Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

The perils of search engine optimization

September 9, 2012 -- Gerry McGovern

Search engine optimization (SEO) tactics often make it harder for customers to do what they need to do.

If Google wanted to get found in Google would it have the homepage it has? No. It would have a homepage with lots of content on it. This content would repeat keywords such as “search engine.” For example, a classic SEO statement would be. “Search with our search engine. We are the best search engine to help you search.”

The above is clever SEO but dumb content. But variants of this dumb content are being produced by a great many sites in order to “get found”. Let’s get back to Google. Today I searched for “search engine” on Google.

The first result was for Wikipedia, then came Dogpile, searchengine.ie, DuckDuckGo, Bing, etc. The Google search engine didn’t appear until the third page of results, which means it might as well be sitting on top of Mount Everest from a search findability perspective.

The Google homepage is absolutely atrociously optimized for search engines, but tremendously well optimized for people who search. The Google design is focused on what the customer wants to do, which is to search and find stuff. Google is not focused on getting itself found but on helping customers find.

Strangely, many websites don’t have that focus. What needs do you satisfy? How well do you satisfy them? These are vital questions to answer.

Yes, it’s important to get found. But what happens after you get found is crucial. From a customer’s point of view, finding a particular website is just the first step in completing a task.

Google wasn’t always popular. Once upon a time it was a totally unknown website run by two students. Its strategy to get found was based on being useful. That’s by far the best philosophy. Let’s focus much more on helping people be successful once they get to our website.

That may mean doing the exact opposite of what many SEO tacticians tell us to do. I have seen many examples of when 80% of the content got deleted from a site; sales jumped, support calls dropped and general customer satisfaction rose significantly.

There’s no point in bringing lots of people to your website if they are going to feel frustrated and annoyed when they get there. You must focus on helping them do what they need to do as quickly as possible. That very often means reducing pages and then stripping as much content as possible out of the pages that remain in order to simplify them.

Of course, it’s not always about removal. I have worked with websites where they didn’t have enough content in particular areas. The larger point here is that we should not focus on the content itself. If Google did that it would have a content rich homepage that would be terrible to use. And if that were the case, we wouldn’t be talking about Google because nobody would be using it.