I’m writing a lot more about SEO these days, less about design. Or am I?
I really am not sure what SEO is any more. (I guess it depends on the goal. Put crudely, SEO is about getting more traffic, whereas design or conversion optimisation aim to convert that traffic into action, and PR aims to increase influence. But in reality, I think they’re all one thing. I just don’t know what it’s called yet.)
What we want is traffic, right? That’s what SEO is about. But not all traffic is created equal. Some visits are far more valuable than others.
Growing traffic numbers can feel nice, but what we really need is conversions.
Visits that don’t generate conversions or more links are worth far less. In fact, if Google starts to put more emphasis on visitor engagement factors, short visits might even be harmful.
I recently posted my surprising findings that show how quality content is your traffic-grabbing secret weapon. (I know good SEOs have been saying this for years, but I’m slow to learn. Sometimes I need to see the data for myself.)
I’m convinced that creating great content is the best investment you can make in your website. When you compare the ROI of great content versus link building for crappy content, you’ll quickly see how there can be no better use of a day of your time than to craft something useful, generous, or entertaining.
Here’s a neat way of thinking about it…
Content is like a snowball. The more attention it gets, the bigger it gets. And the bigger it gets, the more attention it can attract.
Google’s job is to discern the best, most useful content. When you type in a search query, Google has to arrange all the millions of potentially relevant pages into a list, starting with the page it judges to be the most relevant.
The better Google can do this, the more we’ll use Google. The more we do that, the more money they make through AdWords.
So Google has to find ways to figure out – mainly programmatically – the telltale signature of good, useful content.
Fifteen years ago, Google’s great innovation was to interpret links from other web pages as “votes” for usefulness or quality, and the link text as an indicator of relevance.
Today, it’s still about links, but links can be built artificially, so Google has to find other signs that indicate quality – ones that it’s harder to spoof.
Social signals are one important area. How many times is a page shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, and doses that pattern fit the pattern of link growth?
User engagement is another possible area. Google gives us Analytics for free, but in return they get data on how people browse our websites. Good content is likely to be read for longer, and likely to inspire people to investigate further.
My point is, these techniques are bound to evolve over time. And we have two choices – to work with Google or against Google.
White Hat, Black Hat
Working with Google to get more traffic – giving it exactly what it wants – is called “white hat” SEO.
Working to trick the search engines into seeing content as better than it really is, That’s “black hat”.
There’s nothing illegal about the black hat approach. But it must be hard work! Automated techniques must stay undetectable for as long as possible, until one day they just stop working.
My message to you is, working with Google is always going to be a sound investment compared to gaming the system.
Remember I said content is like a snowball? What is the most efficient way to make your snowball grow? That’s right – by rolling it downhill!
Roll your snowball downhill, and you’re going with gravity. After the first push, your snowball will gain size and energy without any more input from you.
Roll it the other way, uphill, and now gravity is working against you. It is still possible to grow your snowball, but it will take more energy. Stop rolling and it stops growing.
Perhaps think of web marketing in the same way. There’s a constant force, which we’ll call “g”, pulling in one direction.
Work with “g” by giving it what it needs – great content that people like and naturally want to share, and it’s downhill all the way to the bank.
When people see your great content, and want to share it, you get links and social shares. They bring more visitors, and raise your profile on the search engines, which brings more visitors. And, because your content is good, they’ll share it as well…
So you have a virtuous cycle, like a snowball rolling downhill and gaining mass and energy all the time.
On the other hand, you can always push uphill. Start with content that’s ordinary, unhelpful, badly written, or even computer-generated. No one will want to share it, so you have to do the work. That’s working against “g”, and you have to ask… is it really worth it?
Case Study: Making Climbing Holds
WDFS follower Steve Williamson wrote to me to tell me how his experiences match my own.
Years ago, Steve published a useful step-by-step guide on “making climbing holds“. His starting page has been on or around the #1 spot on Google for several years now.
What SEO did Steve do? None at all! He just wrote some really useful, helpful, unselfish content. And it snowballed from there.
- Using Passive Link Building to Build Links with No Budget (by Craig Bradford on SEOmoz)
- Rand on Why Content Beats Links (from LinkLove Boston)
- Proof of the pudding right here! The Oatmeal explains “How to Get More Facebook Likes”