When SEO Goes Bad

My last post was about finding a healthy balance between client- and server-side technology. My friend sent me a link to an article about SEO and Google’s “reasonable surfer” patent. Though the information regarding Google’s methods for identifying and appropriately assessing useful links on a site was interesting, I am quite concerned about what the SEO crowd was encouraging because of this new revelation.

It is important to consider search engines during the site building process, however I feel the SEO guys often get carried away. In this article it is suggested that you de-emphasize navigation and forget footers along with lots of other questionable advice.

These two suggestions alone are enough for me to consider this article, at best, a crackpot spouting extremist ideas. SEO experts often seem to forget a very important element on the web: the user.

Something designers are told and people are wise to heed is, pretty things work better. Do they ACTUALLY work better in some sort of quantifiable way? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter to the user. If a site is attractive and seems easy to use, the user is more likely to invest the time to learn how it works.

User experience people know that navigation is key to moving a user through the site. Let’s take, for example, Amazon. They are a top-rated site for Google searches. Have they gone and done away with navigation? No. Why? They know users rely on navigation to move through the site. Moreover, their designers know that pretty navigation works.

While the SEO nuts will scream “de-emphasize navigation,” Amazon bucks the “trend” and keeps on doing what they know works best for making money: directing users.

Regarding forgetting about footers, if anyone in the SEO world ever thought footers were there for search engines, they are fooling themselves. Footers are only ever implemented for the user. Information which a small group of users may want is typically stored in the footer. This kind of information is stuff like license numbers, contact information and other legal odds and ends.

Other common footer items include convenience links, brief site navigation and polish elements which finish out a site. Footers, especially those of the fat variety, were never intended to be SEO tools. They are for the user.

If an SEO guru were to design a site, it would probably be a huge mass of text with a few peppered images, some meta information at the top, a link which says “home” and the required legal information at the bottom in a big, unattractive text block.

Though a page like this would garner a couple of extra points from search engines for being easy to parse, it would lose mega points for being completely useless to a user. The more useless your site is, the fewer users will return. The fewer return visitors you have, the lower your site rank will be. Ultimately, you will win the battle and lose the war.

Moreover, what is really making the money, the search engine or your product? Trust me, if you have a product everyone wants, the search engines will bump you up the list even if your SEO stinks. On the other hand, if your SEO is top-notch, but your site fails to deliver conversions you may as well pack it in now.

Finally, something I never seem to hear SEO people talk about which should be absolutely top of their list is the semantic web. The semantic web can be horribly complex which seems a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply remember to use the right tags at the right time and you’ll be on your way to better SEO without all of the extraneous pain involved in new metadata information embedded in your pages.

Remember to do things like break your pages up into headers, divisions, paragraphs, lists and tables. If you want to get really fancy, add definition lists. This will score big points with the search engines and it will also score big with your audience. The more you can divide your information into digestible chunks and then style with CSS, the happier everyone will be. Users will be able to quickly skim the page in search of what they are there for and the search engines will be able to parse your pages better, potentially leading to better overall ranking.

In the end it is best to build your pages the right way: semantic tagging, strong user focus and dense metadata components. There are many SEO techniques which work better for both search engines and users. Forget about completely re-building your page just to impress the Google spider, because you won’t. Think about the user, build a compelling site, mark it up correctly and make the web a better place.

One Response to When SEO Goes Bad

  1. Carrie Lewis says:

    Chris you should get the award for “Best Web Hippie Dude”! Seriously people should listen to you more. Including me when I am not running amok with my head cut off like a crazy chicken. 😉