During search engine optimization (SEO) consultations, have you heard any of the following statements: “I didn’t hire you for website usability. I hired you for SEO.” These statements, and the sentiments associated with them, come in many variations, such as:
- “I didn’t hire you to redesign my site. I hired you to get my site #1 on Google.”
- “We don’t need usability testing with searchers. People use our site all of the time.”
- “We can’t rewrite our content. Optimize what is already there.”
- “Just make our AJAX search-engine friendly. Don’t do anything else.”
Unfortunately, many of these statements come from people whose sites have more optimization issues than problematic site architectures, unfocused copywriting (to both search engines and searchers), and newly implemented AJAX elements. Many people do not understand web searcher behavior and honestly believe that a website can achieve and maintain #1 positions all of the time.
So what is an SEO professional supposed to do? What if the solution to a website’s optimization problem is not as simple as people believe?
Here’s the real deal
If the problem with a web page’s content is that it does not contain keywords, then an SEO professional is going to recommend copy changes. During usability testing, if participants view page content and the page does not appear to be focused on the topic of interest, then an SEO professional is going to recommend copy changes. If copy cannot be changed on a specific web page? Then the SEO professional will recommend that future articles and other content be written in a different manner.
If the problem with a website is its information architecture and associated issues (duplicate content, confusing or inappropriate labeling, page interlinking “gone wild,” etc.), then an SEO professional will recommend architectural changes. Some architectural changes might be simple ones, such as modifying the text on navigation label. And others might not be so simple, such as implementing an entire system of locational breadcrumb links.
If search engines are having a difficult time accessing a site’s content due to a problematic URL (web address) structure, an SEO professional will recommend URL workarounds or—dare I say it—dumping your site’s content management system (CMS) in favor of a better one.
Notice that in all of the previous paragraphs, not one recommendation was in the form of “SEO only.” These recommendations could have easily come from a copywriter, an information architect, and a web developer, respectively. Because, in reality, most SEO professionals are not only search engine optimizers. They are SEO hybrids—the blend of a search professional with other areas of expertise.
SEO hybrids – The “blended” SEO
SEO hybrids come in many shapes and forms. You might meet an SEO professional who specializes in search engine friendly website design. That SEO hybrid might be an information architect, a web developer, and a designer. You might meet an SEO expert who specializes in news and blog search. That SEO hybrid might specialize in keyword research, writing search engine friendly copy for news and press releases, and link development via blogs and other social media. Some SEO professionals only focus on mobile search. Some SEO professionals only focus on searcher behavior and usability. In fact, SEO hybrids might not even have the abbreviation “SEO” in their job titles.
Since SEO is part art and part science, you will find that many SEO hybrids have creative skills (copywriting, design, etc.) as well as analytical skills (coding, programming, scripting, statistical analysis, etc.) These skills are not mutually exclusive. Having one SEO skill does not eliminate or diminish other SEO skills. I often believe that one of the great benefits of working with many SEO hybrids is that they see the interrelationships that a non-hybrid might not see.
Nevertheless, as the statements at the beginning of this article illustrate, many people do not believe that an SEO professional is capable of doing multiple jobs. For example, in my opinion, a search usability expert should understand the intricacies of both SEO and website usability. A usability professional regularly has one-on-one, face-to-face user interaction via usability tests and field studies. Can that same usability professional understand how the commercial web search engines work? Yes, they can. Can an SEO professional conduct effective usability tests? Yes, they can.
Talented SEO hybrids can and do exist. Personally, I do not know an SEO professional who only specializes in search engine optimization.
Even though we are in the middle of Search 3.0 and the blended search revolution, people still believe that search engine optimization professionals have a single skill set. Some people still believe that the optimization process is simply putting keywords in meta tags. Some people believe that SEO and web design have nothing to do with each other.
SEO hybrids understand the connections among site design, web copy, site architecture, link development, URL structure. In fact, I might ask attendees at future Search Marketing Expo events how they see themselves. Are they developers? Are they copywriters? Are they SEO experts? Of these groups, will the real SEO professionals please stand up? The SEO professionals who are standing might very well be SEO hybrids.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.