This week we speak to Aiala Icaza Gonzalez, SEO Director at Reflect Digital, about having a more human approach to site structure.
Where to find Aiala:
Empathic search results – how neuroscience impacts content SEO? (LinkedIn Post)
The Neuroscience of SEO (Blog Post)
This season is sponsored by NOVOS. NOVOS, the London-based eCommerce SEO agency, has won multiple awards for their SEO campaigns including Best Global SEO Agency of The Year 2 years running. Trusted by over 150 global eCommerce brands including the likes of Bloom & Wild, Patch and Thread, NOVOS provides technical eCommerce SEO expertise with a creative edge by specialising across platforms like Shopify & Magento. They have been named as one of 2021's best workplaces in the UK and with a diverse, gender-balanced team are a culture-first agency. Check them out on thisisnovos.com or follow on Linkedin @thisisnovos
Where to find Novos:
Website - https://thisisnovos.com/
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Sarah: Hello and a very warm welcome to the Women in Tech SEO podcast, I am Sarah McDowell, SEO content executive at Holland and Barrett and I am your host today. We have Aiala Icaza Gonzalez joining us on this episode, who is the SEO Director at Reflect Digital, who will be talking to us today about how we can take a more human approach to our site structure and why that is important. So, hello and a warm welcome, Aiala.
Sarah: How are we doing?
Aiala: I'm good. I'm good. How are you?
Sarah: I'm not bad at all. Not bad at all.
Aiala: I'm glad to hear that.
Sarah: Have you had a good week so far?
Aiala: I mean, it's over now, so I'm happy about it.
Sarah: It's Friday tomorrow. So, the weekend is on the cards, isn’t it? It’s there.
Aiala: A 4-day week here so yay.
Sarah: I am not jealous at all. Let's kick things off by you giving me and our listeners a brief overview of yourself, sort of the things that you do and how you got into this wonderful world of SEO.
Aiala: Sure. So, let's start with how did I get here. I started around nine years ago in Germany. A friend told me; I know someone that knows someone that knows someone. So, I applied. They asked me what SEO was, I had no clue what it was, but I still got the job and that's how it started. I'm a director at Reflect Digital in the UK, although I work from Spain and pretty much, I handle the team, I handle clients, communications and I do talks from time to time whenever I have the time. And yeah, that's the summary.
Sarah: I guess it must be quite interesting managing a team remotely.
Aiala: Yeah. I mean, I was doing it already through the pandemic, so I found that it wasn't that complicated. Like they still get that human connection through the camera. So yeah. I mean I'm just, I just kept doing it.
Sarah: And I'm jealous that you live and get to work in Spain. I mean, I want Holland and Barrett to send me to Spain.
Sarah: Well, it's funny, you wouldn't be that jealous. Trust me, not here.
Sarah: I've got some quickfire questions.
[Quick Fire Questions]
Sarah: I mean. Wow, wow. You survived my quickfire round of questions. So now we know you more personally as well as you as an SEO person. Now this is The Women in Tech SEO podcast, so I am going to ask you a couple of questions around this topic, starting with, what would you say empowers you to be the brilliant woman you are today?
Aiala: Well, I mean, I'm going to make it short because I could talk for hours here, obviously, starting from my mother and my auntie that has always pushed me to be at my best and to live my dreams. Thanks to them I started travelling abroad and living abroad for the longest time, but also, like everyone that is in my support system, my partner, and my family and my company right now being Becky from Reflect the person that is pushing me to get out there and do all these talks and join you guys today. It was thanks to her.
Sarah: Thank you. And what one bit of advice would you give to women starting in the industry?
Aiala: Trust your instincts. Always. Like, if you think you're not in the right place, leave.
Sarah: I always think that your gut feeling or you're feeling a certain way because of something. And you should listen to that, shouldn't you?
Aiala: One hundred per cent. I mean, I've, I haven't listened to my instinct before, and it has shown in the end. So always if you think that this is the right place do it or the right move, do it otherwise don't.
Sarah: I like that. That's very actionable. And yeah, I think we could all do more with that can't we? Now it's time to get stuck into the juicy bit of today's episode, we're talking about site structure and how we should be taking a more human approach to this. And so, let's start with the sort of basics of this subject. Can you sort of explaining what we mean by site structure and why site structure is important to SEO?
Aiala: Yeah, so I mean, simple site structure is how you organise your content on the site. So, I compare it to a house plan, how do you organise your house that it makes sense when you use it or when your guests come in and use it. So, it's the same thing for a website. So, imagine when you're building your two-story house let's say, you're going to be separating the living area from the resting area and your living area will have the kitchen, the living room, the studio, one bathroom, and you'll have the resting area, which will be the bedrooms, the closets, the walk-in closet if you have the money, it will be separate. It makes sense. It's user friendly. It's safe because you're sleeping, you're using your bathroom, you're having dinner and you have all these living areas of the bottom. It's the same thing for the website. What you're trying to do is to have all your content organised in a way that is easy to find for the user, that they don't go crazy trying to find the bathroom in this case, let's switch, because they know where it is because it's easier to find. Yeah.
