SEO Is Not a 4-Letter Word

Search engine best practices are about helping people

Mention the term “search engine optimization” to a group of web designers and you are likely to get reactions ranging from general ambivalence to outright disgust. What you are unlikely to hear is much enthusiasm for the role that SEO should play in a website project. This is because search engine optimization often conjures up notions of shady practices more focused on tricking search engines than actually helping people find the content that is important to them.

 Yes, SEO is an aspect of website design that is prone to abuse by dishonest shysters, but real SEO is not a bad thing. When done correctly, a website that is optimized for search engines is really one that is optimized for people. 

Optimizing for People

Part of the problem with SEO is that the very name suggests that you are building a website for search engines, but Google is not buying the products or services that your company offers. The search engines are not your customers - real people are your customers and they are who you should be optimizing for.

Thankfully, when you optimize your website for people, you will find that those are the same things that will actually make your site more appealing to search engines. Here is how to do so:

1. Start With Content

The goal of all search engines is to rank websites so that the most relevant and highest quality results are returned for any given search query.

They want the best content to rise to the top, so the very first area of consideration when it comes to SEO needs to be your site’s content.

2. Follow Best Practices      

Many of the “SEO changes” that websites often require are really just best practices that should’ve been a part of the site from the get-go – which means that if you start with these best practices in place, you are already ahead of the curve!

Website best practices that are essential to SEO include cleanly coded pages that have a separation of structure (HTML) and style (CSS), the proper use of HTML elements like headings, and even a website that is responsive. Google now uses this “mobile-friendliness” as a factor in their ranking algorithms, which is a perfect example of how you can improve the visitor experience on your site (by ensuring it works well across different devices and screen sizes) and get SEO benefits in return!

3. If It Sounds Too Good To Be True…

As I mentioned early in this article, SEO is unfortunately prone to disingenuous “experts" and outright scam artists looking to capitalize on companies who do not fully understand SEO and are therefore willing to pay for a service to help them out. Do not be a victim of these scams!

There are many reputable SEO specialists out there who will provide a quality service, but you need to be careful. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if something sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. If a company tells you that they can get you to the top of Page 1 in Google in 2 weeks and for just $50, then they are doing something shady. This could be a big problem for you, because bad things can happen when you try to cheat the search engines.

4. Don’t Try To Trick Google

Websites are on Google and other search engines at the discretion of those search engines. This means thatthey can take you out of their database if they choose to do so. When you try to trick the search engines, you run the risk that you will break their rules and they will penalize you for it. Yes, the “Google blacklist” is a real thing and once you are on it, it is a serious challenge to get back in that search engine’s good graces.

Remember what I said at the start of this article – the goal of all search engines is to rank websites so the most relevant results are returned. If you try to trick that search engine into ranking your site higher than it should be, you will run into problems. Google has an entire team of people dedicated to making sure their algorithm is the best that it can be and that no tricks will work on it.

While some of those tricks may work in the short term, rest assured that Google will catch on and there will be a price to pay.

5. Helping People Find What They Need

Ultimately, SEO is about helping people find the website content they need at a given time. It is not about tricking anyone, it is about being helpful and that should be something that all web designers can get behind.

Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/5/17