Scent Trails

We have all seen dogs sniffing around as they walk.


It’s only recently that I have associate this action with web design, SEO and internet marketing. Interesting thought eh?

Design for search engines. Increase the scent.

People hunting for online data behave remarkably similar to animals sniffing out prey. It’s the most effective means of finding a very small squirrel in an awfully big forest. Understanding this process allows us to measure and optimize the scent trails that people follow, both on website and in marketing campaigns.

Most search engine optimization (SEO) is about getting found. The problem is, most SEO does little more than put signs on every tree that read, “Squirrels in the forest”. Though true, the signs don’t help the hunter a lot in the quest to actually find the squirrels in the forest.


Every scent trail starts with a search.

Knowing how people hunt and sniff around for info is certainly useful, but that usefulness is limited until you determine more about what a person is sniffing for. Designing for personas is the only way to properly design scent trails that lead your customers to what they find most relevant, and to instigate what you find most relevant — a conversion. Website navigation is not always about links “across the top” or “down the side”; “inline” text links that provide scent are extremely important to visitors, especially in the early stages of research.

As Bryan Eisenberg suggested in an article on, scent trails can lead to better conversion. “If the scent [of the website] is sufficiently strong, the surfer will continue to go on that trail. But if the trail is weak, they go back to the hub. People repeat this process until they’re satisfied.” Does that sound like you? Apparently, we, humans, sniff around too.


To optimize scent trails, make sure that when the intent is transparent, the scent trail on any chosen term matches that intent. It doesn’t matter if the trail starts with PPC (pay-per-click) or organic search. When a prospect clicks, she hopes to find one of two things: the answer she seeks, or a link that takes her to the answer.