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Create Great Websites, Without Any SEO

Business, Marketing | Sep 23, 2010

Search Engine Optimization, also known as SEO is a subject which gets talked about to death all over the web.

There’s a fairly large group of people who believe that SEO is the be-all and end-all to anything on the web.

They believe that without it, you are nothing and with it, you are everything.

Today we’re going to look at why that isn’t true and why you can create a truly great website which performs well in search engines, without any seedy SEO tactics.

We’ve also included a case study of WooThemes and QA with Adii Pienaar and his views on SEO.

 

What They Want You To Do

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SEO companies use techniques which fall into two categories: “White Hat” and “Black Hat”. Black Hat SEO is the term used to describe questionable SEO practices such where people try to cheat the system with multiple websites and code which exploits loop holes in search engine algorithms. Black Hat SEO is frowned upon but, to be honest, White Hat SEO isn’t much better.

People who do White Hat SEO play by the rules. They don’t break any Google Terms of Service (mostly) and they stick to the techniques which are deemed to be legitimate. The problem is that they go over the top and they entirely miss the point.

SEO companies have one goal and one goal only. To get websites into top positions for highly-search key phrases on major search engines. They generally pay very little attention to the content of the site, so long as it has plenty of keywords. They pay very little attention to the usability of the site, so long as search engines are able to index the pages easily. They pay very little attention to the bounce rate, or how long people actually bother to stay on the site.

Ranking highly in search engines means absolutely nothing if people are just going to press the back button as soon as they’ve spent five seconds on your awful website.

There are SEO companies out there with major investors taking money from clients and then paying untrained staff to create spam blogs with bogus content and links. These companies class themselves as fully White Hat, by-the-book operations, but they’re still using incredibly questionable and ultimately dangerous tactics. I should know, I used to work for one of them and disliked every second of it.

We should probably pause for a moment to add a small disclaimer. Not all SEO companies are the same, and not all of them are trying to screw you. There are a few who believe they genuinely are helping you with some misguided idea of what the web is all about (hint: it’s not spam).

There are fewer still who actually have a huge knowledge on SEO and use it as a very small part of a bigger picture. The difference is that the last group of people rarely refer to themselves with any sort of title containing the letters S, E, and O.

 

What You Should Be Doing

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Search engines are designed to rank the best and most relevant sites highly. Again: The best, and most relevant sites. Not the “most optimized sites”.

A remarkable amount “Pro SEO Strategies for better rankings” actually coincide with what a good web developer would tell you to do in order to have a good website. Using proper heading tags, creating simple and well structured links to navigate through your site, ensuring that relevant content is well presented and has related content easily available, creating content on your site which other people will want to link to and talk about.

If you want to have a site which performs well in search engines then you need to stop worrying about search engines and start worrying about creating a really great website. Code your site properly, make it accessible, make it usable, make sure it has fantastic content, make sure you have great marketing that has other people talking about it. All of these things contribute to the factors which search engines use to rank your site.

In a nutshell, you can try and win a race with a 1992 Honda Civic that you’ve tuned up and fuel injected and loaded full of Nitrous Oxide… or you can spend the same amount of money on buying a Mercedes.

If you spend time doing the right things when building a site and focusing on your users as you grow that site, then search engine rankings will follow. I guarantee it – something which no SEO company can ever do.

 

A Case Study: WooThemes

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Adii Pienaar built WooThemes with his two co-founders from the ground up just three years ago. They’ve never had a big focus on SEO, instead they’ve focused on their products, their customers and their marketing.

In two years, WooThemes built up an annual revenue of over $2million – so they’ve clearly done something very, very right.

Here’s what Adii had to say on the subject when I asked him to share his experiences:

Adii, you’ve always focused on making WooThemes about great products and marketing without a big focus on SEO. What was it that originally lead you to this method of thinking?

“To be honest, we had two restrictions and we needed to find a way to work around those. The two restrictions were: 1) a complete lack of knowledge or experience related to SEO tacticts; and 2) no advertising to “game” the system by buying links or have an extensive AdWords campaign. Plus, I’ve always been of the opinion that “content is king” and SEO went against that principle.”

“So instead we focused on this that we could control: great products and awesome content. Both of these have been great at generating traffic & linkbacks to the site, which in turn improves our search engine ranking.”


And how has not focusing on SEO impacted your company as a whole, particularly in terms of traffic and on-site statistics?

“I wouldn’t think that this has influenced us negatively at all and instead we’re experiencing that our visitors are viewing 6+ pages on each visit and spending almost 6 minutes browsing the site.”


You still rank extremely highly for most key phrases related to premium WordPress themes, is this something you monitor closely? and do you have strategies or plans for improving on those ranks in the future?

“We do monitor it, but not very closely… :) AdWords is an obvious option in terms of displaying better for particular phrases, but we’ve found the cost per conversion in this regard is exorbitant and thus not worthwhile (hence why we won’t really be pursuing this going forward). So our strategy will stay organic and stay the same: focus on great content and products, which will definitely get our users talking about us, which in turns ranks us higher.”


You recently started offering third party plugin integration for a lot of your Themes, some of the more notable ones were big SEO plugins for WordPress. What made you choose to start supporting these products and has it changed your view in any way?

“We decided to add proper SEO support in our themes, because this was a major request from our users and we didn’t want our own opinion to cloud our judgement in this regard. We probably have a 80% content and 20% SEO-related strategy, but that composition is based on opinion, so we recognize that our users may want to invest their budget & time differently.”


Finally, if you were going to start all over again, would you do anything different with regards to SEO?

“I wish we could reboot the web and make sure that SEO never even existed. :) Seriously though – nope, we wouldn’t change a thing with regards to our SEO policy.”

 

In Closing

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You don’t have to pay through the nose for an SEO company, you definitely don’t need to pay other people to buy links and you shouldn’t even really be focusing all your time on how to get to the top of the rankings. Good rankings aren’t the be-all and end-all of running a website or an online business.

People often use the metaphor of positioning yourself on a high-street in the center of a city when comparing SEO to a retail premises location. The most important thing to remember is that it really doesn’t matter if your store is on a gorgeous marble shopping street nestled in between Gucci and Prada… If it’s a shack with rusty metal racks and a rude shop assistant, nobody is going to go in, and if they do go in then they’ll leave again immediately.

Create a great website, first and foremost. Great websites will always rank highly because that’s what search engines are designed to do. Start focusing on what really matters.



This post was authored exclusively for WDD by John O’Nolan, a core member of the WordPress UI Team, writer and entrepreneur based in Surrey in the United Kingdom. John loves to talk to people, so why not follow @JohnONolan on twitter too?

What do you think? Are you bored of all the self-proclaimed SEO professionals who do nothing but spam? Or have you had success by focusing just on SEO and not making a great site? Let us know in the comments!

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  • http://www.chaitanyak.com chaitanyak

    been telling this to people for the last 5 years..
    SEO is nothing but cyber snakeoil

    • http://erikkerr.com erik

      oh god… you’re one of those people.

  • http://www.bluecorona.com/blog Ben

    Great post! When it comes to SEO, many companies miss the forest for the trees.

    When you do the ‘right thing’ over an extended period of time, organic visibility always follows. I’ve always thought (and repeatedly tell clients) that the path to lasting organic search results is to establish and promote yourself and your company as _the_ authority for what you do (or the product(s) you sell) in the markets you do it (or sell them). Authoritative sites produce content that is truly valuable to their audience. Content is king.

    The only problem arises when a company can’t generate enough low-cost leads/customers before they run out of cash. Making some short-term investments in “SEO” can help small businesses get along until they begin to get recognized for “doing the right thing.”

