I do not like SEO. The name (a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization) reeks of spam and spite. It’s both unsustainable and relentless. SEO has become a practice much maligned by nearly everyone except search engine experts, some of whom are less than ethical. Nearly everyone who studies the subject thinks they can one-up Google and its little sisters Bing and Yahoo! However, Search Engine Optimization is a focus for nearly every client engagement for us. How do we rationalize the importance of search with the legacy of “search engine optimization”? Let us count four ways.
SEO is How (Not Who) We Are Online
First, the term SEO itself has become eclipsed by much more meaningful terms like “content strategy” or “content marketing”. A website that demonstrates clear and ongoing proof of expertise will be found on search engines through the power of consistency, regularity, and relevance.
Second, ten years ago the concept of SEO was based upon the marriage of two things—code and content. The website code we wrote was as important as the copy itself. For instance, we made sure a header appeared coded correctly and semantically on every page. Today, good code is simply inherent to a website’s design and its development. We don’t take code for granted—but we worry about it less when it comes to search. This is thanks to content management tools that help us define the placement and markup of copy.
“The days of SEO being a game outsmarting algorithms are over. Today content strategy and valuable, sustainable strategies are essential, not just tricks and links.”
—Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG
Third, SEO experts are increasingly less germane for most of our clients. In their place, design firms like ours are continuing to internalize the rules and regulations of good search engine optimization into their workflow and practice by prescribing more human rules of writing and content production. These include clear copy, good headlines, meaningful imagery, and relevant information. (As a purpose-driven organization, I like to think that our work on behalf of clients is always relevant to their audiences.)
Fourth, there are a host of new tools—some free, some paid, and some based on ongoing consulting—that allow our clients to better understand their search engine positioning. These include good old Google Analytics, which are de rigueur on every site we build. Other tools like plug-ins, subscription services and marketing automation make search a more sophisticated and wonderful thing.
Search Should Be Called ‘Find’
There are other strategies that will help you gain good search results. Social media, readable URLs, and incoming links are all important, as are the old standbys like title tags, keyword placement, and backlinking. But it’s clear that the future of search optimization is just that—crafting well-written, usable and findable content that human searchers (first and foremost) will want to access.
I look forward to the day when SEO is short for Social Enterprise Organization. In the meantime, we’ll draw upon best design and development practices, content strategy, usable tools, and the power of helpfulness to help our clients get found.