Google Search the service that your business provides. Do you see any specific business at the top of Google’s organic results? The likely answer is no.
Google prioritizes results that will be most relevant to the searcher, aggregators such as Yelp and AngiesList crowd out top placement in general search terms. No SEO business can make “best plumber in Boston” display your page in the number one spot. However, this does not mean digital marketing should be abandoned. The opposite is true. As Google’s algorithms become more accurate in predicting what sites are actually helpful to humans, traditional search marketing now needs to be combined with human-centric website design in order to drive traffic.
Let us start from the beginning. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a common tool for businesses wanting to improve their ranking in organic search results. There are a myriad of strategies that companies use: keyword optimization, crawl accessibility increases, copy re-writing, and link building are all standard. There is no inherent problem with these. However, the problems do come when SEO businesses focus too much on optimizing for the algorithm rather than for potential customers. This mistake can actually damage your search rankings. For example, Google and other search engines have protections in place against keyword stuffing; put too many hot topic keywords in one page and you will be docked. There are no permanent rewards for trying to game the system.
Focusing on specific factors related to the algorithm means your website is at the whim of these constant updates.
In fact, even if you don’t get caught, there are limitations to this approach. Search engine algorithms are constantly changing–in 2018 alone, Google had 3,620 Live Algorithm Launches and 17,523 Live traffic experiments. This equates to roughly 10 updates a day, all with the express purpose of achieving more relevant search results. Focusing on specific factors related to the algorithm means your website is at the whim of these constant updates. In a recent Q&A, Google’s Webmaster John Mueller recommended that one concerned publisher make his website “a little bit more stable” by not relying on whatever “particular factor you happen to be working on.” For many industry insiders, this stability is gained through design.
Focus on building experiences for the people that will generate him the most revenue.
In particular, a well designed user-experience is necessary for sustainable growth. In a panel with Search Engine Land on “Algorithm-Proof” practices, Eric Wu, VP of product growth at Honey Science toted the benefits of directed user experience. “don’t try to reach everybody,” he said. Instead, he tries to focus on building experiences for the people that will generate him the most revenue. This accounts for websites like W3Schools.com, a simplistic coding help website, consistently ranking higher in search results than Mozilla’s developer network, a tool that most professionals believe has better code examples. W3Schools.com simply knows their core audience better.
This does not mean that we should stop looking at the algorithm altogether. It, unlike a human, respond to specific quantifiable variables that can be optimized for a competitive edge. Nonetheless, as the machine learning based algorithm becomes more human, those variables will be much harder to predict. Thus, a successful website of the future should start with user experience. Branding, pay per click advertising, and traditional SEO strategies then build on the foundation of human-centric design. Although the nature of the algorithm will always keep aggregators at the top of general search terms, traffic to more specific terms can be captured using this approach. We know what direction Google is headed, so why not follow it?