  • Alex

    I totally agree with you. But: What you present IS a SEO strategy. It is even the best one: Make a website most usable and interesting for human beings.

  • http://www.kamarkecil.com Arif R.

    “Start focusing on what really matters”
    like this :D

  • Josh

    “SEO companies have one goal and one goal only. To get websites into top positions for highly-search key phrases on major search engines. They generally pay very little attention to the content of the site, so long as it has plenty of keywords. They pay very little attention to the usability of the site, so long as search engines are able to index the pages easily. They pay very little attention to the bounce rate, or how long people actually bother to stay on the site.”

    Only bad SEO companies ignore these important factors, yes it is not an SEO companies key focus but it should always be taken into consideration when doing SEO work.

    “Ranking highly in search engines means absolutely nothing if people are just going to press the back button as soon as they’ve spent five seconds on your awful website.”

    I couldn’t agree more and as an SEO consultant myself this is a key part to what I do – getting ‘relevant’ traffic to the site. Why spend time and effort ranking for a keyword that will not convert users or even be cost effective?

    • Josh

      Further to my comment above, many of the practises you have suggested are recommended by SEO’s too. I know you put a disclaimer but it seems that you have got the wrong end of the stick in regards to what SEO companies offer – or at least you have had a bad experience.

      Content is king is a great concept to take on board and one that I always recommend. Google themselves are always saying create good content as a primary focus.

      I think the main point to take away form this post is – dont be fooled by the dodgy few (or maybe more than a few) ‘SEO comapnies’ who want to sell you the myths!

      • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

        Josh, I worked for one of the supposed “Top” SEO companies in the world with millions of dollars of investment, alongside one of the “Top” professionals in the industry. These guys considered themselves the whitest hat of white hats… and yet this entire post is based on the practices which I witnessed there. I’m pretty clear on what SEO companies offer, I hate to even contemplate what the “bad” SEO companies do.

      • Josh

        I agree John, alot of companies have ‘bad ‘ tactics. However this post is not ‘say no to seo’ at all – its dont pay for SEO and build a good site in the first place which is naturally good for search engines.

  • http://mikehub.net Michael Hubbard

    Very true. All the SEO we do on all our website is coding W3C compliant, using heading tags, using Alt tags for all images, interlinking internal sites and making sure the site looks good and has good copy. We don’t spend hours trying to manipulate search engines, because, as said, most website that rank highly for certain somewhat generic terms are usually useless and have half the text highlighted in bold for keywords.

  • http://trimbakeshwar.in/ trimbakeshwar

    waw…what a place….its looking like a mahel….

  • http://designmodo.com DesignModo

    i think is not good ideea, seo 4ever!

  • http://www.mylescreative.net Myles Steyn

    Interesting Read!

  • http://www.aknai.net Francisc Aknai

    very nice article… Thank you. Everyday we learn something new, and learn to see things differently.

  • http://feedgrids.com Dimi

    Great read John, thanks!

  • Alex

    I really agree with this, often I’ll sit with clients and explain what good practices we’ll be using to build the site and then when they ask what basic SEO stuff we can offer I find I’m repeating myself.

  • http://www.webguru-india.com/ deb dulal dey

    I first thing you have gone crazy since no one would agree to shun SEO while designing and developing their website. But you have established it in the rest of the article. But still I have my usual inhibition of not using SEO in website design.

  • http://www.scottad.com ScottAD

    Adii is 100% correct that content > SEO. Thanks for the article!

  • http://www.tombradshawdesign.co.uk Tom Bradshaw

    SEO! keywords! bounce rate! I’m having flashbacks! I used to do SEO alot -totally agree having ‘good’ optimisation can often be a hindrance to a site rather than a help.

  • http://www.timothy-stringer.co.uk tim stringer

    Unfortunately I work at one of these “white hat” companies and can completely agree with what’s being said here.

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Thanks Tim, I used to work for one too – it wasn’t a great experience!

  • Caveman

    Strange statement:

    “In a nutshell, you can try and win a race with a 1992 Honda Civic that you’ve tuned up and fuel injected and loaded full of Nitrous Oxide… or you can spend the same amount of money on buying a Mercedes.”

    So if you’ve got an old website you should buy a new one instead of “tuning” it to an awesome site with a bit of flavor of the old days? (nothing wrong with the Honda Civic 1992 ;-) )

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      I don’t even know what to say in reply to this. Have you ever tried fixing an old car? It’s a money pit. You can keep spending and spending and spending, but it’ll just keep breaking. Before you know it you’ve spent $20k and you could’ve just bought a new car instead.

      So yes, my advice is not to waste money polishing a turd.

      • Tim

        Unless it’s a classic, then the elbrow grease and money is worth it. But the web started in a time when nothing classic was created. (late 80′s and early 90′s cars? yuck.)

  • Charlie

    Really n informative and supportive guidelines.

  • http://www.creativeindividual.co.uk Laura

    Fantastic article John – I often struggle explaining this to my clients but you’ve made quiet a few points clear. Content is most definitely King.

    And with regards to Google Adwords, if you’re someone like me, you either ignore them for the adverts that they are… or… click on the ad even when what I want has also appeared at the top of the organic list! A bit malicious I know! =D

    With regards to SEO, basically if the site is built and developed correctly, there will never be any need for SEO. The content will all be there, will be relevant to the page, and WILL INTEREST YOUR VISITORS not search-engines!

    Cheers, great read!

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Thanks for the comment Laura! I have to admit I do the same thing with AdWords ;)

  • http://www.mybuilder.com Ryan Notz

    Interesting post. I agree that good placement in search results should come as a result of a good product. I founded and run a web marketplace, MyBuilder.com. We like to focus on addressing a real need (helping homeowners find great tradespeople, and helping tradespeople find more work) and building a great product that really solves the problem we’re addressing.

    The job of a search engine is to help people find the right website for their current need (search query). We just have to ‘be the right website’. But of course, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the things that help (or don’t help) search engines find your site. Ignore the basics at your peril. What if WooThemes had build their entire site with javascript?

    Additionally, I was bemused by the following quote from Adii:

    “Plus, I’ve always been of the opinion that “content is king” and SEO went against that principle.”

    I would be shocked if you could find any SEO expert disagreeing with the phrase “content is king”. But if you do, please interview them!

  • http://lannendesigns.com Christina

    Quite frankly they did use SEO (very basic) if they didn’t use WordPress in their content and titles I doubt they’d have that much traffic.

    They relied upon the popularity of WordPress.

    • http://www.johnathan.ws Johnathan

      That’s absurd, they develop themes for WordPress, it’s not like they’ve sat down one day and said “I know what we’ll do, we’ll start a business, but who should we leech from? Oh I know, WordPress, lets make sure we spam our site with content titles about WordPress”.

      They’ve tapped a market, the fact they’re achieving strong listings in an incredibly over saturated market place only goes to enforce the points John made about content > SEO.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I love the way Adii does business.

    • http://iamautocomplete.com/ Angelee

      Yeah,.. I saw your interview with him. Its so good to see WooThemes’ being featured here and I love to call that guy the humble Adii.

  • http://www.thecodebakery.com Web Technology News

    Very nice article.

    Problem is I find you sometimes do need that “kick start” to get the ball rolling. If no one knows about your site then they’re not going to come to it. Sometimes this kick start can be a lucky break from a high profiler web guy twittering your site.

    Years ago we didn’t have Google – everything was found by word of mouth or link exchanges. These two strategies still work but now less and less people seems to want to link exchange, just “blog roll”.

    You are totally right though. If you have a terrible site your visitor count will shoot up after doing some aggressive marketing then shoot back down once you stop marketing with no natural upwards progression afterwards.

