Sign up for weekly recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
Is Choosing Search Engines Over Users A Fatal Flaw In SEO?
I recently read an article by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz, entitled “Terrible SEO Advice: Focus on Users, Not Engines” that could potentially set SEO back at least at decade, in my opinion.
In the article, he apologized to his audience of budding SEOs for having ever told them to do what’s right for their users. In fact, he called putting your users first, “utterly false and tragically misleading.”
If you listen to this advice, your SEO will be fatally flawed from the get-go.
Here’s why I feel that the advice, thoughts and recommendations in that article could have set SEO back many years. It can all be summed up in a simple piece of SEO logic that goes like this:
- The goal of SEO is to bring targeted search engine visitors to your website and ideally convert them to take some action.
- The goal of the searcher is have their problems solved, needs filled, or questions answered.
- The goal of the search engine is to show the best, most relevant website to their users — the searchers.
Which leads us to the bottom line:
- The sites/pages that should win in the search engines are those that best solve the searcher’s (user’s) problem, fill their needs or provide them with the information they are seeking.
Granted, not all search engines are created equal, nor are they technically perfect or even close to being able to judge the best, most relevant websites–but that is their ultimate goal. Somewhere down the road, they will be able to do that despite the best efforts of search engine spammers. Google has come a long way in this regard which is why they are leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors.
Ignore the needs of the searchers at your own peril
If you ignore the needs of the searcher, you are (in reality) also ignoring the needs of the search engines. Do this at your own peril and only if you enjoy chasing your tail, as well as the latest algorithm of the day.
In fact, in Rand’s update to the article he said:
“My argument in this post centers specifically around the practice of search engine optimization and the idea that tactics which are engine-focused (like XML sitemaps, anchor text, link architecture, webmaster tools usage, etc.) can be ignored because they’re not “for the user.”
This is confusing at best!
Certainly descriptive anchor text is helpful to users, isn’t it? Which link is better for a user: the one that says, “click here” or the one that says “click here for more info on green widgets”?
The same can be said for link architecture. If you bury a specific page by making a user click 5 levels deep to find it, surely it can’t be a very important page of the website, right?
On the other hand, XML sitemaps and the use of Webmaster tools or nofollowing internal links for PR sculpting are indeed things that one would do just for a search engine, and offer no value to a human visitor. But guess what? They aren’t, in my opinion, any value to SEO either (other than as diagnostic tools). Imagine that!
Forget what search engines tell you to focus on
Rather than focusing on things that search engineers try to claim are important (so they can gain more of your website’s data) you should be ensuring that your websites keep on answering searcher questions and filling user needs so that the search engines have no choice but to show them to their users.
You should also make sure your websites convert those highly targeted visitors into customers; not by concerning yourself with how many times any particular keyword phrase is placed on the page regardless of whether it makes sense, but by remembering that real people will be reading your content.
You should be spending your time making sure that your website provides those searchers with exactly what they’re looking for.
In other words, make sure your website fits the searcher’s original search query (those pesky keyword phrases you researched) to a tee. After all, you’re not doing keyword research for search engines as Rand suggests, but because you need to get into the mind of your target audience.
As for link building, anyone who was in SEO before Google came around, spent plenty of time building links to their sites. Not for search engines, mind you, but because it’s how you market a website. Fancy that. It’s still the reason why you should be doing it today.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.