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Let’s get one thing clear, right from the start: SEO is not dead. As long as Google has an unknown algorithm for ranking organic search results, websites and companies will need people to help position them. Change in both Google’s policies and web culture in general might in turn change the specific tasks an SEO performs, but SEO will be a field that perseveres for the foreseeable future.
That said, SEO needn’t sit atop your priority list when creating and maintaining your site. It is a powerful tool that helps people discover your site, but there is more to website marketing than discovery — and there are other tools that can aid discovery as well or even better than SEO.
When building or maintaining a website, these factors should take priority over SEO considerations such as on-page indicators and link building.
1. Navigability and UI
SEO will bring visitors to your site, just as advertising a party will bring people to your house. Spend all of your time, effort, and money advertising the party, though, and you might neglect to create a party environment. If people show up to your house and it’s a dump, and you don’t have food and drink, chances are they won’t stay long. Not only that, but you’ll tarnish your reputation in the process.
If people discover your site through search engines, but find a clunky and un-navigable site, they’ll leave almost immediately. What good does that do you? For sites selling products, either directly or as affiliates, they’re more harmful than helpful. For sites that use CPM advertising, they earn you fractions of pennies. There’s no value in that.
The worst part is that these visitors are wasted opportunities. Prioritize navigability and UI over SEO and you might not get all those visitors in the first place. But when you finally do get around to optimizing your site, the people who do discover it will find a nice, tidy place that they’ll want to visit. With some luck they’ll come back again, click on some links, and maybe buy. But without that user-friendly interface they won’t stick around nearly long enough to make a difference.
2. Shareable content
The old adage claims that content is king, but that simply is not the case. Derek Halpern explains it best when he debunks the content is king myth. It’s a pretty straight forward idea, and not really controversial: people see your design before they see your content. But just as SEO is not dead, nor is content dead. It just places a close second to design — meaning it is still crucially important.
What makes quality content? For years marketers tried to define it in myriad ways, but it boils down to one simple idea. Good content is shareable. If people read it and then want to share it with people they know, or they leave a comment, that is the marker of quality content. If they read and leave without remarking at all, well, the article is unremarkable by definition.
Not every article you post on your blog will get shared heavily. That’s an impossible standard. A few heavily shared and commented articles per week, though, will earn you a reputation as a quality content provider. That creates a snowball effect: create quality content, get shares, realize more visitors, who in turn share your content, and so on.
3. Social presence
One important factor to remember when considering SEO is that by itself it won’t make you money. SEO is, at the core, a tool for discovery. As you optimize your site and climb the search rankings, more people will discover you. These days, though, it might not even represent the best method of discovery. After all, it’s an impersonal means of discovery. Even when you show up first, it’s still a blue link just like every other one on the page.
Social media has proven an important modern discovery tool. With a critical mass of users on Facebook and Twitter, you stand to rope in many more users if you build up your social presence. This goes back to the idea of sharing. Content gets shared via social networks. If you are there as a friendly face behind that content, it will look more legitimate.
The additional benefit of social is reaching out to others with similar interests. That can help you build a following of people who read everything you write. They might not buy from you, and they might not earn you more ad revenue, but they can help spread your message. As Kevin Kelly said many years ago, the ideal is 1,000 true fans. Never has it been easier to amass those fans, thanks to social networks.
4. Mobile development
Website owners have notice an overarching trend in the past few years. While overall blog traffic has flattened a bit, the source of that traffic has shifted drastically. People are visiting sites more and more often from their mobile browsers, whether tablet or smartphone. While tablets pose little problem, since they typically load full-scale websites, but smartphones are a different story. Not all websites display properly on smartphone browsers.
The key here is universality. While your website might look squeaky clean on a larger smartphone, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy Note 2, it might not render that well on a smaller, more common phone. And make no mistake: the market is filled with more cheap LG phones than it is with high-end Samsung phones. That means finding a happy medium in mobile design, thereby pleasing both the top and bottom of the market.
The easiest solution is to install a plugin that allows readers to choose either the mobile site or the desktop site. A cookie saves that preference, so they get the same view on all future visits. That way high-end users can view the full website, while those with those cheap LG phones can view your mobile site, which is stripped down and made to read on a small screen.
5. A business plan
What good is discovery if you don’t know what you want people to discover? Every website sells something. Some sell products directly to people. Some sell products indirectly, though affiliate programs. Most commonly, websites sell their readers to advertisers. Different people have different opinions on what works best, but they can all agree on one thing: knowing what you sell is the most important part.
There is no good reason to spend time optimizing your site for search engines if you don’t know how you want people to behave once they do discover your site. It’s just like the site with poor design. A site with no real business plan will not know how to curate its content to readers. That will in turn drive them away, and leave a bad taste in their mouths. When you do finally develop that business plan, they might not return.
To repeat, SEO is not dead, nor is it something that bloggers can ignore. For most bloggers and site owners, though, it doesn’t rank atop the priority list. SEO is about discovery, and there are not only more important priorities than discovery, but there are also more personal means of discovery. Once you’ve created a user-friendly design, written shareable content, developed a social presence, provided a usable mobile interface, and laid out a business plan, then it’s time to apply some good old fashioned SEO.
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