The follies of SEO

ziegfeld follies
No no, not those kind of Follies… | Source

SEO is a broken industry

If we called it by its proper name, it would likely be something closer to ‘Trying to Screw Over Search Engines Without Getting Caught.’ ‘Search Engine Optimization’ is a little catchier though, don’t you think? ‘Screwing’ isn’t nearly the buzzword that ‘Optimization’ is.

It stands to reason that some form of optimization will be required on each site simply to make it the most user and browser friendly. These things tend to be inherent parts of a good website and are elements that are readily accepted and used by browsers to provide the best possible experience for the user.

This form of SEO is perfectly valid and reasonable. There is nothing wrong with filling out your meta description. There is nothing wrong with filling out your title and alt tags, please do this! It enforces code validation and provides the best possible user experience which is arguably the most important thing on the web.

Everything falls apart when we place our focus more on gaming the search engines than on our users. This is a probably one of the worst things that has happened to the internet since the search engines came about. It’s now common practice to keyword stuff your links, title and meta tags and image titles and alt’s. Not to mention cramming in header tags (H1-6) wherever possible, even if it doesn’t make sense hierarchically in the context of the page. If it has a keyword or phrase in it, who the hell cares right?

Take a step back though and look at the things I just mentioned. They’re all ‘on page’, they’re all fairly innocuous and while they do impact usability, it’s not the end of the world if you have a weird title tag. The real problem lies when we get into the more ‘gray’ areas like link building, link schemes, hiding spammy text on page and hundreds of other techniques that are quite literally one of the worst things you can do for your website, but supposedly it ‘helps’ your search engine ranking.

Everytime an 'SEO Expert' tells you they guarantee success, one of these rabbits goes all Monty Python on their face | Source
Everytime an ‘SEO Expert’ tells you they guarantee success, one of these rabbits goes all Monty Python on their ass. | Source

If this wasn’t such a problem, Google, Bing and Yahoo! wouldn’t need to constantly make amendments to their webmasters regulations and algorithms. Did you wonder why your site was penalized so quickly by Panda or Penguin? It was likely because your site was involved in some bad practices.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of SEO’s are excellent. They know what they’re doing and they do it very well. But you know what? They’re few and far between. Most SEO’s out there are just trying to get your money, they don’t actually care about your business!

If you absolutely insist on hiring someone to actually do SEO, make sure that they’re completely ‘white hat’ and don’t actively get involved in link schemes, purchase backlinks, heavily focus on changing around your design for ‘SEO purposes’ or anything like that. These techniques might work in the short term, but your long term success will be hindered by those actions.

Monty Python killer rabbit
This is your overall happiness after hiring someone like that. | Source

Google, Bing and Yahoo! are constantly working towards providing a better user experience for their customers by revising their algorithms and rules. These rules are more and more focusing on providing a better experience for your customers.

Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Twitter and thousands of  other Internet businesses did not become as successful as they are because they added title tags just the right. Nor is it because they sent out press releases.

‘…Google sees all SEO as blatant attempts to game its algorithm. Only scammers would want to do that.’

It’s because they made things that people want and presented it to them in a way that they liked.

Creating your site for real people

Just as there are 100 ways to create a website, there are undoubtedly hundreds of ways to fix the current state of SEO. What I’m proposing is certainly not the only way, just one guys opinion. This might not even be the best way, but it’s the best I have and it can be summed up in one simple phrase:

Build your website for people, not search engines.

It’s an inherently simple concept, but too often people get sold the lie that optimizing their site for search is more important than setting it up for people. If your site isn’t easy to use or aesthetically pleasing, people won’t stay. What are 1000 visits a day if 975 of them are bounces?

This is especially pertinent when viewed through an eCommerce lens. If you are running a monetized blog and you get tons of visits your primary income will likely be just through ad impressions. If you run an eCommerce store however, the only way you’re making money is if people are buying your products. You won’t have sales if it’s not easy to buy or navigate through your store.

If we focus on designing our websites for the user by creating easy to use websites, offering intuitive navigation and providing easily accessible information, you will be met with ‘SEO’ success.

Very few people would argue that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. All you have to do is make an awesome first impression, and then recommendations go out to friends and you’re golden. If your site is hard to use, loads slowly or provides a poor experience, that user likely won’t be back unless they’re already a loyal fan.

This brings us to content. Are you selling something that people want to buy? Are you providing information or content that people want to read, listen to or watch? If not, fix that first. Content should be the first or second highest thing on your list.

It’s really a toss up between having your user experience or the content highest on your priority list. They complement each other too well to place one above the other. If your user experience is poor but your content is amazing, chance are you’ll lose just as many potential visitors as if your navigation was super easy to use and the user experience was great but your content was lacking.

There is no surefire way to be successful on the internet. If there was, everyone would be doing it. But if you have an idea that you think is awesome, pursue it. Don’t listen to all the Captain Killjoys out there, you might as well try.

Create something that people actually want, and make it easy to consume. This generally doesn’t mean paying some SEO expert thousands of dollars each month to optimize your site for search by building extensive link schemes, sketchy backlink profiles, keyword stuffing your site and a bunch of other crap.

If you get big

Congratulations! Your website is proving it’s potential and is making you money or at least keeping you pretty busy. But now you’re finding that you don’t have time to worry about fixing errors in Webmasters Tools or Analytics anymore, not to mention writing comprehensive title tags and meta descriptions. If or when that is the case, feel free to outsource the work! Just be careful that you give the work to someone you trust who will encourage content creation over SEO busy work.

Focus on the people and the rest should fall into place.


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