Sarah: Yes. Now I know this is about how we should be thinking of a more human approach to site structure. But I just want to quickly touch on, like, what is it that search engines like Google want from site structure?
Aiala: I mean, the name itself says it wants a structure. Who wants an organisation, it wants to understand how are you organising and structuring your website? It's also like what is more important. What is the category? What is the subcategory? What is the product? Let's say where you have different hierarchies where you know, like, you know, this is the category one, category two, subcategory. So, it is just having that structure. That's what Google needs to understand how your website is built.
Sarah: Yes. So, I did do some research ahead of recording this episode, and I took to Twitter, and I asked our followers when thinking about site structure for SEO, who is more important, and I asked them whether users, search engines, or both. Now, interestingly, 0% of people who voted said search engines, 42.9% said users and 57.1% say both. Now, are you surprised by that data or is that something that you would expect or is that something that you would want to expect?
Aiala: Happily surprised. So, this is something that I would want to expect because, for so many years, all of us have been so focused on what does Google want? I'm talking about Google because obviously, I've been living abroad in Asia mainly. So, Google is the main one there. So that's why I always talk to Google. But any search engine like we've always been focusing on, what do they want? Never, what are the users looking for? So, it's good that we're changing this conversation it's so good that we're bringing the humans there because this is who we're building the websites in the end.
Sarah: Definitely. And I suppose if you're catering to users and Google, you sort comes hand in hand, doesn't it? Because at the end of the day, Google wants to make sure that their users are having a great experience, so it sort of makes sense for you to focus on users as well, because, yes, you want them to have a good user experience when they're on your website, but also, obviously, if users are having a good time on your website because of your site structure and they can easily navigate, then that's going to bode well with Google as well, isn't it.
Aiala: 100%. I mean, we all know what Google's objectives are. It's pretty much showing the users the right unique, high-quality content. So, therefore we have to have the user in mind. Whatever we do. We’re talking about canonicals or something more technical. And even then, we have to be thinking about the user itself. Are they interested in our product or not? How can we show them our products? Should we put it in a category or not? Are they even looking for my product? These kinds of things we need to have in mind where we're building our website, when we're studying our strategy and it doesn't matter SEO, PPC, I don't care. We all need to look at the human self.
Sarah: Yes. So how do you go about putting the user first when you're thinking about sites structure, so what sort of things are important to sort of factor in?
Aiala: So, I mean, the first thing, first thing, first thing, is keywords. And everyone will be like, oh, we know that Aiala, but now we don't know how important they are. So, someone in my company said this phrase and I just love it, "keywords are the voice of the customer, they’re telling us what they want". This is why this should be the core of everything we do with the keywords. We have a product that the users are looking for are they even interested in? Do we have to create that need? How do we do this? I have a client that they have products that people like, but they have a different naming. They don't want to change the naming to what people are looking for, so people are not finding them. So, this is how important it becomes to listen to the users through keyword research. That would be the first part. And then obviously we have neuroscience itself. So, we need to understand how the human brain works. We need to understand how our brain works. So obviously there are different principles that we should be aware of when we're designing a website when we're designing architecture and all of this. I mean, I don't want to get too deep into them because I think that would take us much longer than the time we might have. But there are a couple of principles like the subconscious, for instance, that one for me is the craziest because we don't think about it ever but is the one that decides if you like something or not milliseconds. So, before you've looked at something, your subconscious already knows if you like it or not. So, imagine how important it is that if you land on a website and you open the navigation menu and you're like, oh your subconscious long time ago is like, you know, you don't like it here, get out of here. So, we need to be aware of this kind of principle.
Sarah: That's super interesting, isn't it? And because we do live in an age where, like, not only do we need to attract consumers and people's attention, but we need to, like, keep them entertained and engaged. And first impressions are everything, I suppose, aren't they? And I suppose when we're talking about first impressions, that is your site structure. Now, if you have a site structure that is a headache and doesn't make any sense, then the person is not going to stick around.
Aiala: Yes. I mean, one hundred per cent and this goes back again to neuroscience. I mean, in the end, our brain loves a little bit of order and structure, just like Google. This is the same thing. Our brain needs this order on a structure, so when you're building your navigation and your structure, you need to ensure that the user is never asking the question, what is this? Where am I? What am I looking for? We must show them what they want in a really easy way. So, Sephora, for instance, they have a nice navigation menu, just because even if you don't know makeup, it's quite easy because when you go to makeup, it has face, eyes, lips. That's it, it's easy. So, I mean, I want something for my lips. I click on my lips. It's easy.
