I think you know the answer to the above question – this is a marketing blog, after all!
Before I give the answer you are probably expecting, I want to give you some history to search engine optimization, my reasons for being interested in this topic, and finally why I believe it’s so important to get this right.
Firstly then, the background to the article – how has search engine optimization (SEO) evolved from its humble beginnings?
SEO arguably started becoming really important at around the time of the “Dot Com” boom at around the turn of the twenty first century, when companies realised how easy (and cheap!) it could be to promote their products on the internet, compared to the more traditional off-line methods that had been hitherto dominant.
Initially, SEO was dominated by keyword stuffing of the key search terms, whether it was in the content of the article itself, or in the meta tags in the html header part of the page. A quick confession here: I remember putting several hundred keywords at the bottom of an article which were the same color as the background text. It worked as well 🙂
It really was a goldrush, with many pages ranking highly without much effort. The articles themselves were horrible to read however: the word repetition comes to mind.
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin came on the scene with what they perceived as a real gap in the market, they realised that search engines were lacking an obvious contender: search engine results that were actually useful.
From the get-go, Page and Brin developed their search engine based on the concept of Pagerank, which ranked content via backlinks. (See this Wikipedia article for more information).
Their Engine rapidly developed into the more refined ideal of: “give people results that actually help them find what they want”.
If you’ve read anything about SEO, you’ll hear the terms “Latent Semantic Indexing”, “silos” and many more…all used to described the way the googlebot likes to read your website.
But I want to put the brakes on here, and emphasize that although these things play a significant part to how well your website will rank with the search engines (and in particular the main player, Google), I believe delving too deep into the technical world of SEO can risk you missing the entire point of why it has been developed in the first place:
Search Engine Optimization is primarily aimed at helping the search engines (which use computers to attempt to find relevant content quickly) find your content as if they were behaving like an army of intelligent, super-quick librarians.
In other words, the search engines are attempting to mimic humans.
So, back to my original question (and by now, I know you know what answer I’m going to give here).
The answer is obviously, that you should be writing for your targeted audience and not the search engines.
Look at it this way: at the end of the day, if you can connect with your audience through what you write, then you’ve achieved your objective.
The search engines are trying to become as good as human readers at discerning what is relevant and good content.
So, if you’ve been to school and you can read and write, then you have a massive head-start over Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
They may be super-quick at finding the content, but you are always going to be better (OK, at least for quite a while yet, let’s be realistic!) than a bunch of dumb lumps of silicon at evoking the desired response from your audience.
And, finally, don’t forget, the search engine results only constitute a minority of the total ways that your website can get traffic (social bookmarking, communitiy websites such as forums, local directories, backlinks from authoritative websites being three other very significant sources of quality, targeted traffic).
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the SEO-game, and you haven’t got the budget to hire a bunch of tech-heads to optimize your site, instead, learn the skills of good copywriting, and finding obvious places to engage with prospects.
In the process, your value to others will increase, both in real and perceived terms….neither of which you would gain particular credibility for if you were just focused on the ‘backend’ of SEO.