    Saving this article for my clients. Nice one!

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Kind of ironic that you chose to spam your comment with a keyword instead of your name though, isn’t it? ;)

  • http://www.harrisonmarketingmd.com Chef Paul

    Ok, the article got my attention since I am in a LinkedIn design group. I am also a Marketer who does SEO. Here is what I see from designers. A lot of laziness and a lack of understanding of how SEO works. For example, a company will come to me to do SEO. I look at their site and give them what will need to be done. Many designer will design great looking sites, bu they use all image files. This include the navigation, a lot of text, etc.. I explain that spiders have a hard time crawling image files. So would you put this common knowledge as something a designer should know? They also will not make it accessible, think no ALT tags on images. MANY designers still use tables which greatly slow down page load times. Please use CSS and HTML. You might say not too many people still build sites with tables and a ton of internal CSS, but I just this month started working with two large organizations who have had there sites redone by large design firms. This shouldn’t still be happening.

    I also sort of disagree with you about SEO. If you do not try to optimize, create fast page load times, submit to directories and engines, create sitemap files, treat each page as a landing page, etc..how else is your site going to be found? I know great content will get people to your site, but there are a 1000 other sites with great content in your market segment. It could be really challenging to increase visibility.

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Everything which you said falls under my point about building a site properly and hiring the right person for the job. You can hire a cheap outsourced development company to build a site and then pay another company thousands to do SEO. Or you could just hire a good company to start with.

      How will your site be found? Because it will rank. Focus on users and creating a great site and it will rank highly – as WooThemes prove.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    I totally agree, I think that SEO is a bit overrated. After, it all depends what you want to do with your website. If your sole purpose is to make a lot of money by just having a website, yes, SEO is a must because you can rise quickly. If you are selling a good service or offering good information on a topic, if you have an edge somewhere may it be your writing, your products or your skills, don’t worry so much about SEO. It may take a bit longer but you will be recognized and appreciated.

  • Mike

    I think you are somewhat right about a good website design…but the word “great” is subjective. I’ve seen sites where the owner things it’s “great”, but when you look at the analytics data…it has an 80% bounce rate.

    SEO is not all buying links and creating crap. Good SEO takes the website design and integrates many techniques that makes the site “great” for both the user AND the search engines.

    To put another spin on your Gucci and Prada analogy. You could have the greatest location in the world, but if people can’t find it, what does it matter? Good SEO helps the user to find your great location so they can buy your goods, read your articles or whatever.

    Here’s a comic many web designers can probably relate to
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      How will they find it? Word of mouth, news stories, recommendations, reviews, buzz, marketing, and so on. All of which will lead to better rankings anyway ;)

      • Juan

        How will they find WooThemes?

        Published and article in Webdesignerdepot.com about their success and using the keyword ‘not using SEO’.

        But this article is actually an SEO strategy.

        One of the strategies of SEO is to publish an article (good/intriguing/contradicting/inciting/etc…) in blog sites like this one to make it more popular.

        I only know about WooThemes because of this article.

        And now you tell us SEO is bad? Do you really understand SEO? or you’re just pretending. hmmm something fishy….

  • Peter

    You’ve got a point, but somehow your article bugs me…

    I agree that building a kick-ass website should be your number one priority, but to think that not looking at SEO will be fine is a bit naive to say the least. SEO is built in for the most part, probably as much as 95%, but why not go for the extra 5%?

    Maybe WooThemes would have built up an annual revenue of over $3million if they looked at SEO a bit closer? SEO is not an answer in itself, but it is part of the package. Just make sure it doesn’t interfere with User Optimisation.

    A kick-ass website with SEO will beat a kick-ass website without SEO anytime. Buy a Mercedes and chip tune it.

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Good comment, thanks for taking the time to write it up :)

    • Josh

      Well put Peter – couldn’t agree more.

  • http://www.psyched.be/wordpress Darkened Soul

    so all those articles about SEO… just ignore em? delete em? ;)
    Either way, good products and sites sell themselves and mouth to mouth (or these days, getting your stuff into a facebook, twitter or other social media comunity can do even more good to whatever it is people have going online).

  • http://hypertransitory.com John G

    Hmmn. I’ve always developed site in a “content is king” manner, too. Except I then went on to watch those sites get little to no traffic until they had to be pulled.

    Now I’ve been thinking I really need to pay attention to those keywords/phrases and optimize my sites for those. Essentially to have an SEO strategy. It’s working, although slowly…

    I think there’s lot of good content out there that no one sees because people can’t find it. I also wish there was no such thing as SEO but I don’t think you can rely on a “build it and they will come” strategy.

  • http://www.visual-blade.com Daquan Wright

    Content is king, that’s what should get the most attention. As long as your site is built with properly optimized code and it has valuable content, google will find it. I don’t even see the point submitting it to other engines either, since their usage is so small compared to Google/Yahoo.

  • http://www.shawnjohnston.ca Shawn Johnston

    This is an awesome post. WooThemes is a site I’ve been following for awhile since I’m a massive WordPress fanboy, and many of his ideas and thoughts about SEO, content being king, and focusing on the product, really resonate with me. I think, on a whole, the industry has gotten over SEO focussed. Sure it’s important, but more so than a well designed brand, focused conversation, good usability, and solid customer service not to mention a good quality product.

    Great post, thanks again!

  • http://Brotaich.com Keith

    Your are SO RIGHT!. Google “Used Car Parts” and see who is # 1, and ask yourself, “is this site SEO’d”? This shows the power of incoming links and how Google knows (normally) what is valuable to people.

  • http://charliealvarado.com Charlie

    Fufffffffff, really nice article!!!
    I used to work on a “SEO” company, and I was just doing tons of blogs, all of them related using links and generic content full of non-sense keywords… and also using “anonymators” tools that “hide” your IP this way Google won’t know that we were doing spam… well, that really wasn’t SEO at all.
    5 years ago I noticed that just by doing a well designed site(code and looks), placing real content and stay updating the it frequently, the site by its own will do all the SEO work and it will be on the “top search” (at least on the top 15).

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Thanks for commenting Charlie – the SEO company I worked for made us do the same stuff. I didn’t like it at all!

  • http://ww.goldenboymedia.co.uk Daniel

    Interesting article.

    I still strongly believe that SEO goes hand in hand with even a great coded website, it definitely speeds up the process!

  • http://www.childmonster.com/ Childmonster

    very interesting post :)

  • http://www.antoniothonis.com/ Antonio Thonis

    Haha cool that’s me in that screenshot :D. What are the odds!

  • http://www.benstokesmarketing.co.uk Ben Stokes

    Great article – some very valid points there – I do believe every site needs some off page optimisation though.

  • http://www.seotopofsearch.info seotopofsearch

    Of course content is a priority method in getting your site to the top of search engines, but SEO is also important getting relevant links back to your website is also the key to good rankings

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Possibly the best example of irony that I’ve ever witnessed in my life ;)

  • Alex

    This is a nice idea, but unfortunately when an irrelevant site utilizing shady ranking methodology sits in your position and Google is not reciprocating all of the love you’re giving it by way of quality content, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

  • http://twitter.com/caughtexception David Watson

    I agree that many of the players in the SEM industry haven’t done themselves any favors by over-hyping their solutions, and that it has done irreparable harm to their reputation. That having been said, despite the fact that many shades of grey exist, I think that claiming that white hat SEOs aren’t much better than black hats is a bit shortsighted, and that the article confuses technique with practitioner.