Sarah: Is there any other sort of brands that spring to mind that sort of have a good site structure or that you're impressed with?
Aiala: To be honest, right now I can only think of Sephora. Indeed, it is just the navigation menu, because technically speaking, Sephora you need to improve. But right now, I can only think of Sephora.
Sarah: Is there any common mistakes that websites or brands make when it comes to their site structure?
Aiala: I think in general is not having the user as a focus. As I was saying before, I have this client that they have these products. They would be super popular if they would only listen to the keywords. And then you have other clients that have these products that no one cares about. So, I think that's usually the main mistake, is not listening to the user. And even if they do, they're like, yeah, but this is our product, we're not going to change it. And it's like, well, then you're not going to sell it. You're not going to appear on Google or any search engine.
Sarah: Yes, that must be very frustrating because you have the data and it's like, well, we can tell what people are searching for. It makes sense to adhere to that and use it on the website. So, yeah, that just seems a bit crazy that a website or brand would not even listen to that.
Aiala: I mean, but when you work in an agency, you're so used to people not listening to you on basic things. You're like, but your website has no index. How do you expect to be shown?
Sarah: I mean, so we are talking about human first here with site structure, but I suppose with SEO in mind, there is getting the right balance. So as much as it should be human first, we should be thinking about our customers, what they are searching for, what do they want. But you still got to think of Google. Are there any tips for having the right balance between the two?
Aiala: So, there's something that Google loves and it goes back to the user. So, when I do my research, I've seen that everyone calls it differently. But it's like having the flat structure or the pyramid structure, pretty much what it means doesn't matter how you want to call it. What it means is that Google wants you to have less than four clicks until the end product. So, this is something that we need to be careful with because, mainly in e-com, it happens that suddenly you're ten clicks away and you're like, where is the product? Oh, my goodness, I can't find it. And I see it happening. Even on informational websites, I'm like, you don't have that much content to be hiding your content down there in the tenth click. So, this is something that we have to be aware of that, yeah, we want to create categories. We want to create subcategories and content and I don't know what else. Yet Google wants you to stay at the four clicks only, not more.
Sarah: Yes. I suppose you say that's a good rule to sort of stick then? That you don't want to take a user too much down a wormhole and it's quite good to have that sort of metric in mind?
Aiala: 100%. Because if you think about it, with mobile phones and the Internet is so fast, we've become more impatient. So, when you're on your phone, you're like, I want it now. And in an extreme example. I'm hungry, I'm dying for some sushi and I'm on a website. And I'm like, oh, my goodness, where is my sushi? ten clicks later, I'm like, you know what? I'm out. I'm going to this food delivery app and I'm just going to order from there. And this is an extreme example, but it happens on normal websites. A lot of our purchases there, you know, I want it now or you're not even thinking about it and you're like buying it. So, if I have to go more than four or five clicks, I'm going to be like this is too complicated. I'm out.
Sarah: Yeah. Definitely. So, you have to nail your structure there then and you have to think about the customer journey. And, I suppose what's important is like we know that not everyone's journey is they land on the home page and then they navigate from there. You could enter a website on any page can't you, so I suppose that's another thing to take into consideration, isn't it, that wherever someone lands, whether it's a product category, if it's a specific product, if it's the blog section if it's the location pages, I suppose the navigation always must make sense from where someone is landing. Would you say that that's important?
Aiala: Yeah, yeah, 100%. And here's where breadcrumbs and all these little maps, let's say that we have on the site, even the navigation is where it comes in really, really handy and internal linking because if you land, for instance, in a blog post, if you have the internal link to the right page, you might land a sale from there.
Sarah: Definitely. Definitely. I feel like we've covered quite, quite a few different questions there. And all questions led us to like this human approach, haven't we? So, can you recommend any of your favourite articles or resources that people can delve in to learn more on this topic?
Aiala: So, to be honest, I don't have just one. And it's true that for getting into where I am with the human interaction and human being first and neuroscience, one of my colleagues has been helping me. She's a neuroscience expert, mainly focused on marketing. So, she's been the one helping me learn more about how our brain works and all of that. So, I would say I have my resources.
Sarah: I mean, what we can do is any resources that you think are relevant and you can always send them to me after we've recorded them, and I can make sure that we include them in that way. But it sounds very interesting. And I suppose one thing people need to be warier of is how the human brain works.
Aiala: Yes. I mean, in the end, it's our day-to-day interaction. I mean, we are humans. We're dealing with these websites, with these products every day. Why are we not thinking that there's someone behind that screen doing the...