Which approach is better for your company and site?
Web site owners will encounter a wide variety of SEO (define) strategies among SEO/SEM (define) firms throughout the world. Some of the methodologies will be similar from firm to firm, such as optimizing titles and meta tags. Some will be considerably different, even outright ludicrous.
I often get to see colleagues' and competitors' proposals for SEO services. It can make for interesting (and entertaining) reading. After a quick read of some of the more entertaining proposals, I realized I could divide SEO into short-term and long-term strategies.
Which is better for your company?
Short-Term SEO and Algorithm Chasers
I admit I don't understand algorithm chasers. The cat-and-mouse game they play is always a losing battle. Search engine algorithms change, and search engine software engineers try to make search results more accurate. Therefore, search engine algorithms are always evolving. However, software engineers are human. They won't always get the algorithm right. We've all experienced bad or inaccurate search results.
The pattern for this SEO strategy is:
The funny part about this pattern is no SEO company, in spite of what it claims, truly knows what a search engine's algorithm really is. And look what happens with this cat-and-mouse game: the Web site constantly fails to drive qualified search engine traffic. The link development eventually fails, especially if third-party link development comes from low-quality link farms, news/publication site purchases, or college-frat-boys-need-beer-money social media optimization. This SEO methodology is not proactive -- it is reactive.
The great part about short-term SEO is the SEO firm will always make money. It's the one that truly benefits from the cat-and-mouse game. Sometimes the client benefits, too, if the ROI (define) works in its favor. Unfortunately, I've seen the ROI not work in the Web site owner's favor far too often.
Search engines and searchers certainly don't benefit from this exploitation. Search results aren't as accurate as they can be. As a result, searchers must work harder to find sites that contain the information they desire.
Additionally, SEO professionals and Web site owners must conduct a reality check on SEO's effect on branding. Sure, a number-one Google position might initially present an positive brand impact. But if searchers arrive at a Web site that doesn't meet their expectations, that positive impact is lost with one click of the "Back" button. Believe it or not, user-centered design (UCD) is at the core of SEO and a positive brand.
That said, I've never been a fan of short-term SEO. If I need short-term or seasonal search engine traffic, I'd rather have the guarantee and utilize PPC (define) search engine advertising.
Long-Term SEO: Organic Optimization
If one of your Web site's goals is to receive long-term, continuous, qualified search engine traffic, SEO is one of the best strategies. In a previous columns about search behavior, I discussed how many SEO professionals and Web site owners consider the word "search" to only mean querying behavior. In fact, search behavior encompasses a wide variety of behaviors, including but not limited to:
A user-centered Web site accommodates a wide variety of search behaviors, not just querying behavior. If a searcher clicks on a link from a Google or Yahoo SERP (define), for example, the searcher wants to see her keywords available on the SERP and on the destination Web page. By placing important keyword phrases above the fold in important HTML tags such as titles, headings, opening paragraphs, and anchor text, both searchers and search engines are able to see the desired information is available and readily accessible.
A user-centered Web site also accommodates negative search behavior, such as pogo-sticking. If a searcher and Web site visitor exhibits too much pogo-sticking behavior, that person is less likely to take a desired call to action. With clear labels in titles, headings, anchor text, and navigational elements, pogo-sticking is minimized.
Everything I just described is part of a long-term SEO strategy. Modifying navigational elements isn't a process Web site owners can implement every time there's an algorithm change. Headings and headlines cannot be modified on news sites or news pages for archiving reasons.
The funny thing about this long-term approach? Implemented correctly, a keyword-focused, search-friendly, user-friendly Web site tends to receive qualified search engine traffic over time in spite of all algorithm changes and all new search engines that come onto the horizon. Link development isn't a difficult process because people genuinely want to link to easily accessible, unique content.
Trust me when I say this: if the same information is available on two different Web sites, people tend to link to the site that's easier for them to use, not the one that makes accessing that information problematic. Usability has a direct, positive impact on a site's link development.
I'm also a Web site owner. I have multiple Web sites, in fact. I have to make the same decisions about long- and short-term SEM strategies any other business owner does. My personal and professional opinion about SEO is it should be a long-term marketing strategy based on solid research, analysis, and implementation.
Being an information science professional and student, I also need to understand search algorithms to the best of my ability, but not in a way that wastes my time and energy -- or my clients' time and energy. By focusing on the fundamental core of UCD, search, and usability principles, I'm able to get long-term results for my own site as well as client sites without the cat-and-mouse hullabaloo. This approach has worked for me since 1995. It can work for everyone else, too.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
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