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The Way I View SEO

Martin Hooijmans | May 24, 2018 | 3 minutes to read

At my daily work, I am often asked about what SEO actually entails. For many it’s either a black box or a trade littered with false assumptions about the not so glorious past this industry drags behind it. Bring up SEO, and the comments about low-quality content, blog networks and spammy forum posts start flowing. In other cases, you’re often met with looks full of puzzlement.

Why is SEO such a black box?

It’s not so strange that many people still view SEO as the black hat monstrosity that most of us have moved away from. Business owners have to deal with email spam promoting shady SEO services on a weekly, if not daily basis. Freelancers on platforms like Fiverr sell blog network links by the bucketload at a bargain, promising major ranking uplifts that of course never come to fruition.

It seems that we are not very good at promoting our line of work. Social media, affiliate and email marketing are quite easy to explain, easy to guess at from the job titles alone (at least on the surface). Now take SEO. You work in search engine optimization. What does that mean? You say: “I optimize websites in a way that makes them as accessible as possible to both users and search engines.”

Great explanation, until you see the blank look on your colleagues’ faces. So you start talking about organic rankings, about meta tags, internal navigation tactics, great content, link earning, page structure, site speed, AMP, structured data and the list goes on and on and on and…

The search for a simple explanation

Very recently, I had a talk with one of my non-SEO colleagues. We discussed a hypothetical situation in which we’d get to take control of our website’s development roadmap. What would we prioritize? During this, my colleague asked me the following: “If you were in charge, given your strong SEO background, wouldn’t you simply prioritize all SEO tickets?”

It’s a very valid question. Of course we are formed by the things that interest us. I thought it over for a moment, then started speaking. This is roughly what I said:

“SEO is not only about internal linking or adding keywords to your content. It is the sum of everything that makes a website awesome to use. SEO is great user experience, valuable content, easy navigation, logical structure and accessibility for everyone. SEO is making a site discoverable. It’s common sense. Would I prioritize SEO tickets? Yes I would, because to me optimizing our loading times and improving user interfaces is just as much a part of it as introducing a new type of link box on our landing pages. What is the value of ranking in first position if your users end up disliking your product?”

How I view sustainable SEO

Reading the above, you may actually end up wondering why this industry is called Search Engine Optimization if the user plays such a central part. I personally feel that SEO is an outdated term, a remnant of times long past when purely optimizing for Google was believed to be alright (and highly lucrative for many). More suitable would be titles like the very obvious Website Optimization Manager, or Growth Marketer (as opposed to Growth Hacker: we do not hack, we build sustainable solutions).

At the end of the day, we optimize for the user. A part of this type of optimization is making sure that search engines can access your content, classify it as high-quality and serve it at the highest possible position for relevant search terms. That in itself is a user-centric feature: ensuring that the people looking for your solution can find it.

In this field, we can get bogged down in Google algorithm updates and the latest “best” practices you absolutely have to follow. SEO experts yell fire when statistics point to drops in rankings due to algorithm updates. Managers demand in-depth analyses in attempts to explain away the real cause of declining numbers.

My advice: don’t be that SEO manager. Don’t panic. Focus on sustainable website optimization and an awesome user experience. Challenge new ideas, regardless of who they come from. Fight your battles.

Do that, and chances are you will never have to worry about an algorithm update again.

What do you think? These are all my own opinions on the matter, now let’s hear yours!


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