Why Optimizing for Users Is the New SEO

Posted By Brian Easter On January 3, 2013 @ 2:01 PM In Opinions, Search | 2 Comments

We’ve all heard the cries of the death of SEO ad nauseam. Every time there’s an algorithm update, the world of SEO has a collective conniption fit, blaming Google for the consequences of their short-sighted approach to marketing. And, as usual, despite the doomsayers’ proclamation, our chosen art form continues to thrive.

What SEO has done is continue to evolve. Just as search engines must adapt to a bigger Internet and a smarter audience, so must SEO continue to adapt to serve its purpose or connect users with the information they seek. And now that search engines are getting better at deciphering the semantics of human language, its time for SEO to take a more human-centered approach. We must embrace these times and learn how to reach our audience where they are on their terms.

The Evolution of the Art

Though SEO is an evolving practice, there are many principles and best practices that will always remain the same. Selecting appropriate keywords, optimizing on-page content and meta tags and building a site that can be easily crawled by search engines is still a prerequisite for organic success. What has changed is the way SEOs should approach their off-page strategy.

SEOs can no longer be satisfied with antiquated tactics such as manual link building, keyword stuffing and duplicate content. It’s amazing we’re still talking about these antediluvian devices [1] in 2013. SEOs need to quit treating our craft as a technical or automated exercise and become marketers of the highest order. We must contour our content and promotional strategies directly to the audiences we’re targeting.

We must continue reaching out to users and journals and media sources, offering legitimate value in exchange for authentic endorsements, but do this before we have anything to promote. We must contribute before we seek to benefit.  We must pursue those that are talking about our industries and our clients and find organic ways to join that conversation in an authentic and value-adding way.

In short, we must hold ourselves, our clients and our marketing teams, to a higher standard of excellence.

Game Theory vs. Gaming the System

Some may argue that taking a more human-centered approach to SEO, trying to connect resources in the digital ecosphere and being “authentic” sounds well and good but will also put you and your clients at a disadvantage. And to that, we must emphatically agree.

However, as the adage goes, anything worth its salt takes time.

Tactics that “game” the system provide quick results, early victories and happy clients. For every back door that Google slams shut with an algorithm update, a dozen windows will open for the blackhat to creep through. There will always be ways to weasel past the gatekeeper. And if that’s your thing, then more power to you.

But who wants to just squeak by?

In game theory, there is a concept known as “expected value.” Expected value challenges you to consider the expected return on a particular decision over an infinite number of trials.  Sure, the best decision is going to yield negative results every once in a while, but, in the long run, you will win more than you lose by implementing legitimate marketing practices rather than “optimizing for search engines.”

Serving your audience with straightforward, honest marketing has a positive expected value. Accruing irrelevant directory and reciprocal links does not. Sometimes, less-than-noble optimization tactics will help you get ahead quickly. But if I had to guess which strategy is going to be more successful over the course of a year, two years or three years, I know how I’m betting.

The Bottom Line

The biggest reason to embrace the digital ecosystem? It’s where your audience truly lives, plays and works online. That’s why they’re going to search engines, looking for answers to their questions and trying to solve their problems. Search engines understand this and continually evolve to meet the needs of these users, not the needs of the SEOs.

And when you think about it, shouldn’t that be what you care about, too?

We should embrace the digital ecosystem and speak directly to searchers, who are just members of our audience who haven’t found us yet. The best way to recruit them? Quit chasing search engines and algorithms and deliver marketing that takes them by the hand and leads them back to you. Cut out the middleman and rigmarole and focus on the prize, not the gatekeepers. If you take care of your audience, the search rankings will take care of themselves.

By embracing the new world of the digital ecosystem, SEOs will greatly impact their efforts and eventually their client’s bottom line. A new algorithm isn’t going to wreck your entire site when you’re not relying on backdoors and loopholes. Talking to people and making authentic connections, earning quality links and endorsements, expanding your digital visibility in real and valuable ways—these are things that can’t be undone by a new line of code.

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[1] talking about these antediluvian devices: http://www.neboagency.com/blog/10-seo-words-ban/

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