Search Engines vs Social Engines

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.


  1. Great article, G! Hopefully everyone reads this and I stop getting annoying spam everyday from so-called SEO companies offering me their service. Thanks but no thanks!

  2. Awesome post Gareth! Thanks so much for making it all sound so simple. I have tried to learn this stuff elsewhere but got overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at me. Fabulous stuff 🙂

  3. Brilliant!
    And so well written (I didn’t get confused once, normally anything slightly technical fries my brain!)
    More please 🙂

  4. A great post Gareth, only a few days ago I had a conversation with a friend where I was trying to tell her everything that you’ve just said but you’ve said it much better than I ever could – I think I’ll show her this and its nice to get a little reminder myself. You and Kat are quite the team, I love it!

  5. FINALLY! A good article on SEO that doesn’t tell you to stuff your articles with conspicuous keywords!

    I trained as an SEO copywriter straight out of uni and the one thing any good teacher will tell you is that well-written and informative content will rank highly in organic search. Google changes its algorithms every ten seconds, no point trying to stay ahead of the game and sacrifice your readers’ experience!

    Fab article. Kat, isn’t it great to have a secret weapon? Mine is my little in-house beardy designer – what would I do without him?? xx

  6. Great first post Gareth – really interesting and inspiring read. I love the fact nowadays (as you say), that as long as you provide quality content, people will find you and keep on coming back. The day’s of ‘It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know” are fast fading – and I think we are all the better off for it! xxx

  7. Thanks Gareth – this is my approach too, mostly because I don’t want to compromise the way my website looks and reads and also because I don’t want it to look like one of those awful websites/blogs that highlight random phrases and shoehorn in repeat key phrases – it’s a total turn-off to your visitors, slows down the flow of text and just looks desperate, which is in turn another turn-off. Now I can pretend it’s also because I know a lot about technical stuff. I bet there’s a lot of SEO spammers feeling a bit uncomfortable about this post!

    Would love to see more Green Room posts from Gareth – he really makes a head-spinning subject easy to understand. Do you know anything about VAT?!

  8. ooh good idea Debbie – VAT and tax is all boring but important. wow G is gonna get ALL the exciting topics to write about isn’t he?! haha

  9. Great post – I love it! Makes me feel better about my website that I designed myself. I forgot completely about key words etc and it’s not exactly a technical whizz but my highest hits are from Google! You just reassured me that it’s not a fluke and hopefully my content is good 🙂

    j-query next please? :)xxxxxx

  10. what the hell is j-query!?!

    haha yeah you may be a fluke Lucy but your blog is bloody ace so once people find it they stick around for more more more!

  11. I don’t have a ‘secret weapon’- my other half’s technical expertise is the canny ability to hog the laptop aaall evening. He’s pretty encouraging though, so I’ll keep him for a while longer…

    Fab post Gareth! Like Jen, I understood everything and I usually don’t!

  12. Thanks for this great, informative post – I love it! Fantastic to see someone “cutting through the crap” and writing about this topic in plain english. Content is King (or maybe Queen) … long live the King!

  13. Perfect article, Gareth! Every time I fill in my keywords in the search plug in and I get a mere 2% reach it makes me upset. I always wonder how you can really cut through the clutter, but as you say, quality articles are the key. This is very helpful and I really look forward to seeing more from you!
    Thanks, Kat, for carving out a space for Gareth in the green room! I’m loving it already!

  14. Great advice Gareth and so true, creating content for the search engines is just ging to turn our readers off, I have often been adviced to add key words into the title of a post and to then repeat that title in the first sentance and keep on repeating it throughout a post……..but that’s no good for anyone, especailly the reader! who after all is the most important person.
    would love to hear more from you in the future. xxxx

  15. I agree with Gareth 100% here. I wrote to Kat requesting to write about SEO for The Green Room and I would have written the same thing. Write well, write frequently and use social media. Kat does a stunning job because she does all those things excellently and that is the best way of conquering the search engines. Don’t cheat, write!

  16. @kelly who ever told you that is not up to date with search engine optimisation. Sure a keyword in the title is beneficial, and so is having a link in your post using a keyword as the anchor, but leave it at that. No one in their right minds wants to read keyword stuffed content, and the search engines know this 🙂

  17. One of the things I loved about your blog talk at photography farm Kat was how understandable and accessible you made SEO. I really struggle with the geekier/techy side of business so a BIG thank you to you and Gareth for making this subject waaaaay less scary!

  18. I found this and my hours at Rock n Roll Bride school the most useful IT lessons ever. For someone that is old enough to be Kat’s Mum the ‘be interesting, be contraversial, be relevant, be heard’ anarchic principles are the same as as the philosophy behind photocopied fanzines I cherished in the late 70s/early 80s.

  19. Great post! I’ve always felt that SEO was a waste of time and you have confirmed my beliefs. Word of mouth and quality is always the way to go x

  20. What a relief! I’m so sick of all those websites so obviously SEO’d to the eyeballs and not engaging or interesting to the reader at all. I, too, don’t want to compromise my site design just to try and guess google’s next algorithm change…now all I need help with is that interesting and well-written content. I don’t know how Kat does it, I genuinely take my hat off, I never seem to be able to produce anything people actually want to read, let alone share…Must. Try. Harder.

  21. Thank you Gareth – the penny just dropped when it comes to SEO for me – finally !! I would love to read a regular Techy Green Room post from you & would be ever so grateful if you’d consider the subject of web analytics for a future post ?

  22. Thank you so much for this post Gareth, it is great. I hope to read more posts from you in future! Well done on the nagging Kat! Corinne x

  23. This is an exellent post Gareth and Kat, I’ve bookmarked it, made a screenshot, made a print-out and pinned it to my wall 😉
    Seriously, your approach to SEO is a truth to be recond with. As a food blogger we get the lectures about SEO and where and what to do but I find it all so time consuming I just feel that I want to stay “normal” and if people like what I do they will visit my blog and return. I appreciate every visitor because they found my blog trough social engines and not search engines. I wish everyone would read your post and I really hope to read more of your wise words.
    You guys are such a fabulous team, I want to eat you!

    Thanks Kat, for sharing actual interesting content with us!
    x Regula

  24. Ack so late to the party here but just wanted to say – spot on. Such a well written piece Gareth.

    As far as SEO goes apart from a bit of post tagging we don’t do….anything. We figure genuine organic growth is best – actual brides visiting our site rather than doing some fancy techie stuff (which frankly I don’t understand anyway!) that just generates an inflated amount of (non relevant) hits.

    Charlotte xxx

  25. Thanks, Gareth – simple, clear and to the point! Having wasted a lot of time over the last couple of years listening to internet ‘gurus’ and ‘affiliate marketing experts’, it’s nice to hear a common-sense approach that puts the content at the centre of the issue. Thanks also to Wight Wedding Days (my niece’s website) for recommending the article!


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