There’s little question to the premise that if you own a website it really does benefit you to know the proper markup to appease the search engines. It’s also important to know a little something about how Google ranks web pages so that you can take the necessary steps to ensure that your website is search engine friendly. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a marketing budget to be able to advertise your website.
Once again, I want to be clear, a sound understanding of SEO/SEM can benefit your website.
Now that I’ve said that, some people are spending way too much time worrying about SEO.
“You should know now that a man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when has finished acting. A man of knowledge chooses a path with heart and follows it.” — Carlos Castaneda
Acquiring knowledge in an attempt to make your website better is fine, it’s even responsible, but it’s not a substitute for action. Some people are spending too much time on SEO and not enough time on their actual product. I’ve been a member of the SitePoint forums since 2001. I’ve seen many people enter into the SEO forums, never to return — it’s like the Hotel California. They get so wrapped up in every aspect of SEO that they forget about the real leg-work that needs to be done.
These people want to know every minute detail of SEO, right down to what’s the perfect number of words on a page. As if having more or less words on a page will suddenly open the flood gates and traffic will come pouring through. Shouldn’t they be worrying more about the words on the page instead of how many words there should be? Is it not more important to have relevant copy for your human audience than to have the exact number of words for the search engines?
The Wrapping Paper Is Not The Gift
I find myself wanting to say to these people, “Stop worrying so much about SEO and just concentrate on creating a website that’s relevant to an audience.” Look, no amount of SEO is going to make something that’s crap good. It’s just not. Instead, focus your efforts into making something that’s good, that reaches an audience and that people will want to naturally share with others.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. The point is that if you build something remarkable, the people will find you. I’m not saying, “Build it and they will come” — we all know that’s not the case. What I am saying is that when we DO eventually come, have something worth our time. Have something that will make us glad that we did come and make us want to return. Have something that’s worth us subscribing to. Perhaps we may even find ourselves wanting to link to you.
I talked with the owners of some of the most popular websites on the web (according to Technorati’s Top 100) and asked them flat-out how much they concern themselves with SEO. Here’s their responses:
How much do you concern yourself with SEO for your site?
How to Change the World By Guy Kawasaki (ranked 15th by Technorati)
In the way you’re asking, zero. I don’t know a thing about it. In the way you should be asking, I spend 3-4 hours per day concerned with this: ie, trying to come up with good content. My assumption is this: Write good stuff, people will find you as opposed to obsessing about SEO.
Seth’s Blog By Seth Godin (ranked 24th by Technorati)
456 Berea Street By Roger Johansson (ranked 31th by Technorati)
First of all I make sure there are no barriers that prevent search engine robots from spidering the site. When I write I make an effort to write titles, headings and link text that are clear and helpful to my readers, which also means they contain words and phrases that my target audience uses for searches.
Other than that, not much. I focus on accessibility, which means I get most of my on-site SEO for free.
Those answers are so on track that you may think I wrote them myself or in someway coerced them; I assure you that I didn’t. I didn’t need to, I knew what their answers would be — if you spend any time at their websites it’s quite apparent that they are concerned with their product and firmly understand that if they focus on the product, the rest will take care of itself.
I do realize that not every website is able to write as compelling of content as those mentioned above; that e-commerce sites and traditional business sites will likely find it difficult to generate the same amount of traffic or acquire incoming links. Nobody naturally wants to link to a website about POS software. That said, that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit by writing compelling content for their industry. In fact, in a recent podcast with problogger Chris Garrett he talks about how even the local plumber could benefit from blogging.
Once again, for the record, you absolutely should take steps to ensure that your websites pages are indexable, that your content is sufficiently marked-up and that you know the key search terms for your audience. In short, you should understand the basics of SEO. But the point is to focus your efforts on making the best product possible. Understand SEO, but don’t get lost in SEO. Likewise, marketing has its place — it gets people to listen to you, but after that you better have something to say.