    When it boils down to it, real, honest and good SEO is about findability, not about raw numbers or SERP rankings. After all, numbers alone don’t convert; genuinely interested and engaged visitors do. To that end, I strongly disagree with the claim that SEO can be completely disregarded, just as strongly as I disagree with the proclamation that “content is king.” You need relevant content for users to find just as much as you need to make sure prospective users can find it, and the two need to reinforce each other.

  • http://www.fullforcewebdesign.com Froi

    I agree with this article 100 percent, it is just unfortunate that a lot of website owners are so hang up on getting a high search engine ranking for their website without giving any thought at all that they should to be designing for their target audience and not for Google.

  • http://bggopal.blogspot.com aka Balu

    Interesting Article..

  • Tom

    I would say most of the points you were talking about (good website with clean code and the proper tags and links) do come under SEO. That makes this post slightly contradictory. SEO in my eyes is good clean code, good use of tags, targeting keywords, clean navigations and a few links here and there. SEO shouldn’t comprimise the look, feel and usability of the website. Interesting article though.

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      A good web developer will do all those things anyway, making SEO redundant ;)

      • Tom

        I have seen you mention many times that you ‘used to work in SEO’. That’s quite important here I think, because you mention many things which are redundant now in the SEO world, people may still be doing it, but good SEO companies have moved with the times.

        You say you worked with a ‘top SEO company’ and they may have been one of the most successful, they may have just been good at letting people think they were one of the best. Doesn’t mean they were.

        I have had enough of these ‘SEO is dead’ posts which only seem to want to cause some controversy and build a lot of links to the website or attract more visitors.

        I happen to work for an SEO company. Currently we make sure the code is clean, well laid out and has the right elements. We do proper keyword research to find out what a potential customer is likely to search for. We work on building their brand on the web, focusing on good content and a strong social media strategy. All these things now come under the SEO umbrella. Taking a ‘content is king’ approach will give you a good user friendly website, but generally this is what everyone is doing, so you need the rest to put yourself ahead of the others.

        SEO is really good for the little guy. Lots of small businesses benefit from SEO, you can write great content, but it’s not really going to get them good rankings. Try writing amazing content when your site sells copper wire, or something as enjoyable than that.

        Once everyone is in the ‘great content’ race, there will be such an influx of information, people will start to ignore information on the web. If everyone had great social media strategies, the social-sphere will be so crowded, the big guys will still win. SEO still gives them a chance.

        A good developer eh? Not many of them around. There are issues on 99% of the sites we work on. They don’t seem to have the first clue about SEO principles and have little keyword focus.

        The only thing I can agree with you on is to create good content and focus on a great user experience, people should be doing that anyway. SEO is definitely not redundant (apart from old ways which are bordeline un-ethical and spammy), I would say keep with it as it continues to evolve or fall off the wagon.

  • Ryan

    “Create a great website, first and foremost. Great websites will always rank highly because that’s what search engines are designed to do. Start focusing on what really matters.”

    Very misinformed idea here. In fact, the entire article is written like somebody who knows very little about any legitimate SEO/SEM companies and the way they operate.

    It’s true that SEO is not rocket science, and many GOOD web designers already incorporate a lot of good SEO practices just by following basic web standards, but to just assume your site will rank where you want it because it’s a “great” website is going to often times leave you out in the cold. Anybody who has tracked the SERP’s on sites they build can tell you this.

    Nobody is saying that black hat methods to search manipulation are good for the web, but to just dismiss the entire field of SEO as some kind of modern day snake oil scheme would be quite a silly idea. SEO and web design CAN work better together, they don’t have to exist as enemies of one another and they both serve a valuable purpose on the web.

    • Josh

      I totally agree Ryan – I know of ‘great’ sites that will never rank in Google and others that do well because they have considered SEO. This post isn’t about not doing SEO its about doing it properly.

  • Dan

    SEO is not everything but given the amount of terrible websites that show up on the first page of search results.. it’s pretty important.

  • http://www.wisdek.com Nikolai

    Come on, this is ONLY true for web projects, web-based companies, web-based services and so on. Try selling something less “unique” than WordPress themes – let’s say, used tires in Toronto. Or baby products online. How about electronics? You will need an army of writers and designers to create something outstanding and truly remarkable to make people “talk” about you. It will take years before you get any visibility, never mind traffic. This (wp themes) industry is super-young, one doesn’t have to be Einstein to be able to rank for any of important terms – because there is virtually NO COMPETITION! If Im the only company selling tickets to the Moon because I own the spaceship, I don’t need SEO either – of course! But tell that to companies fighting for their place in competitive niches – or any niches more than 5 years old, and they will laugh at you at best.

    And using Worpress themes company as an example? I almost fallen off my chair laughing! Are you serious?! They get linked to from 99% of the blogs they sold their themes to! Of course they don’t need to care that much about link building: it is what they do – automatically, when someone installs their theme – and link building is what counts these days, (of course having unique content is great as well, but you don’t HAVE to have ANY unique content on your website if you want truth).

    Google looks at links, at anchor text and link diversity. If you need traffic, you have to outrank other websites by having more links of the same quality, pointing to your site. Of course there are other types of marketing and ways of attracting audience to your site, but SEO is cost-effective. Sure, you can have several people working full-time on spreading the word around, but most companies work on low margins and can’t really afford that. What do you do if you’re in business of custom embroidery, printing supplies, what if you’re service oriented company and don’t produce anything unique? Quit your business or try to take a piece of your market from your competitors by getting more visitors that SEARCHED for you? Develop a range of WordPress themes for pet owners if you’re selling dog food?

    I agree to disagree with the author. While he may have a point about SOME types of companies, there is nothing to argue with… “Create good website first” – that’s how this article ends – and then what?..

    If that’s the point, are you trying to say that Woothemes have great website? It’s “just a website”, your regular web 2.0 site, that’s all – but it’s nothing to do with their success. Im not bashing them, no, they create great themes and their website is built on usability and optimized for conversions, but they would be nowhere close to where they are if they hadn’t been placing their links all over their themes. That’s clever marketing and link building at it’s best, which is foundation of great SEO. But please, don’t preach “build it and they will come”. No they won’t, it’s not 1995 out there, and if your website is your business tool, besides making it pretty and converting, you would be a fool not to invest in proper seo if you want more traffic or more sales. If you don’t – well, good for you then, why are you reading this anyway? :) Cheers!

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      “Come on, this is ONLY true for web projects, web-based companies, web-based services and so on. Try selling something less “unique” than WordPress themes – let’s say, used tires in Toronto. Or baby products online. How about electronics?”

      How about shoes?

      Allow me to present Zappos. Great company, great products, great service. “Delivering Happiness”. That’s what got them to where they are today, not battling with the other small fish in the pond for position number 5 on a single search term.

      Maybe I’m an idealist – I approached this article from the standpoint that any company applying my views on the matter want to be the best in their industry. Unique, innovative, and exciting. Not “just another electronics retailer” – does anyone truly aspire to be “just another” anything?

      • http://erikkerr.com erik

        does anyone truly aspire to be “just another” anything?

        hahaha cmon John. THOUSANDS of people aspire to do that because they want to make money. Bottom line for so many people. Cookie-cutter is the way to go for quick and easy money. Sad but true.

        And I’m sorry but Zappos didn’t get to where they are today because of “delivering happiness”

        If only it were that easy.

    • http://erikkerr.com erik

      Bravo.

      Thank God someone else with REAL experience in this field read this article. I thought I was going to have to write that essay myself. Almost did…

      And I second the WP theme example. Almost peed my pants laughing. Seriously ridiculous.

    • Tom

      Completely agree with you Nikolai

  • http://www.evensongraphics.co.nz Cavell Evenson

    I’ve done work on SEO companies sites that were coded with flash menus and tables!
    Either that or the index page had so much keyworded text that no one would ever bother to read it all.

