Web User OptimizationBy Peter Ehat on June 4th, 2013
The 4th Grade Approach
Think back to the 4th grade for a second. Do you remember the person you liked? Do you remember what tactics you used to attract him or her? I do. Most 4th graders simply ignore the person of their affections to, in turn, attract their attention. It’s crazy and counter-intuitive, but somehow it worked (even check the research).
From now on, if you are going to be successful with the search engines, you are going to have to treat them just like that person you had a crush on in 4th grade. You’re going to have to ignore them.
The SEO World Needs a Paradigm Shift
During my first semester of college I had the first generation of what later became the modern laptop. They called them “luggables” back then which, thinking back, was totally appropriate. Mine was beige, with a horrid black on orange screen (about 9″ x 9″). It was pretty sweet. I loved it. I was a geek long before being a geek was cool. I lived in a dorm along with a few other geeks, and even they thought I was crazy for paying $10 a month for an internet connection to my dorm room. I plugged in and connected to different BBS systems, emailed friends who happened to have email addresses, and cruised what existed of the web.
Back then, I used Yahoo, HotBot, DogPile and a few other search engines. I remember sifting through tons of spammy sites that showed up in my search results and often thought, “I sure wish there was a search engine that could sift out all this garbage.” I’m sure the search engines tried, but there was a ton of garbage—lots of noise amidst faint signals.
It was during this time, and for a long period after (relatively speaking as time goes on the web) that you could get a site ranked just by cramming a whole bunch of keywords into a meta keyword tag. Meta keyword tags were useful to search engines in helping them receive proper signals from websites. But that could only last for so long.
Through careful study, webmasters begin to realize that they could attain a high ranking in the search results for certain keywords by manufacturing signals that they knew would fit into what the algorithms were looking for—along with a whole slew of other tactics that they found would send the right signals.
The implementation of these and other tactics was the beginning of search engine optimization or SEO. The concept that a website could be “optimized” to send signals to the search engines, and get ranked for sending the right ones, spawned an entire industry of people trying to feed signals to search engine spiders.
Don’t Feed The Spiders
Search engines have become much smarter over the years. It’s rare that searchers need to sift through spammy results in the SERPs like I did on my old luggable. Most of the junk is cleared out of search results by increasingly intelligent algorithms. These algorithms are getting really good at spotting spammy sites—almost as good as you and I are. This is really good news for people who are trying to quickly find what they want on the internet. This is bad news for people who were trying to get their spammy sites ranked by sending the old “optimization” signals to the search engine spiders.
So what can people do to get ranked in the search engines now that it’s become difficult to trick the algorithms by sending the signals they’ve always wanted? The answer is to feed the users, not the spiders. Start sending good signals to users. Forget about the spiders.
The 3 Keys to Ignoring Google
I’m writing this to convey a few really simple ideas (remember that this is the 4th grade approach) on how to ignore Google in order to gain Google’s affection.
Step 1: Focus on Your Users
This is just common sense. If you are selling a cog that makes your customer’s life easier somehow, you want to provide some really great information on how your product does this. You have to imagine that you are a potential customer who wants to have an easier life, but doesn’t know much about your product. Try explaining the reasons to someone who doesn’t know your business and see how well they understand. If they don’t get it, you’ll need to refine your approach.
If you are a service company, make sure your website contains good information about the services you provide and why they are a good fit for those you serve. You might consider industry trends, topics of concerns, frequently asked questions, or other areas of your expertise where you can really focus on offering value.
The key is to provide valuable information to your users as they consider engaging with your organization.
Step 2: Leverage Established Connections
Now that you’re thinking about your users, site visitors or potential customers, start thinking about other people who might want to know about this information and decide how you can let them know that this new information is available. You might use social media channels to spread the word. You could reach out to thought leaders in the space to ask them for feedback. You might even consider writing about the topic on someone else’s site. You might even spread the world through real-world interactions, perhaps through in-person meetings or phone conversations (I know, that sounds crazy).
The point is: you should leverage off of existing connections to increase awareness.
Step 3: Stop the Tactics
I’m not suggestion you quit using title attributes in your anchor tags, or properly labeling images with alt attributes. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t maintain a clean site structure with pertinent internal links. All of those things are going to be helpful to your site users and will send clear signals to them on how they can interact with your site.
What I am saying is that you should quit using a keyword a dozen times on a page as anchor text for a link pointing to another page on your site. I am saying you should quit posting pointless comments on other people’s sites for the link back to yours. I am saying you should stop posting bogus content on bogus sites just hoping you’ll get a worthless link back from the bottom of the article.
These tactics don’t attract real, interested visitors, and now they won’t attract the search engines.
A New Form of Optimization
Search engine optimization is becoming a thing of the past in the sense that people should no longer try to optimize for search engines but should instead optimize for users.
This will become more and more prevalent as the search engines refine their algorithms to detect quality more closely to the way humans recognize quality. Eventually, marketers, webmasters and site owners will ignore the search engines in favor of optimizing for users.
A paradigm shift is in order. Web user optimization is the way to go, forget search engine optimization.