

Jen Boland, Founder of Satisfyly

In the dynamic world of digital innovation, few stories resonate as profoundly as that of Jen Boland, the spirited founder of Satisfyly and Boland Solutions. With an illustrious journey that marries the early days of web development to the cutting edge of content analytics, Jen's narrative is a masterclass in passion, perseverance, and the transformative power of technology.

From the hallowed halls of a college classroom in 1996, where a serendipitous encounter with HTML and FTP coding sparked a lifelong vocation, to the esteemed corridors of Congress where she first applied her burgeoning skills, Jen's early career laid the groundwork for a visionary approach to the web. It was here, amidst the burgeoning digital landscape, that Jen's ethos of user satisfaction and efficiency first took root, propelling her towards ground-breaking innovations in web development.

Jen's career is punctuated by a relentless quest for simplification and effectiveness, often springing from her own self-described 'laziness'. Yet, it is this very quest that has led to pioneering developments, such as the integration of online forms with CRM systems, enhancing both user experience and operational efficiency.

Despite facing setbacks, including a foray into the wellness industry that didn't go as planned, Jen's resilience and innovative spirit only grew stronger. Her tenure at an agency, spanning over a decade, was marked by a simmering pot of ideas that eventually became too potent to ignore. This led to her bravest move yet: leaving the security of employment to venture into the uncharted territories of entrepreneurship with Satisfyly and Boland Solutions.

At the heart of Jen's work is a commitment to content satisfaction and measurement. Satisfyly is not just a business; it's a mission to revolutionize how content is assessed, ensuring that it not only reaches audiences but truly engages them. This venture, alongside her consultancy, Boland Solutions, showcases Jen's unparalleled expertise in analytics, SEO, and a forward-thinking approach to digital strategy.

Boland Solutions serves as a beacon for the non-profit sector, tackling complex data challenges with innovative solutions. Here, Jen leverages her extensive toolkit, offering services like content feedback, top task collection, donation feedback, and content insights. Furthermore, her foresight into a cookie-less future positions her as a guiding light for organizations navigating the evolving digital marketing landscape.

Jen Boland stands as a testament to the power of embracing one's passions and the courage to transform them into tangible solutions. Her journey from a college student fascinated by the nascent web to a thought leader in content strategy and digital analytics is a beacon of inspiration. Through Satisfyly and Boland Solutions, Jen continues to shape the digital world, one satisfied user and empowered organization at a time.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Jen Boland

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(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)

Listen to the podcast

(56 minutes long)

Unscripted User Content Measurement Q&As with Mark A Preston and Jen Boland

Who is Jen Boland?

Hello, I'm Jen Boland, the founder of Satisfily. Nearly a year ago, I bid farewell to my agency role to embark on an exciting venture with Satisfily, which I launched in the late summer. At its core, Satisfily focuses on content satisfaction and measurement, as the name cleverly suggests.

How did you venture into the SEO industry, and what has your journey been like, Jen?

It's quite amusing, actually. Recently, someone on Twitter inquired about the first website I ever designed. I'm immensely grateful for a particular class I attended in college during my fourth year, a time when my priorities were elsewhere, to say the least. However, this class introduced me to the basics of building a website in 1996, a pivotal moment that set my career on its path. Starting out by developing websites for members of Congress, I've always been driven by user satisfaction and experience. My entry into web development was sparked by a desire to streamline mundane tasks, leading to innovative solutions that improved usability. This journey saw its share of ups and downs, including a stint in the wellness industry and 12 years at an agency, before the relentless call of my entrepreneurial spirit led me to launch Satisfily. Now, I run a flourishing consulting business alongside developing Satisfily, aiming to revolutionise how content is measured and appreciated.

What exactly is content measurement?

