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Good SEO is focusing on the customer not the search engine

Let your fingers do the walking!In our last blog post on Search Engine Optimisation, we concluded that contrary to the belief held by many business owners, 90% of good SEO is common sense.

In this post, we're looking at where the main focus of our SEO efforts should be and asking the question...

Who should we optimise our website for?

As we're talking about search engine optimisation, that may sound like an odd question to ask. The phrase "search engine optimisation" suggests we need to optimise our website for search engines.

Rolling back the clock, the term was first used in the early days of the World Wide Web and at the time and until recent times, it was a term that accurately described what was happening. But should it have been that way? Shouldn't the focus of our website pages be on our website visitors and not on outmanoeuvring the search engines?

For the non-SEO initiated, don't worry, we're not going to delve deep into the mechanics of search. Neither are we going to examine how SEO people have worked overtime with tricks and tactics to try to outsmart search engines and promote their web pages to the top of the search results. But with recent changes in search and in particular changes Google have been implementing, suffice to say the optimising game as it has been played is over.

Search today is changing. Search today is about the customer. That's not to say that SEO is dead as some have suggested, but as Eric Enge said in a recent blog post on Search Engine Watch, "Google is doing a brilliant job of pushing people away from tactical SEO behavior and toward a more strategic approach".

Search then: the big Yellow Book

In a sense, search has gone full circle. Do you remember back before the days of the Google and that big fat book called the Yellow Pages? It was all about search. You were encouraged to "Let your fingers do the walking!"

When we had a problem we needed to solve we would pick up the big yellow book and use it to search, confident in the knowledge that it could help us to find an answer.

Perhaps we had a badly leaking tap. Or maybe we needed to say sorry to someone. Picking up our big yellow search engine we would thumb through to 'P' for plumber or 'F' for florist.

Or maybe we were fed up with our job and wanted to find a new one. If it was a Thursday we could go down and buy our local paper and look through the job adverts. But the good thing with our yellow search engine, it was there by the phone, waiting for us to use it to search to help us find answers.

So we would pick it up looking for 'R' for recruitment agency and browse down a page or more of search results. Which one would we pick? Which one should we 'click' on? Quite probably, if our gaze fell upon an advert for an agency that said they had jobs in the sector we had skills for, we would pick that one. Or maybe if we wanted to do something different and couldn't decide what, we would be look for an agency that could help us in that way.

Having chosen one of them, you would then pick up the phone and call. A person would answer and say something like, "Good morning, The Recruitment Agency. I'm Dani, how can I help you?"

You would say something about what you were looking for and a conversation would follow. The person on the other end would listen to you and maybe ask you a couple of questions, but they would be listening so they could best understand what you needed. Their goal would be to help you to be confident that they could help you and it would be worth visiting their agency to find out more. Their focus was on their customer.

That was search then and that is how search is changing.

Search now: How can I help you?

Gone is the big yellow book to be replaced by a desktop computer, or a laptop, a tablet or a mobile phone. We don't even need to type these days. On our smartphones we can just say what we are looking for.

I'm not saying that the Yellow Pages was the perfect example of how search should be. Marketing has changed. Then it was outbound, pushing messages and information at us in the hope we would respond. Today's marketing is inbound where, as Hubspot say, it is about "aligning the content you publish with your customer's interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time."

But what have we often found when we search? What do we see when we click on one of those search results? Unfortunately, sometimes, maybe even often in the past, we have clicked on a search result to go to a page that doesn't really answer the question we are asking. If it is a business, the page we visit possibly says a lot about the business, but tells us very little about whether that business can help us. When the page 'talks', it shows that the person who wrote it hasn't really been listening. They haven't asked: "How can I help you?". Hopefully, the "how can I help you?" question is your intent when you pick up the phone to a customer. You want to undertstand what the customer wants, so you can answer their questions and help fix their problem. So why don't we do that when we write on our website?

As I said earlier, it's not that we don't need to optimise our content for search and search engines, but SEO today is no longer about gaming the search engines with pages that are primarily optimised for search engines.

SEO today should maybe be called CEO. Customer Engagement Optimisation. The pages we write and the websites we build need to be focused on the questions the 'customer' (in the broadest sense of the word) is asking, the information they are looking for, the knowledge they want to gather. The conversation of our pages needs to engage with the customer - our website visitor - and encourage them to pick up the phone or send us an email saying "Tell me more..."

Google's purpose when you and I search is to understand what we are looking for and serve a set of search results which will lead us to the answers and even give us additional answers to questions we were about to ask. The web pages that win in search will be pages that do just that, pages that Google can confidentially serve to the searcher with the answers they are looking for.

So when you next optimise your website and rewrite your web pages to suit, remember that good SEO must first focus on your customer not on the search engine.

In summary, good Search Engine Optimisation is about:

1) Understanding the questions your customer is asking and

2) Providing clear answers that engage with them and help them to engage with you.

You better get optimising!

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