Forget about SEO

Image for the Google Hummingbird update – Tribus Creative – Forget About SEO

Search Engine Optimisation? No, thanks.

As a small business owner, it’s likely that you pay a fair bit of attention to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). You’ve no doubt read stats that tell you things like the first search result gets a third of the traffic, and that the tenth only gets 2.4 percent (and if you haven’t, I’m sorry you had to hear it from me).

You also may have heard about updates Google has made to its search algorithm — Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin etc. — and that they have had a significant negative impact on the results for some previously high positioned sites. There’s no shortage of articles on SEO, or companies willing to sell you their optimisation service. Well, today, I’m telling you to forget about SEO.

Now, before you say “Are you crazy?”, I’m not telling you that search isn’t important, it is, what I’m suggesting is that sometimes, when considering SEO, the focus is on the wrong thing.

A big part of the problem with SEO lies in the name — Search Engine Optimisation (optimising for search engines). In the most literal interpretation, it is the process of rearranging or rewriting a website’s content to make it attractive to search engines. But search engines do not read, watch or listen to that content, people do.

That’s why, at Tribus, we prefer not to use the term SEO. We do, of course, because it’s a recognised shorthand for a process that is very important to marketing a business, but we’d rather use the terms Search Marketing or Optimising for Search. The difference may seem trivial, but words have meaning, and we believe phrasing the activity in the above ways has a subtle effect on the way we think about it — we’re optimising for the process of searching by people, not for the search engines themselves.

And that principle extends into how we think about content. Of course we will consider keywords and phrases that will be picked up by search engines, but beyond that we’re looking to create content that is crafted to be read by humans, not machines. Thinking about content this way, a business can create information that has value beyond getting someone to click on a link. After all, what advantage does it serve to produce keyword heavy content designed to fool the search engines into ranking your site highly in search results pages (SERPs), if a visitor following a link is then presented with poorly written, half intelligible content of little informational value?

Content VS. Visits

The truth is that there are still many “SEO experts” out there who are creating worthless content solely for the purpose of ranking highly in SERPs. Just last week, a colleague told us how they had been asked by a “SEO specialist” to create ten pages of deliberately misspelled unintelligible copy for a small business client. This kind of practice should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but it still goes on, particularly in smaller SEO firms.

I’m sure there are many very good small SEO firms out there, and I don’t wish to tar them all with the same brush, but poor practices often correlate to cheap pricing — creating high quality content takes time and skill, and therefore costs money. I checked out the firm in the above example, and its own website was riddled with typos, poor grammar and misspellings, so it’s no surprise the content produced for their client was equally poor.

If you visit a site and the content is poorly crafted, does that inspire trust? Do you have reservations about its ability to deliver a product or service? I know I do.

As a small business it is unlikely that you can compete with the big firms with their armies of search marketers. The solution, therefore, is to focus on creating well-written, informative content that inspires confidence and persuades people to purchase. In this way, even if you’re only getting less than 2% of the potential traffic, you’ll have a good chance of getting those visitors to buy from you.

And the good news is, this is exactly what Google wants you to do. Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update is aimed at identifying a user’s intent, and designed to allow for conversational long-tail searches — searches that are phrased the way people ask questions (e.g., “I’m looking for a pair of size seven black women’s shoes” instead of “women’s shoes black size 7”). This is partly due to Google’s need to handle an increasing number of voice searches on mobile devices and Google Glass, but also to favour content that is written in a way to be read. In addition, it looks to depth and semantic relevance, so will give preference to content that does more than scratch the surface.

Have a think about the content you create and ask yourself, “Does it have informational value and demonstrate depth? Is it well-written? Is it easy to read? In short, is my content optimised for searchers, rather than search engines?”

About the Author

Nick Irons

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Nick Irons is Co-founder and Creative Director of Tribus Creative Ltd., a brand communications company for small businesses. He spent almost fifteen years in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer, and performer, before moving into branding and design consultancy. He is a fervent believer in the power of storytelling to unlock the value in brands both big and small.