Interestingly enough, this question reminds me of a discovery I made last night while rummaging through my Google Drive. I stumbled upon something I dubbed the "content report card," a concept born from a conversation with a client about the efficacy of their content, post a significant analytics overhaul. This interaction sparked the realisation of the need to quantify content impact. Content measurement, to me, is underpinned by two main principles, inspired by Ari Holland and his core model, which posits that content must satisfy both user and organisational needs. I developed a widget for collecting user feedback directly into Google Analytics, sidestepping third-party tools, and focused on what I term "assisted conversions" to gauge whether content prompts the desired actions. Moreover, content creation often overlooks the navigational pathways to access it, a critical oversight in maximising content's value. Despite the substantial resources poured into content production, the overarching goal remains to ensure it fulfils user expectations and serves organisational objectives effectively, thus encapsulating the essence of content measurement.

How should SEOs be thinking about content?

At the moment, there's a deluge of content being generated by AI, prompting a need for a deeper reflection on what people truly seek from content. I've been collaborating with a major health organisation for four years, assisting them in climbing the SEO ranks to compete with leading names. Despite this success, we've encountered stagnation, partly due to Google favouring larger brands and also because their content has become too polished yet devoid of warmth. I once advocated for comprehensive, well-researched content, but the rise of AI has made generating such content trivial. The real challenge lies in delivering value. As search traffic is likely to diminish, our focus must shift towards forging genuine connections with our audience. People search for solutions, not just content. In my work with associations and non-profits, the goal is always to address the needs of those seeking help. With Google increasingly satisfying queries directly, our aim should be to establish a rapport and build a brand that resonates with our audience beyond mere numbers. The imminent end of third-party cookies further complicates traditional SEO strategies, necessitating a pivot towards quality and engagement rather than mere visibility.

How important is user satisfaction data for SEOs?

User satisfaction data is indispensable for gauging the effectiveness of content. While larger organisations might manage pre-launch content testing, for most, this isn't feasible. Generally, content is published without further consideration, missing opportunities for SEO enhancement or re-promotion. Emphasising content quality and fostering connections with the audience are paramount. Conducting user interviews can pave the way for more relevant content, combining expert knowledge with skilled writing. As we navigate through the abundance of AI-generated content, the key to differentiation will be a deeper engagement with our audience's needs and preferences.

Is the whole point of content to connect with users?

Absolutely, the essence of content is to establish a connection with users. While achieving significant boosts in rankings and traffic is rewarding, it's crucial to reflect on the quality of the traffic generated. In my sector, where direct revenue impact is less apparent, the challenge lies in not just attracting more visitors but ensuring the traffic is meaningful. Despite being commissioned to increase traffic, the underlying goal is to attract visitors who genuinely benefit from the content, aligning with the right key performance indicators beyond mere numbers.

Is there any value in generating a vast amount of organic traffic if only a small fraction converts?

Precisely. And it's not just SEOs, but also individuals within the writing industry who, despite their creativity, often show aversion to data – yet they are among those who should be prioritising its analysis. Delving into Search Console data, for instance, can offer insights not just for improvement but also in understanding whether your content aligns with your intended audience. The challenge lies in our inability to personally oversee every piece of content, necessitating the empowerment of our teams and writers to interpret data and identify opportunities themselves. The essence lies in forging genuine connections with users. It raises the question of whether SEOs, who can adeptly optimise for keywords, possess the deep understanding required to truly engage with users. My depth of knowledge on certain topics doesn't compare to that of my clients, highlighting the importance of extracting and conveying information in a manner that resonates deeply with the audience.

What are the top three indicators an SEO should examine to determine if their content is effective?

From an organisational perspective, the paramount indicator would be assisted conversions. Google Analytics offers an underutilised funnel report within the Explore section, allowing the tracking of whether a page view preceded a conversion – a clear measure of effectiveness. Secondly, user satisfaction is crucial. Implementing a system for users to rate content directly on the page – through thumbs up/down or star ratings – provides immediate feedback on content value. Open-ended responses can further highlight missing elements or areas of disinterest. Lastly, analysing search terms offers profound insights into user intent and satisfaction. Even if you're not ranking first but consistently appear in the top 10 for relevant queries, it's indicative of meeting user needs effectively. These three metrics collectively offer a comprehensive view of content performance.

