Since the dawn of search engine optimization (SEO) back in the mid-1990's, people have been trying to find ways to "trick" search engines in order to get their websites at the top of the results lists.
Those of us in the SEO and digital marketing community refer to many of these tricks as "black hat" SEO, and those who employ these tactics are constantly trying to beat Google at their own game.
However, search engine algorithms have become so sophisticated that these tricks are losing their effectiveness, forcing marketers and SEO professionals to just be, well..."real." After all, Google alone makes over 800 updates to its ranking algorithms each year (the recent mobile-friendly update being a good example), dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars to squashing black hat SEO tactics. For all purposes, Google is slowly, steadily and with greater precision winning the game.
This is actually a good thing for two reasons:
- It helps prevent the shady websites from outranking legitimate, more relevant websites.
- It's slowly forcing marketers/SEOs to get back to the roots of all digital marketing -- focusing on buyers and outwitting the competition.
The time has come to quit playing the Google Game and start focusing on the more important aspects of optimization. Here's why...
First, a Quick SEO Disclaimer
"Oh great," you say, "here comes the classic SEO disclaimer."
Far from it! The disclaimer I want to position here is about technical SEO. While we're going to discuss the importance of focusing on our website visitors and competition, I want to emphasize the absolute relevance (and dire need for) technical SEO expertise.
A strong understanding of SEO best practices is absolutely critical to delivering an experience that's pleasing to both visitors AND search engines alike.
This article will assume that all technical SEO requirements are met.
Your Competitors Will Steal Your Visitors
Just think of all those times you typed in your company's main keywords into the browser just to see who came up in the results. You cringe at the amount of competitors on the first page and vow to destroy them all!
So, how do you go about this epic campaign of competitor crushing?
Well, you could respond to those spammy, grammatically challenged emails you get from foreign SEO "experts" proclaiming they can get you on the first page of Google. Or, you could dump a bunch of money into PPC campaigns and hope some of them turn into buyers. Hmm, which way to go...
No one ever said you had to have a perfect website. Seriously, it's not required (strange, I know). In fact, it's not even possible.
However, it does need to be said that you DO have to have a better website than your competitors. It's simple -- just be better than the other guys and you will overtake their rankings. By focusing on out-performing the competition instead of outwitting Google, you'll greatly increase your likelihood of dominating the first page!
Clearly, this is way easier said than done. Consider hiring an agency savvy with SEO to do some digging on the competition in order to uncover their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
Pro Tip: You can also do a bit of digging yourself using some competitive research tools we've compiled in this article.
Your Visitors Don't Care About SEO
It's true...your visitors could care less about how amazingly optimized your website is.
When visitors arrive at your website, they want a simple, intuitive experience so that they can quickly find answers to the questions/problems they have (that's why they're searching).
And here begins the SEO balancing act...
An under-optimized website will leave you out to dry, with no page rankings at all. There are hundreds of reasons why a site may not be ranking well, but typically it's due to neglect or lack of fundamental SEO knowledge. Here's a familiar riddle: If an under-optimized website falls from page one in the search engine woods, does it make a sound? Who cares, because hey...it's gone.
Conversely, over-optimizing your website may actually ruin the visitor experience and may even result in penalties from Google down the road. Over-optimization can also stem from a number of things but some of the more common causes are keyword stuffing and/or building a ton of spammy backlinks. Never underestimate how sharp your web visitors can be. They will pick up on this like a hound on a rabbit trail, only it won't be you they'll chase after...it will be your competitor's website. Wa waaaaa...
The New Definition of "Optimization"
What I'm getting at with all this is that there's a new, expanded definition of SEO -- a more natural, holistic and fundamentally sound definition.
SEO means optimizing the visitor experience, optimizing your competitive performance and of course, optimizing for search engines in order to help them to understand what your website is all about.
Follow this advice and you'll soon realize that competing with Google is one of the few games where it pays to be a quitter.*
* pizza parties and participation trophies not included.