“Isn’t SEO just gaming the search engines?”

If you’ve ever had to make the case for SEO, this Molotov cocktail of cynicism has likely been lobbed your way.

“But good content doesn’t need an SEO strategy.”

Right. It doesn’t. And horses don’t need saddles. But things go a heck of a lot smoother if you have one.

“SEO is just a temporary solution; the way technology changes it’ll be obsolete in a few years anyway.”

Yes, you’re probably right. And this whole Internet fad is probably on its last legs, too.

But I’m not here to make counterarguments to SEO cynics. Because the larger argument is this: Even if Google folded, Bing disappeared, and Yahoo went back to being just another name for crazy, SEO would still matter.

Why? Because the practice of SEO will make your website better, stronger, and easier to use, even if the search engines stopped crawling. Think about it:

What’s Easier to Sort Through: a Filing Cabinet or a Messy Desk Drawer?

seo without search engines

Image by asurroca

SEO forces you to go through the exercise of mapping out your content and the hierarchy of categories, topics, and ideas. It also forces you to pinpoint the focus of any piece of content you create (and helps you avoid creating aimless content written to a general yet non-existent audience.)

If you apply this filing cabinet metaphor at the granular level, major ranking factors for SEO have practical applications outside of “getting more traffic from search” that improve a user’s experience with your content.

Every Piece of Web Content Should Be Focused on a Singular Topic

Identifying an individual keyword or phrase that a given post or page is about helps you keep your focus around a certain idea without meandering or getting sidetracked. This helps you to create content that answers a specific question or responds to a specific need of a potential site visitor.

That way, you’re a laser, not a Swiss army knife.

Page Titles Still Matter without Search Engines

Page titles are  like the tab in your filing cabinet that you thumb through when looking for a particular file.

Labeling a page on your website clearly and accurately allows a visitor to quickly understand if the page is the file they were looking for.

In practical terms, the page title is also:

  • The “label” that is automatically generated when someone bookmarks your article
  • The title they see in your RSS feed
  • The headline generated when they post your article to Facebook (and other social media outlets)
  • The text they see if they have several tabs open in their browser
  • The thing that makes people click or not click your link, in many contexts

Most importantly, it provides context at-a-glance for someone who stumbles upon your content. Done correctly, they understand exactly what the focus of the article is going to be.

Writing a Meta Description Has Benefits Beyond SEO

Your meta description is a reality check to see if your content is coherent. This one is worth it for the exercise of writing it alone. This is your page’s “elevator pitch.” In other words, it should explain what a human would expect to find in your article. If it can’t be written in less than 160 characters, the focus of the article may be too broad.

It is also the automatically generated description that shows up when someone shares your content on Facebook (and in some other outlets).

Headlines and Headings Make Content Easier to Read

Magazines do this very well. A heading should summarize the paragraph that follows. Think of them as mini-headlines for each section of your content.

Besides, “people rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page.” And when they scan, headings can be their guideposts.

Many readers will scroll quickly through a blog post subconsciously checking the headlines to see if they have interest in investing a bit more time to actually read your content. Having no headings means you’ll lose the attention of some readers.

SEO Best Practices Ensure You Have Better Body Copy

A blog post should be long enough to cover a topic, and short enough to keep the reader’s attention (I know I’m risking it here). Key information should be bolded. Relevant content should be linked to for readers who want more information. And images should have alt text that appears if for whatever reason the image doesn’t load.

Search algorithms try to mimic human behavior. People want to quickly find an answer to their question that is easy-to-read, well-labeled, accurate and concise.

The best digital marketers understand that SEO best practices mean organizing and labeling your content in a way that communicates what the page is about to a human.

And satisfied human customers are most likely to share your content.

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About Andrew Hanelly

Andrew Hanelly

Andrew is SVP, Strategy for McMurry/TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major. He writes at Brain on Digital, as @hanelly on Twitter and here on Google+.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Pingback: Does good content need SEO strategy? - Quora

  • http://mytwittertoolbox.com David Perdew

    Great post, Andrew. I agree with all your talking points, and I think another benefit of using an SEO model for creating content is it helps you put “glue” into your posts that binds the entire blog together around a few central concepts. Search engines just make a best practice more like standard operating procedure.

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Thanks for the comment, David. The way I always think about it is that SEO forces you to be clear and logical with your content, which is incredibly helpful to a human. Don't get carried away in the nuances of SEO (aka “chasing the algorithm”) but instead create clearly-labeled content that follows the rules of logic and appeals to humans.

  • http://twitter.com/nronche Nathan Ronchetti

    The idea that your meta description becomes the page's “elevator pitch” is a great explanation. I'm hopeful that idea makes it easier for clients/colleagues to get over the “this is too tech-y” feeling of SEO so we can focus on a more important element–refining content. Thanks!

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Exactly, Nathan. It's really not about the technicalities, it's about labeling content in certain ways for certain purposes each time you create content. It makes it easier for editorial to wrap their heads around it. Plus, it shows that it's not some dark art, it's a practical science. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://twitter.com/JeffKryger Jeff Kryger

    Another great post, and I like the analogy of a filing cabinet. It does make sense though; SEO shouldn't be a chore, just a nice framework for helping to build solid content

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Thanks, Jeff! You're exactly right that it's a framework. It should be the logical architecture that holds the structure together – the content itself should be like the interior design of the structure. Unique, appealing, and tasteful. I think SEO lays the groundwork, and tells you the frame you have to work in and serves as support to the personality-driven content you put on a site.

      Not sure that made sense entirely, so I'll just agree with you that it is the framework!

      • http://twitter.com/JeffKryger Jeff Kryger

        Hah, no I got it. Very visual analogy ;)

  • http://twitter.com/j_barrick Jonathan Barrick

    Great insights, Andrew!

    SEO has been forcing us to be organized. And not just in our own, obscure ways. Everyone used to say 'I am organized, I have my own system'. Well, now we all use the same system, so finding content based on the same rules will be much easier, regardless of who produced the content to begin with.

    By following the rules of SEO, we've been conditioning ourselves to 'get to the point' of our content and make sure the title and summary are actually reflective of the entire piece of material.

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Jonathan, I appreciate the comment. The internal classification systems that many organizations use is – as you allude to – foreign to the external world. SEO helps us speak in a more universal language, which helps information to be more clearly communicated. That's definitely a win.

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  • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

    Those are all great points my friend. The argument is laid out in a cogent fashion and any content consumer, human or otherwise, would find it perfectly organized :-)

  • http://www.ticketswdw.com Maria Dsouza

    Quite awesome points Andrew… never thought it like that… your points proves that SEO matters!!!

  • Savemoney Cash

    I agree with all the points and a seo model and makes it easier and laid out as model makes it more a standard practice and easier for ever one

    Great job
    http://www.SuccesswithMichael.com
    Michael Ladd

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  • http://twitter.com/3seven9 3seven9

    Really good article Andrew, and agree with all the points – The process of SEO is vital with or without search engines.

  • Pingback: SEO Without Search Engines: Why SEO Would Matter Even If Search Engines Stopped Running - Engage

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  • http://twitter.com/haraldstoll Harald Stoll

     True, SEO helps yourself just as much even without crawlers

  • Cynthia Hartwig

    This is well written, Andy, and easy to understand, written so that it helps the reader. Hmmmm. Just like good SEO-optimized writing. Nice job.

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