August 20, 2012 5:00 AM
Or: how to delight your users, appease Google and stop fearing each new update. For years now marketers have been using a combination of content, code, metrics and hearsay to nurture search engine traffic. It was like the Wild West, with SEO experts trying this or that new technique to game the search engines and rank better… until each next Google update.
Since certain styles of text content performed really well in the search engines, many people focused exclusively on optimization, ignoring other qualitative elements that make websites appealing to users. Most overly optimized websites were (and remain) fantastically ugly and generic, with little thought to how users perceive and experience them.
Search Geeks versus Design Geeks
And people made money – on gateway pages, content farms, keyword stuffing, link farms... Others, who built websites in good faith, were penalized. It was like gambling: Would you get penalized? Who was going to survive the next update? Who would bet on a bad strategy and get de-listed?
And similarly, user experience and design geeks have long been building beautiful, usable sites without an eye to generating and fine tuning content that will generate search traffic.
These two disciplines: SEO and usability/design have grown up in silos. Snobby designers have no time for the ugly, wordy universe of optimization; and optimizers are too cheap and busy to think about building sleek, user-friendly designs.
All Hail the Findable, Usable, Enjoyable
But those who get it – coders, designers and writers who simply build well-rounded sites from the get-go – you can rejoice. Based on the sophistication of the recent Panda and Penguin updates, Google is honing its ability to reward solid sites with usable, navigable, gently search optimized content. It’s not get rich quick; it’s not high art; it’s a good site with the goal of being liked and used by real people over the long term.
Put simply: Google is only getting better at giving users what they want, by penalizing over optimization and prioritizing sites that deliver a qualitative user experience.
It’s not enough to build a pretty site that is unfindable on relevant keywords. And it’s not enough to optimize the heck out of your site over and over again, spitting out content that no one will read in the hope of winning a search traffic volume numbers game.
For longevity on Google, think about your user. Build a well-rounded site that combines sound usability and design with engaging, user-centric (and search optimized!) content.
To Build for Google, Build for Your Users and Build for Yourself
Step back and ask yourself: What sites do I like and why? How do I use them? Where did I find them?
I bet you didn’t say: I really love that affiliate marketer’s mortgage comparison website.
Chances are the things you love about your favourite site are the very things you need to incorporate into your next build: it’s accessible, it informs and delights, it’s easy to use, it meets a need – for stuff, knowledge, or both.
Honour all the best practices rather than going overboard on just one or two. And build for longevity, incorporating solid code, inspired design, well-crafted copy and intuitive UX. Oh, and please, go ahead and optimize for search, but optimize because you want users to find your spectacular website, not because your entire business model depends upon it.
Trained as a journalist, in 2000 Kirsten fell into digital media by accident and has never looked back. She began as a copywriter and trade journalist, and quickly became intrigued by the relationship between digital content and search. Kirsten has since managed search campaigns and created content for all kinds of industries, both in house and at agencies. In her current role as Digital Strategic Planner for DAC Group, she develops search, lead generation and other performance marketing projects for DAC’s Canadian and US clients. Kirsten divides her time between Montreal and New York.
Posted by Sue Ansell at August 20, 2012 5:00 AM
Categories: General Sales and marketing Trends