I’ve never really been an algorithm chaser. As an SEO, I understand the need to keep up with what’s going on with the major search engines as a prerequisite to being able to perform solid optimization strategies. However, there is a point where you start getting diminishing returns from chasing every nuance in the search engine algorithms vs. building a solid, well-optimized website that performs well for both search engines and visitors coming through search.
Chasing Algorithms is Like Trying to Hit a Moving Target
Chasing search engine algorithms, to a large degree, is like trying to hit a moving target from a moving train. It looks easy in the old western movies, but it’s not so easy in real life. Optimizing your site becomes difficult because you actually have to aim while taking into account where you will be, not where you are. Otherwise, by the time you’re done optimizing each page “perfectly”, you’re six algorithm changes behind the curve.
Chasing algorithms tends to be very short-sighted and too narrowly focused in the overall approach. Algorithm chasers tend to focus on a very narrow set of elements in an attempt to “beat” the search engine at it’s own game. Such algo-chasers can be effective, but usually only for one search engine, and only until the algorithm changes in ways that do not favor their particular techniques.
This leaves algorithm chasers looking for the next optimization elements they can manipulate. In the meantime, rankings for their clients suffer, until they figure out what “works” today.
The problem here is that the search engine algorithms analyze over 200 different factors. And, what works for one site does not necessarily work for another. A “trick” learned here isn’t applicable there. And, the trick is only good until the algorithm engineers close the loophole.
Using a mathematical formula to create an effective title tag or finding just the right place to insert keywords into your body copy is not an effective long-term optimization solution. Every site is different, every industry is different, and what works today for good rankings won’t necessarily work tomorrow.
Chasing Analytics Lets You Adjust Your Aim to Hit a (Mostly) Stationary Target
Instead of trying to hit the moving target of search engine algorithms, it’s far better to chase your site’s performance analytics. While your audience isn’t a completely stationary target, it is much slower moving and broader. As you improve on your optimization through analytics, you are able to see where your last shot hit the mark and adjust your next shot accordingly.
When chasing algos, you have to forever be looking for the next big change in order to stay ahead. You may be right, but you may be wrong. The data gathered from analytics is historical. Documented truths. The only thing you need to predict is what changes need to be made to keep moving closer to the bulls eye.
One thing to remember is that search engines just want to be like people. They are working toward adjusting their algorithms to learn what we think is relevant, important, and is what we want. If you look at the human behavior of those who hit your site and adjust your optimization accordingly, you’re giving your visitors what they want and the search engines what they are trying to get to. You’re staying several steps ahead of the engines, rather than trying to play catch-up.
The great thing about analytics chasing is that it’s all about your visitors. The bad thing about it is that you can build a great user-friendly site and still get virtually no traffic from the search engines. One without the other is like having a fast sail boat without the wind. You can always use the motor to power it–or run PPC campaigns–but those are not as cost effective as the free wind provided by SEO.
Merging Analytics with SEO
Most reliable practitioners of SEO will tell you how valuable analytics is to improving their SEO efforts. It’s not just about getting keywords to rank well, but it’s what happens after those searchers visit your site. You can’t get visitors to the site unless you have a solid understanding of how the search engines work, what “signals” they are analyzing, and what changes they are making that may affect your global optimization efforts.
You can hire the very best SEO that will get you rankings, but if you don’t know if your traffic is targeted or converting, you’re wasting money. Similarly, you can perfect your on-site conversions, but you need to get the traffic in order to convert them.
With a solid and applicable knowledge of search engines and analytics, you’ll be able to merge the two into a chasing of customers, rather than one or the other. And, not just the customers you already have, but the customers you are not currently attracting to your site, but should be. That gives you a more successful website that doesn’t only focus on one thing that gets you half measures, but on finding and converting your customers into profits.