SEO is not about the engines, it’s about the people using the engines

Tonight on Twitter while I was following the Third Tuesday Toronto (yes, held on a Monday) tweets, I was also watching a debate between SugarRae & SEOmom2 about what search engine optimization entailed/ means. Steve Rubel at the Third Tuesday event made a comment that SEO was in trouble because tags & linking structure aren’t relevant to the engines anymore, it’s now about content and links. Well, it’s been about content and links in the Google algorithms for a long time now and good SEO has always had that at its forefront.  The architecture used supports the actual content displayed vs. driving what the engines find relevant.

SEO is not about optimizing your site for the search engines, it’s about optimizing your website for the people looking for you – your content, your products, your information. If you “do” SEO well it’s part of your overall design strategy, content strategy, information architecture planning and usability – in other words it’s about making your site USER friendly and optimized which then translates into something the search engines will crawl and say “hey, that’s relevant, let’s index and promote it”. Which then translates into the engines displaying your website in the top results when a user comes along and says “I’m looking for X”.

I’ve always defined SEO to clients as part and parcel of user-experience. If a user gets lost or confused, so will the search engine. If a user doesn’t find the content or information you’re displaying relevant, chances are the sophisticated algorithms the search engines use won’t either. If your back-end is a mess, chances are great your front-end is a mess as well. Of course there are ways to game this, as there are ways to game social media, PPC, etc. But done well, SEO not only helps the engine find your content, but helps you determine what type of information your users/ customers find relevant and useful so you can provide it to them. Your content and products (text, video, audio, graphical, etc.) are why people are on your site after all.

  • Your site architecture and layout should be intuitive and easy to navigate (i.e. based on how people use the web vs. your internal company structure).
  • Your site content should be robust, value-based, and based on your target audiences needs (expressed or implied).
  • Your site meta information should enable the engines & users to quickly figure out the relevance of a particular page.
  • You should be using your analytics to inform content decisions and additions.
  • With the addition of Social Media, your content should be sharable/ chunk-able into micro-sharing & participation with whomever is so inclined.

It’s really that simple at the end of the day. There are of course complex and advanced functions to consider, but if you do the above well the engines will reward you. And as we move into the realm of universal search, content & value become more important than ever to integrate into your website.

Would love to hear your thoughts – is this what you thought SEO was about?

[photo credit: Lawrence Whittemore via Flickr]

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Comments (6) to “SEO is not about the engines, it’s about the people using the engines”

  1. I (mostly) agree. Sites should be built with the reader in mind, in an ideal world that would be enough. However, until the algo is able to accurately replicate the human brain we’ll have to tweak for it as well.

  2. Tamera, the funny thing is, it’s always been about content from day one, problem is, people have tried to game the algo. I always say, if people would just do it right and work hard, instead of working hard to game it-they’d be better off.

  3. @Marc – So true. The content is the driver, the architecture by necessity supports it. Work at what matters and the rest should flow vs. trying to take ‘the easy way out’ which is never easy in the long run.

    @Jack – No arguments from me re: having to tweak for it! My main point is to put the user experience first and do all you can to make *that* experience relevant and valuable. If you need to work-around a few things to adjust to the imperfect algos, then do so, but don’t sacrifice what is driving people to your site to begin with – your product/ content.

  4. Agree. Agree. Agree. Tamera, you will love my new eBook that I’m almost ready to release. I expect that even more than before, SEO of the future will be about the users. Even more…

  5. I learned more about SEO, accidentally, from Clayton Makepeace and his colleagues, than I have from the alleged gurus.

    That’s why my New Year’s resolution is to unsubscribe from all the e-newsletter subscriptions I’d signed up for. They waste far too much of my time, and most just try to pitch me something. So I’ll be scrapping about fifteen newsletters. (My InBox will thank me!)

    There’s one exception. I will NOT give up my subscription to Clayton Makepeace’s The Total Package. It’s invaluable — the one internet sales and marketing newsletter I actually look forward to receiving, and read as soon as it arrives.

    My New Year’s gift / tip to the readers of this blog is to follow suit … scrap the junk you’re not reading anyway, and check out Makepeace’s Total Package.

    It’s always well written, with meat-and-potatoes content – no fluff. I always learn something I can use … or at the very least, something very interesting. And there are about 600 back-issues / articles archived at the site, all freely accessible and searchable.

    Print out all the content on his site and you’re looking at close to 3,000 pages. If you had to buy it all, you couldn’t afford it. But Makepeace gives it all away, for nothing. The man is crazy. (Like a fox.)

    Besides Makepeace himself, the site features the occasional contributions of several (24, in fact) other experts. They bring fresh perspectives and experiences to the wealth of information Clayton provides personally.

    There’s a Canadian connection, too, in that 3 of Clayton’s contributing columnists — Daniel Levis, Troy White and Michel Fortin — operate from north of the 49th … Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, respectively.

    WELL worth your time. Take 10, visit , and test a trial subscription. It’ll make your 2009.

  6. Thank you for a refreshing post. In the end of the day, websites – and the web – are created BY people FOR people.

    One of my favourite books on user-experience is “Don’t make me think: common sense appraoch to web usability’ by Steve Krug. This book and your post connect somehow.

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