  • david

    Everything in moderation – optimization should be a goal of every website but it should never trump quality or usability. Focus on quality and conversions but don’t forsake seo, thats cutting off your nose despite your face.

  • http://www.sametomorrow.com/blog adam

    Good post and a very debate-able one I’m sure. You are definitely right that SEO should not be the main focus, but at the same time the example you used, as mentioned does have some minor SEO techniques to it. If it was all Flash that would be a different story. I personally prefer something that gives users an experience or feeling when they explore the site, whether its SEO friendly or not.

    But the truth seems to be that many of the sites that use SEO very well are unpleasing to look at for the most part. They show web compliance but lack design or originality. They show up first on searches and are ranked well but its nothing worth remembering most of the time. On the other hand, while many of the well-designed sites that use Flash leave a much better impression, unless you already know about the site or its posted on a design-forum, it’s probably only going to be visited at a high peak for a short amount of time before it gets lost again into the web. If it won’t show up on searches, most people won’t know it exists, which is a shame.

  • http://www.aboutadirk.com Dirk

    A good SEO company will advise you just the way you did, including rubbing off on bad SEO (companies).

    It’s scary how many websites are composed out of bad html/css, missing alt tags, divs instead of lists, all that kind of stuff. I’ve worked for a company that had a daughter company that did SEO advice, and I can tell you that they’re very well informed, they know the tricks, but mainly they’ll advise people on how to make their code solid and how to use the right keywords.

    Good SEO consists of great code and great content. Both of those.

    Sorry if I seem a bit defensive, but I felt like your post was slightly offensive towards the companies that actually try to do a good job at helping bad sites get better.

    Cheers,

  • http://www.harrisonmarketingmd.com Chef Paul

    Josh- I couldn’t say it better.

  • http://www.harrisonmarketingmd.com Chef Paul

    Froi- tell me, if you agree with the article 100% and you design an e-commerce site for someone, how are they going to be found? good content, social media, blogs, etc… Really?! Good luck. You will never stand a chance getting people to the site without rankings. too many competitors out there. Its just not a realistic point of view, unless the site owner doesn’t care about visibility. Then if that is the case, why do they want a site?

  • http://www.plutocrazy.com/blog/ LJB

    Excellent article, very informative, and well presented. My only issue is that I read it tonight and needed to have done so this morning.

    I had a meeting with a SEO addicted client this afternoon, and I couldn’t convince him that he had to look at the big picture. Unfortunately, before we met he’d been talking to a couple of other web designers who have pretty much painted SEO as the doorway to Nirvana, so I was talking to a wall.

  • Michael

    Brilliant, I agree entirely. Stop thinking about SEO and just make a good website. Use appropriate headings and titles, provide a sitemap.xml but stop making crap just to satisify the apparent criteria of a search engine.

    • Tom

      I don’t think anyone designs a website to make it bad Michael. That’s the point, everyone wants theirs to be great. People are constantly re-designing and optimising their website to make it better looking and more usable. But where are you left then, once all your competitors have done that. You need an extra boost don’t you.

      A good SEO strategy to encompass good SEO practices, a social media strategy and a content strategy to lure in your audience and encourage those links. I think you need much more than you think, if you want to stay ahead in this ever changing web.

  • http://www.hastishah.com Hastimal Shah

    Nice post as well as nice comments from all..
    Come across many new points in SEO.
    i like the way Nikolai has explained…
    Thanks a lot

  • http://www.sumitchauhan.com Sumit Chauhan

    Great post very interesting.

  • http://www.hyttfors.com stefan hyttfors

    Point taken, still though; “if your store is on a gorgeous marble shopping street nestled in between Gucci and Prada” it will attract people that might otherwise miss out on your really great place.. :)

  • http://www.digitalclubb.com Gareth Clubb

    Nice post.

    I am sure if you focus on a semantic markup then you will do just fine with the SEO side of things.

  • Jade

    Excellent article!

  • http://www.seouxindianer.de/ seouxindianer

    lol

    wondering how you all were able to solve the captcha.. u shall lurk moa

  • http://manubven.wordpress.com Manuel

    SEO has it’s virtues, too. And I mean here especially off-site SEO. Which means : how do you get many to link to you? First answer: great content. You gave it. But, why do you get to Adobe website by writing “click here ” in Google? Go ahead and try that. I don’t want people to “click” me, I want them to be led to my actual website. And so Adobe loses much of its organic traffic becaue they didn’t specified that, when people link to them , they should use “Adobe – Download” in anchor instead of “click here”. What a waste. Altough Adobe has a PR 9. Off-site SEO still counts a bit. But, the best way to get traffic again and again, and to build a ssutainable following is only to BUILD GREAT CONTENT. I like this poat and I’ve subscribet to this site. Great job.

  • http://www.str8jacket.com Jeremy

    As a true believer in organic SEO, I agree with just about everything you have to say.

    SEO can get a bad rap from guilty parties – spam bloggers, link buyers, crammers and stuffers. I’m appalled with those who continually “game the system”. But I can take comfort knowing they’ll be exposed in the end, because a truly good site won’t be affected by algorithm changes.

    Point blank, a usable site with quality content will always win out in the long run, because it’s the site people are truly searching for – not being misled into “finding”.

    Of course, starting with solid keyword research to lay a foundation is key. It does help you get into the mindset of the “customer”, no matter what business you’re in. We all suffer from using jargon and work terms and those may not translate to people looking for your services. But you’ve got to create relevant, informative content and a usable site.

    If you have nothing to say, then do us all a favor. Don’t clog the Internet with more useless crap.

  • Dimwit

    Ah, the latest ‘SEO is bullshit’ diatribe…

    Good insight, good points, ‘content is king’ and the like…but the critical piece you’re missing has to do with business intelligence and how the foundation of good ‘SEO’ is really understanding what your product is and how your audience is searching for it.

    That’s the ‘game’. Tap into what people are looking for, and give it to them. What really fucks it up for the consumer, is when designers get their hands on a website before the IA, and you build a pretty collection of pixels that doesn’t direct the visitor to what they came to you for.

    Solid usability is solid SEO, no doubt – and the SEO practitioners who can deliver (myself included) espouse this.

    And if you’re going to address usability at a fundamental level, you need to take aim at the designers, because it is extremely rare to find a web designer who gives a shit about anything other than pretty.

  • http://www.wisdek.com Nikolai

    It seems like most people here are convinced that proper coding and site structure really affects their ranking.

    Allright, here goes: coding, site structure, navigation, keyword density and all that we call “on-site” is 10% of how your site will rank on Google. It’s all about off-site factors these days, so those who say build it but don’t get crazy over SEO – they are right. They just have to specify that they really mean on-site SEO, but like I said, it’s only 10%.

    About Zappos: have you any idea how much volume they’re pushing through affiliates? They were one of the biggest retail affiliate programs when they launched, same goes for WooThemes – a lot of their is done by affiliates. If you don’t know what affiliate marketing is – google it;

    And don’t tell me Zappos doesn’t do SEO: see how many backlinks they have and how well their site is built. Otherwise – what’s so remarkable about them? Nothing, really. Same shoes. But if you decide to compete in this market now, you stand no chance unless you’re ready to invest hundreds of thousands.

