Having been a SEO for a couple of years, and have talked to various people about SEO, it clearly becomes apparent that SEO, nowadays, is not about websites or the search engines, but people.
What is SEO?
Though, originally, SEO meant 'search engine optimization', now the field embraces such fields as copywriting, website accessubility, usability, web design, marketing, PPC, etc, while none of those can actually be clearly labeled as 'optimization for the search engines'.
Mostly, however, real SEO is now about how people interact with websites, what they want and how website owners and businesses can give them what they want to make everyone happy. Though some marketers have been like this for a while (note, they usually called themselves Internet marketers, not SEOs), the last trend of improving the scope of what a SEO does has become interestingly noticeable.
What SEO can do for the people?
Generally, nearly every aspect of a website is related to how both people and the search engines view websites. The key here is to create websites that are well suited for both types of visitors. If some time ago we viewed something, as being created for the search engines, now is the time to look at something from the point of view of the benefits to the humans.
For example, the following SEO tips can be transformed into human-oriented design:
- if you research keywords, you do this not for traffic, but for people to easily find you (yes, there's only a small, but important difference)
- you use the keywords on the page not to get higher rankings, but for people to read, bookmark and share your pages easier
- alternatively, you write articles not to get more long tail traffic, but to inform, excite or inspire your readers, so they could see whether your offer could benefit them
- you use synonyms, derivatives and human-folk not to grab the long trail traffic, but to make your texts readable, understandable and authentic to your readers
- you use various semantic markup not to appease to the search engines, but to make your site easier to read
- you interlink your pages not to bump some of your pages higher in the rankings, but for people to access the information they want easily
- you interact with other people in your industry not to get reciprocal links, but to receive honest feedback, expand your social network and be on the edge in the industry
- you improve your website usability not to increase conversions, but to improve human experience on your website
- you also make your website accessible not to get indexed easier (which may also help), but for people, who have trouble reading websites, visit, navigate around and read your site easily
- when promoting the website, you count not link quantity or PR, but how much interested people you get
- you inspire word of mouth not to get links, but to get more positive feedback from your customers and use it to promote your product
The list can go on forever, as long as you keep remembering what SEO techniques you apply to your website. The marvelous thing to note, is, when you start focusing on the people, you create a clear path for visitors to go through and also a stable, trustful image of your company throughout the whole process of developing your website.
So I don't need SEO?
If you use the new definition of SEO, given in the first part of the post, you need SEO. But if you wonder, whether you should be obsessed with URLs, keywords and links - not particularly.
While you definitely need to remember about the search engines by using the words your people use, having crawlable URLs and having lots of content and links, you only need that to keep in mind, while developing websites for your customers.
Some time ago, I was talking with a client, who wanted to build a community, and he was all worried about SEO and how I could "SEO his site to get more people". I said something like "forget about SEO - focus on the people, if you want more people".
This example seems to be the most wide spread among the website owners. They are worried with the search engines, not people (some may argue that remembering about SEs is good - it is - but only when you also think of people first).
In reality, your basic SEO concerns should only be like the one I listed above. Above that, you only need to find ways to deliver value to your customers by writing useful articles, creating interesting tools, audios, videos, arranging ways for them to communicate with each other, share their stories and so forth.
Thus, you build a community of like-minded individuals around your company, product or service and your website, which help you to improve it and also gives you ways to reach more interested people.
Search engines only learn to understand what matters to the humans online. That's why, developing for the humans you go ahead of those, who create for the search engines. Mostly, the difference can be critical to the success or failure of your business.
To be highly competitive, you need to be doing what others don't risk doing, and yet be extremely efficient. Being ahead of the search engines, creating a search engine proof website and having your own loyal group of customers should help you stay ahead of most of your online rivals and give you another chance to become and stay successful.