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E-Marketing Performance Blog

“It’s All About the Visitors,” Is All But a Big Fat Freaking Lie

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Google talks about focusing your site only on visitors, then requires us to do things that don’t directly benefit them. [tweet]

While the SEO community is busy manipulating websites to outperform more worthy sites to rank in Google, Google has spent the last 15+ years tweaking their algorithm to prevent these dastardly manipulations from corrupting their search results.

At least that’s how some people view the work SEOs perform.

Much of the web marketing community would disagree with my opening statement, as do I, but it persists due to a lot of so-called “SEO” providers out there looking for a quick buck at the expense of their unsuspecting clients. Although that statement does seem to be what Google often thinks of our industry as a whole as well.

Google talks a lot about focusing your site on your visitors and not doing things to the site specifically for search engine rankings. Then they ask require us to do things to our website that neither benefits our visitors, nor benefits the website.

The SEO community likes to talk about the value of content, as if it’s a magic pill to top rankings. Great content is extremely valuable, for sure, but there is a lot more that has to go on in order for that content to provide value to the site. Namely, it has to be put in front of your audience.

This is good business, mind you, but the “build it and they will come” theory of SEO just simply doesn’t work. There is much, much more to do than just create a great website with great content.

It’s Not All About Your Visitors, Because…

Your visitors don’t care about website architecture

One of the more important aspects of building a site that can rank well on the search engines is to be sure the architecture of your site is sound. Unbeknownst to many, you can have a great looking site that actually performs well for your visitors and at the same time, performs like crap with the search engines.

That’s not to say that poor website architecture can’t have a negative impact on your sales and conversions. It certainly can and often does. But this is not something the average visitor consciously cares about. Your architecture may impact how your visitors engage with your site, but it is more likely to impact how the search engines analyze your content.

A highly converting site can have all kinds of problems that keep the content out of the search engine indexes. No indexing, means no rankings. This, in turn, means you’ll have less traffic delivered to your site, or you have to look to other avenues to generate that traffic. Make sure your total architecture is search engine sound. With the potential search engine spigot opened, you can then test different architectural changes to see which help convert more visitors.

Your visitors don’t care about social promotion—or do they?

Visitors don’t care how they find your site. Social promotion of your content helps visitors find you and is one way of building your brand and engagement. In fact, social marketing is smart website marketing. But for the most part, once a visitor is on your site they don’t care how they got there, they care that it meets their needs. Now they might care if it’s easy to socialize to their own networks, only in as much that if it’s easy to do they may, but if it’s not easy to do then they’ll likely take a promotional pass.

But what does that have to do with search engines? Well, social signals are an increasingly important element of search engine ranking algorithms. In other words, if it your site content isn’t shareable, it can be at a ranking disadvantage! Google wants you to tie your content to your Google+ profile. Does that help your visitors? Some, but it can help you a lot more. Recent studies show that even if your site is ranking number five, the fact that your Google+ profile photo shows up alongside your search engine result can give you better click-through rates than the site in the number one spot. And we all know that click-throughs can lead to conversions, which is really the point, right?

Your visitors don’t care about keyword optimization

And apparently neither does Google, at least as much as it used to. The search engine’s Hummingbird update announcement has been a game changer. Using exact keyword phrases too often throughout your text is out, while using synonyms and conveying the overall meaning of the page is in. On-page optimization still plays a role in getting top rankings for your site, but no longer the keyword-stuffing kind of optimization. Google is much smarter about understanding word context and correlations that, if you know what you’re doing, it’s possible to get a page to rank without even using your keywords. Possible, but difficult. The point is, use keywords for the people who are searching more than for the search engines. People are still searching for stuff in specific ways using keywords. But Google has realized—and so should you—that using natural language to convey your site’s message is ideal.

Visitors Care About Quality of Site Experience

Do you have to build your site for visitors? Absolutely. Should you also build your site for Google? Yes! And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Focusing solely on your visitors is a sure way to ensure your site underperforms in the search engines. Duplicate content, link value linkage, and spider-stopping architectural issues can all get in the way of your otherwise stellar content. Does that mean you can’t rank with just great content? No, you can. But you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Optimizing your site for both people and search engines ensures that you are “manipulating” your site the right way. Kind of like how coaches “manipulate” their players to be a better team. It would be great if Google and the rest of the SEO naysayers would see it that way.

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