Should SEOs shift their focus from rankings to traffic analysis?

As someone who intertwines analytics with SEO, I advocate for the use of paired metrics. While rankings can serve as a preliminary gauge, they should be complemented by another metric, such as assisted conversions, to assess true value. Rankings can mislead if they're for irrelevant search terms. However, they still hold significance as they reflect user behaviour – clicks, dwell time, and actions post-return to search results. This user interaction data, confirmed by insights from legal disclosures about Google's operations, underscores the continued relevance of rankings. Yet, the ultimate goal should be to align rankings with meaningful traffic that contributes to desired outcomes, thereby marrying the concepts of visibility and utility.

Why don't many SEOs focus on the measurement side of things?

In an ideal world, each piece of content would be created with a clear purpose in mind. Yet, the stark reality is that not everyone prioritises this. I once collaborated with a major health publisher where the sole aim was to maximise page views to increase ad revenue, regardless of the content's relevance or quality. This approach eventually proved detrimental to their success, requiring significant internal changes to recover. It's astonishing how seldom the purpose of a page is determined and articulated. I advocate for Ari Holland's core model, which emphasises meeting user needs and clearly defining the next steps for the reader. Adopting this approach not only improves content quality but also its performance, by ensuring that each page has a distinct and meaningful purpose.

What should SEOs start measuring?

The old adage that "what gets measured gets managed" holds true, highlighting the importance of tracking performance to manage outcomes effectively. Ideally, SEOs would focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) such as user satisfaction and achieving organisational goals. However, not all websites, especially those reliant on advertising revenue, prioritise these metrics. Yet, they should, particularly with the impending challenges posed by the deprecation of third-party cookies and the rise of large language models (LLMs), which are likely to disrupt the revenue models of many small, ad-driven websites. These impending changes signal a need for a strategic shift in how content and audience engagement are approached and measured.

Isn't the whole point of content to position your brand where your audience is?

Indeed, positioning your brand where your audience congregates is crucial. Two notable examples include Winter, founded by Peep Laja, which focuses on audience research and surveying, and SparkToro, created by Rand Fishkin, which aims to locate where specific audiences spend their time. These tools embody the strategy of not only crafting messages that resonate with the audience but also ensuring those messages are seen where the audience is most active. My own experiences have shown that active engagement on social media can significantly boost brand searches. Conversely, silence leads to invisibility. This underlines the importance of not just creating content but also actively promoting it and engaging with potential audiences where they are, leveraging tools and strategies to make our brands more visible and relevant.

How crucial is it to comprehend the integration of SEO and marketing?

Indeed, the synergy between SEO and marketing is paramount. My exchanges with Rand Fishkin on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn have shed light on the significant gap in technology adoption among non-profits and associations. Many are unaware of the impending changes due to the loss of third-party cookies, largely due to being overworked and underfunded, leaving little room for forward-thinking. Rand's approach, especially with his latest developments, underscores the importance of identifying your audience and effectively communicating your message. As search evolves to cater more to those already familiar with a brand, the necessity of strategic brand presence and compelling content becomes even more critical. Every piece of content must serve a distinct purpose; without it, we risk contributing to the web's overwhelming clutter, much of which lacks value or relevance.

How exasperating is it to witness low-quality content ranking highly?

The frustration is palpable, especially when observing instances where prominent sites like Wirecutter and CNET dominate search rankings without genuine product evaluations, overshadowing those who do. A recent critique by House Beautiful highlighted this flaw, questioning the sophistication of Google's algorithm. Initially, many, including myself, had hoped that advancements like BERT would discern the factual accuracy of content. However, it appears the algorithm may still heavily lean on backlinks more than we'd like to admit, undermining the quality and truthfulness of search results.