  • http://www.hernan.fr Hernan

    Well, as a young SEO-webmaster i can only agree with you, but… Where is the point exactly ? “Content is king” ? It seem to me that this preoccupation is the first of all SEO compagny.
    Let’s say you are a webmaster, will you reject à client who want à site because you dont like his suject ? Probably not. We have all limits (i wouldn’t do an SEO or webdesign work for a xenophobe group as exemple) but we need all to do compromises. and if a client with a bad site, coded by the monkey of my cousin, come to me and want SEO work on it, my first advise as SEO will be “create a better site” and i ill give him tons of advise to reach this goal.
    In fact, your article implies that SEO and webmastering are antagonist but they are not. SEO is a part of the webmaster work. It’s sometime becoming another job, not because of the complexity of the SEO, but because SEO are becoming “trafic managers” who can be in charge of a social network, touching the marketing and even sometimes (sorry for the purists) doing suggestions (or doing themself) modifications to the code and the design.
    In other words looking at everything that make a web site… Because “content is king”.

  • http://www.psyched.be/wordpress Darkened Soul

    I guess we just have to see what the future will bring though… SEO hasn’t been around for “that” long and who knows one day google’s empire will crumble…
    either way, content comes first, second comes link building, thrid comes SEO (even though link building is part SEO it still was there before the term SEO was even invented)…
    so, do make people aware of the site u have and all will fall into place

  • http://deltadesignz.com sergio santana

    When I first started my website I spent a lot of time trying to optimize it to get a better ranking. I recently re-designed my website but this time I spent very little time with seo techniques, I just did the basics and now my website is showing up on the first page in the 6th position.

  • http://lastactionseo.modernheinrich.com Lastactionseo

    You are really joking, aren’t you? Everybody thinks that making the greatest content is the best. Yes it is. Have you ever created a website and worked on it for months and got five visits? And at least three of them from your family? Just tell me that does not soud familiar to you?

    First there are good and bad seos I agree. And a good seo will never never optimize a webpage, which is not good enough. There is no point in optimizing. No chance. Google are not bunch of stupid freaks. Second a good SEO set goals together with their clients. First place, does not bring anything. But more conversions, more clicks, more sales make a big difference. Of course with calculated ROI and budget.

    So I would like to ask Mr O’Nolan the following questions?
    “Do you or any member of your family have ever set a link on the internet with the idea of becoming more traffic ot your own website?”
    “Do you use All in One SEO Pack on your greatly designed website?”
    “Do you use a sitemap in a .xml format?”
    “Do you use a special real time tracking software from woopra to measure mainly your real time traffic, not the behavior of your visitors?”
    “By the time of writing this article, did you know that woo themes are using very agressive affiliate program to become bigger?”
    ” Couldn’t you think of a few better examples?”
    Thank you buddy in advance and have a great weekend :)

  • http://nxnweb.com Josh

    Derek Powazek addressed this issue last year. He was a bit more harsh towards SEO. A lot of SEO’s went on the defense over it.
    In general, the whole SEO thing is a bit embarrassing if you ask me. Poorly written web pages and odd links placed out of context are just a few examples of the cruft that bad SEO has brought to the web.
    I recommend Aaron Walter’s book “Building Findable Websites” to site owners and developers looking to make their website more findable.

    • Tom

      Bit of a generalisation mate. “Poorly written pages” – The SEO company I work for has 2 full-time experienced Copywriters working with us, I think this is more than common these days. A good SEO company will also focus on great content, build brand awareness.

      The online world is filled with so much information, I doubt anything MR Aaron talks about will help that much.

  • oz

    Am disappointed with this post. If you’ve worked for an SEO company and hold this belief than you worked for a terrible SEO company – and know nothing of SEO. You say “There are SEO companies out there with major investors taking money from clients and then paying _untrained staff_ to create spam blogs with bogus content and links. ” ~ I’m guessing this is where you fell in.

    A spammer isn’t going to say he’s a spammer. He’ll say he’s a marketer. A fake “SEO” company will always say they are “white-hat”. (How else are they going to scam companies for money??)

    Outing an industry because you fail to understand or have poor training in it is a very ignorant standpoint.

    “SEO companies have one goal and one goal only. To get websites into top positions for highly-search key phrases on major search engines.”
    Not quite. It’s all about relevance. A good SEM will look into all aspects of a site that can help gain _related_ traffic from search, which goes a bit further than just ‘what a good web developer should already do’.

    A good website has a positive relationship with user experience, content, and marketing. SEO falls in a little of each bucket.

  • http://waldropdesign.com Andy Waldrop

    Many companies have given SEO a very bad name. SEO is only one part of a an effective internet marketing strategy. Great usability and stellar design is another part. SEM/PPC is yet another.

    This article comes across as if it was written by a jaded designer who is just hating on anything labeled SEO.

    I’ve always had the best results when efforts to increase traffic do not compromise the design. There are plenty of ways to build SEO friendly sites without having to sacrificing layout or design at all.

  • http://www.bravosmartwebdesign.com Kyle Deming

    It seems you have a somewhat narrow concept of what SEO is about and why it is important. Any SEO professional worth his salt will agree with your points that excellent content has to be produced, that web pages should be usable, and that you simply cannot throw a bunch of keywords on a page to try to rank.

    Actually, incoming link and popularity metrics make up the bulk of the search engine algorithms, so truly good SEO experts will help you develop a content and promotional plan to produce the exceptional content that will get incoming links. Although using proper keywords in Title Tags and page content is helpful, by itself it won’t get you good ranks for anything except the most uncompetitive keywords.

    In fact, I would argue that good SEO is actually a service to the end user. You are trying to rank well for terms that are relevant to your website content (otherwise, as you say, these visitors will just bounce). Keyword research is simply the process of finding the ways customers talk about your product/service/offering and delivering them the content with that terminology. What, I ask, is so wrong with tailoring your message to the linguistic preferences of the end user?

  • http://www.harrisonmarketingmd.com Chef Paul

    Sergio- Mind giving us a keyword or phrases that ranked you 6th? I am curious as to how competitive that keyword was.

    Also, John, if good web developers should be doing a lot of these things anyway, then there are a lot of bad developers out there then.

    • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

      Can’t argue on that one – have you seen how much work gets outsourced these days? Bad web developers are ten to the dozen.

  • http://www.areoff.com Andrew Areoff

    This is a very good article and one I whole heartedly agree with.

    We always tell our clients that SEO is a good thing but that it is just part of the whole online marketing mix. If you get #1 rankings for your website that doesn’t equal increased sales and success online if your website is poorly designed, hard to use and not engaging. Indeed if your products are not what people are looking for or wrongly priced then the best SERPS in the world won’t make you more successful online.

    At Areoff we get excellent search engine rankings for niche terms like ‘insurance website design’ because we specialise in this particular part of the industry. We advise our clients to concentrate on being visible for particular products or niches rather than a broad brush approach. After all, who ever searches for ‘insurance’ – being #1 for this term isn’t really a great achievement in terms of getting more business. But if someone is looking for a particular type of insurance and in a specific location or at a particular price point then this is niche that can be attacked and your site optimised accordingly for.

    Neither do we recommend that websites contain reams and reams of content that may ‘play’ the search engine game but do little to engage users. If a real person enters your site on one of these content pages that is simply crammed with keywords and designed to get your site up the rankings, but does little to engage with the user and lacks prominent and positive calls to action – then surely it’s just an academic exercise in getting better rankings without a real end-game.

    We always tell our clients that if your website is good for users (i.e. they can find what they want, the product is appropriate for their needs or desirable, is priced competitively or strategically, works and functions wells, contains good calls to action, is informative), then it is more often than not good for search engines because it is relevant and useful and they will rank it well because that’s what users want – so it’s reciprocal.

    But what about building sites and making sure they are SEO friendly? Well any good web designer should build sites that tick all the boxes when it comes to appropriate meta data, header tags, code, structure, XHTML, CSS, linking, navigation – all that stuff. We certainly do all this as standard and we say to our clients that our websites are ‘SEO friendly from day-one’.

