Search Engines vs Social Engines

March 27, 2012

Woohooo finally!

I’ve been nagging gently encouraging Mr Rock n Roll Bride to start writing blog posts for The Green Room ever since we came up with the idea. As many of you will already know, Gareth is the brains behind this operation. I may be the wedding obsessed one, but he’s the one who enables my wedding obsession and rambles to be set free! He is a rather handy commodity to have around the place and so I feel it’s only right that we share some of his vast knowledge on all things computer/internet/geek related with you too.

If you have any other techy type questions or topics you’d like us to cover in future, be sure to leave a comment below. But for now, I’ll hand you over to my secret weapon…

 Photography Credit: Marianne Taylor Photography (iPhone photo taken at our Beloved shoot)

For as long as there have been search engines there has been search engine optimisation (SEO). Briefly, SEO is the practise of enhancing a web site, through both its copy and its source code, to rank higher in the top search engines for particular search terms. But then you knew that already, didn’t you? Because SEO is big business. Companies specialise in it, websites are dedicated to it, profits are won and lost because of it.

Or so the industry would have us believe.

I’m here to tell you it’s OK to design your website for people, not search engines. In fact, I implore you to do so and I can sum up why with just one sentence: You and search engines share one very important goal, you both want to give visitors a great experience.

If a search engine doesn’t deliver the best, most relevant, websites at the top of the results it gets usurped by one which does. A lot of people spend time and money trying to optimise their blogs for Google without really considering that lore. Today’s search engines are extremely complex and clever beasts. With over 73 million WordPress sites in existence, it’s in their own interests to be equipped to figure out exactly what those blogs are about.

Step back in time with me for a moment, when Yahoo was at its peak there were a handful of tricks which absolutely worked to ‘game’ their system. Some examples were stuffing keywords into page titles, picking out phrases in bold and italics, and invisible text. But the experience to the human reader was always compromised. Invisible text, for example, often resulted in a large blank space at the bottom of a web page and in those dial-up days most visitors waited there, thinking images were still loading.

As knowledge of these exploits spread the quality of Yahoo’s search results deteriorated and it didn’t take long for an innovative newcomer to snatch the crown from Yahoo’s head, its name was Google. Google banished most of the spammy websites from their search results by using off-page factors which the website owners had little control over. But through time ways were found to abuse even those methods. Today, Google is making changes to parts of its core algorithm on a daily basis to improve results for its users. If you’re trying to massage keyword ratios in a blog post or an ‘about me’ page today the only thing you can be certain of is that in three months it will be out of date and you’ll be getting the cheque book out yet again to get that consultant in or wasting a whole mess of time finding out what the latest theories are for yourself.

Since its inception, Rock n Roll Bride has held firm to this belief. I can vouch that Kat spends her time searching for the right photos, thinking through new, interesting ideas and finding the right words to make this blog and its posts a compelling place for people to visit, not search engines. And let’s take a look at the results. Our top three sources of traffic, in descending order, are currently direct visitors, Google and Facebook. With a shade over 16,000 fans on Facebook we get a lot of traffic from the official Rock n Roll Bride page. Thirty to forty seconds after a link to a new article is posted the real-time stats shoot up like a rocket. But wait just there, I said Google ranked higher than Facebook, didn’t I? Without spending any time on SEO it seems we’re actually doing pretty damn well at it. By concentrating on content Kat has managed to write over 3,000 articles in three years. And they’re all quality, every single one. The net result of all this attention to quality is other website owners find the posts interesting and share them too, this is Google-gold. Posts from years ago are still receiving significant traffic on a daily basis because they’re engaging to people. And as Google improve their ability to detect this genuinely interesting content so our library of posts becomes more and more relevant to its search results. Meanwhile the so-called SEO ‘experts’ are increasingly filling forums with bitter rants about the minutia of the latest updates to the algorithm.

But this is just the beginning of the story because search is changing. Sites like Facebook and Pinterest are growing massively and part of the reason for their record growth is they, like Google vs Yahoo all those years ago, cut through the SEO. The social engines are making a serious dent in the profits of the search engines because people engage with and recommend unique, interesting content. The more compelling your articles, pictures or videos, the more they will be shared and the more traffic your site will receive. When you log in to Facebook and see your sister or a close friend has commented on a photo you take a look at it. Not just a glance but an unguarded, thoughtful look. When was the last time you looked at a billboard or a magazine with such openness?

This is the Holy Grail of building traffic. Forget about SERPs and focus on people. The rest will come naturally when you get it right.