What steps do you believe Google should take to refine search results?

I concur that addressing this challenge is crucial. The rise of large language models (LLMs) and the need for more advanced machine learning to evaluate content's intrinsic value suggest that search could become more costly. Beyond the sheer computational demands, a concerted effort is necessary to tackle misinformation and ensure a semblance of truthfulness among top-ranked pages. Google's strategy to be more selective in indexing content could serve as an indicator of content quality. If content is marked as discovered but not indexed, it signals a lack of value, urging creators to enhance their offerings. This selectiveness, while necessary to maintain quality, poses challenges for new sites seeking visibility, indicating a balance must be struck to foster both quality and innovation in the content ecosystem.

Have you experienced any eye-opening moments regarding user and content measurement over the years?

Absolutely, there have been several enlightening instances. For example, during a writing workshop with a client, we delved into content measurement and optimisation. Reviewing their website content, the client quickly recognised that much of it failed to resonate with their intended audience, questioning the relevance of certain pages. This moment of clarity was contrasted by experiences with other clients who, despite seeing the same data, struggled to draw the same conclusions about their content's effectiveness. This disparity highlights the challenge in interpreting data to inform content strategy, especially for organisations like voting rights groups. Identifying the connections between their content and broader issues can unlock tremendous opportunities, yet not everyone can see these. The ability to discern and act upon these insights is somewhat unique to SEOs, attributing to our diverse and often multifaceted thinking processes.

Do you believe SEOs should shift towards content that incorporates conversational scenarios, stories, and real-life experiences?

Indeed, there's a compelling case for integrating more authentic, story-driven content. However, the challenge lies in the fact that such content often struggles to gain visibility in search results. Despite this, I propose a hybrid approach: starting articles with a concise summary and a relatable story, followed by the more detailed, clinical information. This structure aims to satisfy both the search engine's criteria for comprehensive content and the reader's desire for engaging, empathetic narratives. Specifically in health content, this balance is crucial; the factual information underpins the content's credibility, while the personal stories connect on a human level. Experimenting with this format and observing its impact on rankings and user engagement is essential as we navigate the evolving SEO landscape.

Should content not aim to satisfy the user's query as directly as possible?

This is an interesting dilemma. Historically, SEO strategies have included creating exhaustive content that might start with basics, even when users seek specific answers, leading to a mix of pride and retrospective embarrassment for employing such tactics. Yet, they were effective for a time. The industry is at a juncture where we must reconsider our approach, potentially prioritising user intent and delivering desired information more succinctly. The shift towards more focused and relevant content might require extensive testing to identify what resonates best with both search engines and users. For non-profits and organisations with limited resources, innovative, cost-effective testing methodologies will be crucial in adapting to these changes and ensuring content meets evolving expectations.

What areas should SEOs explore more deeply?

The crux of our discussion really centres on the purpose behind every webpage. If I could advise on one crucial practice, it would be to consistently question the purpose of each page. Delving further, consider how the success of this purpose could be measured. Emphasising that every page must serve a distinct purpose, and questioning the necessity of its existence if it fails to meet its objectives, is paramount.

What drives your enthusiasm for user and content measurement, Jen?

My excitement stems from a fundamental challenge I encountered while working at an agency that specialised in creating websites. As the analyst responsible for evaluating post-launch performance, I observed that despite their aesthetic appeal, these websites often underperformed. This mirrors insights shared by Conversion Rate Experts, highlighting a common oversight in content consideration. My passion lies in advocating for a content-first approach to website redesigns. I'm in the process of developing a tool aimed at aligning content with strategic objectives during redesigns, leveraging insights and satisfaction scores to guide this process. The real thrill for me is witnessing the tangible impact of optimising a relatively small number of pages on a site's overall performance, including conversion rates and traffic. Knowing I've significantly contributed to a client's success is incredibly rewarding.

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