    • Tom

      One of the practices of SEO is to get good rankings for the ‘right’ terms. Not just any keyword. You will then get more relevant traffic to your site, and if you have a nice website, it is likely to convert more customers. So I don’t know what you are on about. SEO’s don’t just try and get rankings for random hugely competitive keywords in whichever industry they are targeting. You have a lot to learn.

  • Tom

    In my experience, most web developers don’t have a clue when it comes to seo practises. They want to hide keywords on the page or something similar. Good seo practises during a design is all well and good and forms the basis, but you need to form a strategy which seo companies do well. They also do comprehensive keyword research which web developers tend to overlook. Plus nowdays a lot of focus is in social media. Its definitely not a useless service. It provides a lot of value over what you have with just a site design.

  • Ondra

    As usual – SEO is only one of the ways and techniques to improve your website and bussiness. But surely not the only one.

    You could have the best restaurant in town with the best chief, furniture, design and most expensive specialities – but more people will always go to McDonald because of fast food and good marketing strategy. Without no exclusive feeling and teaste.

    It is also the 80/20 rule.

    Have a good site with good design and good content – and you will be good.

    Have a perfect optimalised site with good design and good content – and you will be good too…

  • http://www.vertinix.com Vertinix

    I believe we should do basic SEO from the day first of any website and always use good contents because it plays vital role in long term. I started my small web design company as “www.vertinix.com” 6 months ago and now I am getting great results in the end. I am agree with the reply of Adii that we should also focus on our work or services and it’s very true because clients always expect 100% results.

    Thanks for sharing this great article.

  • http://www.antylope.com.ar Antylope

    Nice article. I think Google became the search engine king because it was “smart” instead of greedy (like yahoo, altavista, lycoos, etc.. who’s top links depended in how much money their owners gave to the browsers) and I think SEO is taking us back to that time.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong if your site is great but new and you need some hand to appear in the searches but SEO,as you say, ussually does not worry bout content.

    Switching subject, I need some advice here; my site (www.antylope.com.ar) is hard to search because of its “misspelling” (google sugests “antelope” or “antilope” in spanish). I should change the domain or I must fight to rank? ‘Cause it could be a good thing to know ASAP.

    bye & thanks!

  • http://www.freeipadforever.com Salman Aslam

    I’ve been learning SEO for quite some time now and i have also been following great design blogs like WDP, 1st Webdesigner , Tutorial 9 etc and i came to the conclusion that both goes side by side. I am disagreeing you with the point that you don’t need to focus on Link Building Strategies because it is essential. You’re doing no good to yourself by writing Good content and sitting with hand ties around. I’ve learned that you simply cannot rely on referral traffic because eventually it is going to die out so yeah my suggestion is to focus on both. While great content will result in loyal readers , great seo will yield you more traffic, high page rank and repute and not to mention it will make you big bucks

  • http://steveplunkett.com steveplunkett

    you make too many generalizations and assumptions.

    Truly good SEOs lead the horse to water and make them drink..by using business intelligence from click to the cash register,with landing pages with clear call to action measurements from keyword to contact form..

  • http://www.alexdixondesign.co.uk Alex Dixon

    The battle of form vs. funtion

  • http://ondoordachtblog.nl/ Thomas

    In the end, SEO is only making semantic websites (which you should be doing in the first place), putting links to your website on relevant websites (which is something that will happen eventually) and using relevant words in the titles and sub-titles of your website (which you probably do anyway).

    If you look at it that way, if you want to make a website your users will enjoy and navigate easily, you’ll pick up on a lot of SEO elements.

    • Tom

      Erm, Well done, this is SEO. But people get professional agencies to work with their site because they are struggling, they need help, they want to exceed. Many companies do need this help and this is where SEO companies come in.

      Many people can wash their car, doesn’t stop some paying for someone else to do it.

  • http://www.easy.nl Easy Internet Marketing

    Great case you’ve shared there.

    Stijn Driessen

  • arnold

    The SEO guys will feel bad about this.

  • jaiylove00

    Nice article. My two cents is that a company looking to have a successful website needs to employ the talent and skills of both a great web designer/developer and internet marketer/SEO consultant.

    To believe that a book marketer studying internet marketing tactics can create an appealing website to the average consumer attracted by sight before content is bogus.

  • http://www.craigpennings.com Craig Pennings

    Great post… however i would like to say that great content and structure mixed with a good seo campaign can be deadly. If you have a great site, you should want it to place higher faster, or you will miss out on potential conversions or sales.

  • http://www.texastriallawyers.com Greg Baumgartner

    Great Content and design are certainly important, however getting the people to your site can not be underrated. You can have awesome product-content but never be hit with out seo. my take

  • thomasm

    Very interesting article, thank you. But maybe, someday, we will say the same about “content is king”.

    On of the things I struggle against most is that there are so many quotes or even memes, wich make themselves very comfortable in my mind. It takes a lot of experience and self confidence to make decisions such as the one described in your article. But maybe that is what life is about?

  • http://john.onolan.org JohnONolan

    Thanks again for all your comments guys, I knew this post would stir up some conversation but I didn’t think it would be this much! It’s interesting how you can immediately spot all the people who make their living off SEO – they either:

    a.) Left a spam comment with a keyword or instead of a name

    or

    b.) Called me delusional / clueless / naive / misinformed

    For the record, the company I worked for and based this post on is extremely well known in the industry. Staff from some of the biggest SEO communities in the world (anyone in SEO will know the ones I’m talking about) get sent to this company for training.

    So you can call me whatever you like – but trust me when I say that I have the background and the experience to be able to give a down-to-earth commentary on this subject ;)

    Thanks again!

  • oz

    Please let us know the name of the well known SEO company. In the meantime I encourage you to read some more intelligible sources on the subject;
    http://books.google.com/books?id=4VvOLL4KIesC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

    - the preface is a good place to start :)

    Flame bait may strike a conversation but kind of puts you in a permanent dim light on the subject and the broader spectrum of the Web.

  • http://www.harrisonmarketingmd.com chefpaul

    John-
    I will give you that one. It does drive me crazy when someone posts and plugs their company and then uses keywords. Never quite understood self-serving posts. Especially to a group of other others in your field. After reading all the post, I we can agree that a GOOD developer should take many aspects of good website design into consideration including some that are the realm of SEO. I think this is where a good developer has value, understanding these things, but as was stated, there are many bad SEO companies, and there are many bad developers. It’s a shame the client doesn’t find out until its too late sometimes.

  • Tim

    That’s excatly it. Content IS SEO. Content is king.
    Anyone worth their salt in the ‘SEO game’ knows that. Just like you said, search engines are designed to deliver relevant results. All of WooThemes content contributed to their SEO efforts, regardless of whether they recognize that. Along with get links back from that great content – another beloved SEO ‘tactic’. Links from relevant web sites. I’m sure they were tweeted, posted on Facebook, etc. They had an online marketing system in place. From SEO to social media… the only difference from them and the SEO firms you speak of, is that they were doing it the RIGHT way. The way it is supposed to be done. Nice an organic, ideal for conversions. I also think that any SEO company worth their salt should be just as focused on user experience. SEO is apart of the bigger picture of online marketing.

  • Chris

    Not met many great web designers or web developers who are also great at keyword research, competitive analysis or analytics… SEO isn’t just about implementation ;o)

  • http://www.buttonsrock.com Todd

    My boss needs to read this stat!

    As for my own little side business, I’m not worrying about SEO at all. Partly because 90% of my business is word of mouth. My plans consist entirely of showing how my product can be of great promotional value and featuring the quality work I’m doing.

    So far, so good.

