At the recent SMX conference, I was in the conference hotel elevator, and a fellow rider asked me what I did for a living. My answer? I told him that it is hard to explain what I do. So drew him a quick diagram, as follows:
I then told him that I am a Web developer who makes website content easier to find via the commercial Web search engines, like in the green part of this diagram.
However, as you can see in this diagram, I don’t design for search engines only. I also understand what people search for, and what they expect to see on webpages after they click on a link from Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
That is quite a mouthful (and an eyeful), isn’t it?
As hard as I try, I just can’t seem to explain search engine optimization easily on an elevator, at least not without a diagram.
Nevertheless, I have used this diagram for quite some time now, to explain what it is that I do for my client websites.
The Perceived Definition of Search Engine Optimization
Many people have preconceived ideas about SEO, and I try to surface those preconceptions with a short quiz question:
True or false: A search-engine friendly website is a website that is written, designed, architected, and programmed for primarily for top search engine positions.
I have presented this question at the beginning of my Search-Engine Friendly Web Design session at search engine conferences worldwide since1999. I pose this question to understand the audience’s mindset.
Are they there to understand purely how to make sites rank, or do they really want to learn many of the “it depends” that are involved with the optimization process?
Recently, I realized that part of my problem is how many of my colleagues and I have defined search engine optimization over the years. Even in my own book, When Search Meets Web Usability, I realized that I left out searchers in my own definition:
Search engine optimization is the process of designing, writing, coding (in HTML), scripting, and programming an entire website so that there is a good chance that web-page listings will appear in web search results for selected keywords.
From Thurow, S. and Musica, N. (2009). When Search Meets Web Usability. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, p. 5.
For all of my harping-and-hemming-and-hawing about users for many years, you’d think that I’d include searchers and user-centered design (UCD) in my definition. But I didn’t.
Perhaps that is the reason why so many people misunderstand search engine optimization. We unknowingly take the searcher out of SEO.
User-Centered Design Is Not SEO
For years, many SEO professionals have touted that user-centered design is naturally search-engine friendly.
But as my noteworthy colleague Danny Sullivan has pointed out to me for many years, a perfectly user-friendly website just might not be accessible to the commercial Web search engines. There is still plenty of great in the “invisible Web” that isn’t accessible to both searchers and search engines.
Danny is right. SEO helps to alleviate that problem by providing accessibility and limiting duplicate content delivery.
Technology-Centered Design Is Also Not SEO
One of my biggest beefs with the SEO industry is that “advanced SEO” has come to mean technical SEO. When in reality, copywriters, information architects, usability professionals, and link developers have plenty of “advanced” SEO skills, some skills that technical SEOs might not possess.
Additionally, if you look at this slightly updated diagram, I often find that a great number of search engine spammers fall into the technology-centered design category.
Of course, I do not believe that all technical SEOs discount searchers – not at all. So what is it I am trying to say?
My Elevator Pitch
My elevator pitch was this diagram. I have been excited about SEO as a legitimate industry and field of study since 1995 because I believe it merges user-centered design and technology-centered design.
At the 2011 IA Summit, usability guru Jared Spool gave a presentation on The Most Valuable UX Person in the World.
In his presentation, he said that he believed that the most valuable UX people in the future are people whose skills combine the human experience with technology. Guess what? That’s us – search engine optimizers, SEO hybrids. I was thrilled to know that we are a critical part of the future of user experience.
In the meantime, I will have a somewhat difficult time explaining what an SEO hybrid is as well as SEO in elevators. My diagram helps me explain what we do for a living.
What’s your elevator pitch? How do you explain SEO to others?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.