We often get asked if we “do SEO” and are never quite sure how to answer. We certainly build websites and digital experiences using best practices, which enhance SEO - but we don’t follow the “dark arts” approach to SEO which is promoted by some sectors of the web industry.
So to answer this question more in depth I decided to write about our approach to SEO.
First up I should state the obvious: there is no secret sauce/ special magic/ one-weird-trick to get a website to the top of search rankings. This is the “dark arts” approach to SEO and it’s a part of our industry we’re very uncomfortable with. While it sounds tempting it goes back to the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.
The reality of SEO is different, but relatively easy to understand:
SEO is like House Insulation
This might sound like a strange analogy but it works surprisingly well:
SEO should be part of every website build.
Focusing solely on SEO will lead to bad design choices and an uncomfortable experience.
SEO is harder to retrofit than integrate into a build.
Human action/ inaction can negate the effects of SEO.
Just like house insulation SEO isn’t an “extra” or an “add-on” it should be part of the design and build from the point go. However, neither SEO or insulation should be the focal point of any design/ build process - that would lead to some distinctly strange websites/ houses. While we can retrofit SEO/ insulation it’s easier and more efficient to integrate it into a build. Finally, leaving the windows open or plastering a website with pop-ups will negate all your hard work.
Forget “Keywords” - Good Content and Good User Experience is the Key
I have written about the SEO obsession with keywords here. The take home is that search engines like Google are looking for good human readable content and measuring good user experiences.
Trying to write content for a machine generated algorithm is a counterproductive exercise that will make your website harder to use and ultimately give it a lower rank in search engines.
Write for your audience, not machines.
Quality user experience is also incredibly important. As I wrote in my keywords post Google can measure visitor engagement a number of ways - including tracking time spent on the site, the number of pages visited and in some cases even actions like purchases/ contact form submissions. That engagement feeds back into the search rankings so good engagement/ experiences equals better search rankings. Well thought out website content architecture is one of the cornerstones of user experience.
Dancing with Google
The term “Google” is interchangeable with “search engine” for good reason. Google has over 90% of the search market and most SEO is focussed on appeasing Google. This raises three important points:
First up Google is the most influential company on the internet and makes billions of dollars from connecting internet users with businesses via their various advertising channels. To think that we can somehow beat Google without playing by their rules is naively optimistic.
Secondly Google changes their search algorithm once a day on average. Even the Google engineers don’t know the ever changing inner workings of the Google machine.
Finally Google offers a number of free and paid services that connect your website/ business to their ecosystem:
Google Search Console - submit your website directly to Google Search (free)
Google My Business - add your free business listing to Google (free)
Google Analytics - track and analyze your website visitors (free)
Google Ads - advertise in search and across the web (paid)
Google Merchant Center - list your products directly into Google (paid)
As part of our website launch process we connect websites/ business to Google Search Console, My Business and Analytics. Google Ads can also be a valuable service - especially if you are launching a new brand or business to market. Finally if you are selling products via e-commerce it’s really worth checking out Google Merchant Center.
Campaign Landing Pages
There are always exception to rules and campaign landing pages stand out as content that should lean into keywords and dancing for Google. These pages are where your visitors end up when they click on a Google Ad and should be simplified down to single actions for users, but packed with content which relate directly to the Google Ad campaign to boost Google's quality score algorithms. Here's an example of a campaign landing page.
Minor Dark Arts
And finally, yes there are some minor dark arts. Hidden fields tell search engines and social media platforms what parts of content should be displayed in summaries. These can sometimes be configured via the CMS and sometimes need custom development. Again, a proper website build should involve populating these fields.
You can test these fields for your website using these tools:
And there we have it - the foundation of SEO in under 800 words. I hope you have found it useful.
The most important concept is to build your website for your audience, not for a machine.
Remember that and you’re most of the way there.