  • Ephraim

    Well Chef Paul – I am ahamed to say that maybe the ease of development tools and CMS is what creates the dirth of poor sites. I have worked in the public sector and they like to buy in solutions from companies that do not provide a real service. I am about to enter the dark side with an outsourced development. Hopefully I will be able to give you the inside scoop after a couple of months.

  • http://alwaysservices.com/cms/tiki-index.php?page=Search+Engine+Optimization V. Whittier

    Could not agree more.

    I attached a link to the wiki page that I wrote last month to educate a client who was being pitched a $600/month SEO service for a business that runs on personal relationships and reputation within it highly specialized field.

  • http://www.harrisonmarketing.com Chef Paul

    Ephraim-Funny you say that. I just met with a non-profit on Monday who I have been working with and this time they wanted me to help them with online visibility (SEO). What I found out was, they used a design company that specializes in non-profits. The catch as there always is, was the site was created using their proprietary software. A canned CMS system. So they had a back end to edit content. Of course some of the important things, things I need to get to in the header, can’t be accessed by the client. They have to pay the company to change any code. I understand why this is, but they are charging the non-profit $400 a month to host! On top of that, it is a site that uses strictly tables. I told them when they could afford it, run. Redo it in an open-source CMS.Most decent CMS systems will at least give you the ability to change page titles, keywords, and descriptions. So who is the crook here, the BAD marketing people or the design/development companies that gorge their clients with an inferior product.

    • Tim

      That’s crazy, what the heck are they getting for 400 beans a month?!

  • http://www.mkb-im.nl MKB-im

    It is mine opinion that companie’s who focus on SEO as their main online strategy, spent mostly way more money on “internet marketing” then companie’s who choose SEO as one of the aspects of a good internet marketing strategy. It’s best to focus on user and visitor usabillity and have your online goals well formulated. Then you’ll get to the right sight of the rainbow…

    Martin Neuteboom

  • http://www.graphic-arts-schools.com/ Graphic Arts Schools

    I like your position on this topic. Although SEO will get you higher in the ranks for specific keywords, I think having excellent content and as you said, direct clear links through the site will result in better search engine results and happier visitors :)

    • http://www.wisdek.com Nikolai

      How about link-spamming authority blogs with worthless comments, does it bump your ranks by any chance?..

      • FRE# Ci@li$ and v1@gr@

        Link spamming blogs? What is link spamming? Sounds like the perfect plan to me, whatever it is.

        ;)

  • http://www.booksnbeats.com Kiy

    Are you kidding? Please say it ain’t so, Sam?

    I get that SEO shouldn’t be the only consideration. I get that one should build a good site and create great content–but to say, “the search engine rankings will follow…and something which no SEO company can ever do.”

    “If you spend time doing the right things when building a site and focusing on your users as you grow that site, then search engine rankings will follow. I guarantee it – something which no SEO company can ever do.”

    Here’s the thing – why can’t we just play nicely: Web design, Web development, usability, and SEO–why?

  • http://www.harrisonmarketingmd.com chefpaul

    Tim,
    They are getting a proprietary canned CMS. No problem with that, but the lasrt company I did work with had an CMS through another company because they sold apparel and didn’t the database up to date, something they can’t do in-house. I get that, but the CMS had in the admin an area for some rudimentary SEO. This non-profit I am working with now doesn’t even have that, and they designed with tables. Talk about lazy and out of date. when he told me what they were paying, I really had to try hard to be professional and not trash them (too much). I didn’t want to come off as you need to redo the site with me in Open-source CMS.

  • Tommie Noble

    3 points:

    1. Back when people used the Yellow Pages, naming your company AAAAAAaron’s Plumbing would get you top of the plumbing list, but savvy customers went with either a plumber they knew and trusted, or with a plumber a trusted friend or family member recommended. This hasn’t changed, especially in this social media paradigm.

    2. Google is an algorithm, not a customer. The Google search algorithm won’t be buying your product or using your service. Google is, however, very good at taking your money.

    3. Just like great bands are still making money in the file-sharing era, companies with great products and services are making money without handing over piles of cash to ‘professional Search Engine Optimization and Marketing’ companies. There are many, many more stories like WooThemes. Be smart, my friends, and stay away from bandwagons.

  • http://www.mspan.co.uk graphic design edinburgh

    Yeah but really – people want to do SEO for words they selling… nobody investing in SEO for things he’s not doing… so i think this business is not so bad… coz it helping google get right results.

  • http://www.juegos.gs Juegos

    I personally think that WooThemes is an exception to the rule, they are very good designers, they create great themes. Not anyone is able to follow this model, that is why some of us need SEO.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ghaddar SEO Lebanon

    Many of these anti-seo articles are meant to be linkbaits for SEOs. :) it is a trend.

    I am a fan of woothemes, but do you mean they did not do any keyword research to know which keywords are used by their potential clients?

    And do you think that “not worrying” about search engines is a smart move?! 80% of people start from search engines to find products and services.

    Did woothemes participate in forums and blogs to talk about wordpress and their themes?
    Do you think they rank on first page of Google without links?

    It is not Search engines Vs users or SEO vs usability. SEO is the most cost effective way to reach visitors looking for your products and services, and it is only one piece of the puzzle.

    Any SEO work should analyze the website statistics to see how engaging is their website and optimize their conversion rate.

    You can build a search engine friendly website, with good content, a blog, clean URLs, participate in relevant forums, etc… and NOT call it SEO :)

    OR Woothemes can put their products in a non-search engine friendly site with ugly URLs, boatload of javascript and flash, same title tags for all pages, and no links from anywhere. How much of negative effect will this have on their website traffic and conversion rate?

    Woothemes have great product and content and optimizing their website a bit further will drive more visitors and sales.

  • http://www.freeipadforever.com Salman Aslam

    I wonder what good content can do if you can’t rank higher? You do need proper optimization , you need backlinks to rank higher. I’ve seen people making loads of money just because they were able to rank higher, they promote offers they monetize their assets , they also flip their websites. But when i see blogs like Webdesignerdepot content is what is keeping this legend alive. So i think both goes hand in hand

  • LDN

    Nice linkbait! In an ideal world, everyone would build perfect websites that were technically spot on for disclosing their well written content that ticks all the right search engine boxes. In reality people don’t and for as long as they don’t, we will make money from them, making money for them.

  • http://www.wsibusinessmarketing.co.uk Matt Chandler

    It’s been said before and it will be said again. SEO is not the be all and end all. Creating an engaging and compelling visitor experience should be the foremost priority for any business. After all, it’s their reputation on the line. SEO is certainly part of the equation, but what use is it when the conversion rate is 0% and the sales revenue $0? I’d rather have 1 visitor per month if he pays my mortgage, rather than 1 million that don’t

    Oh, and by the way, there’s a sentence in that post that talks about bogus content and links. So do we all fall into that category?!!

  • http://diggity.in sid

    Thanks for the article John much appreciated. I encounter these kind of problems everyday. I asked my client to put there money on advertising rather then doing SEO. Doing SEO is like feeding some SEO company who are actually making your website a SPAM. We all know what we do when it comes to link exchange. Also once your website gain popularity I don’t think anybody is going to search through Google, rather just put your money in advertisement and come with a bang.

    My concern is always if you dig you will get the gold. So put good content let user dig it. I do agree with few peoples that we need to optimize the website with the alt, title, h1…h6 tags, meta and other tags to do in-page SEO. I disagree with back-links, it will make your website to be linked back from some spam website in a long run.

    I started a web development firm a few months ago and I am happy what we do when it comes to SEO. We are only providing in-page SEO and bet me we put our clients in the very first page and sometime first place in Google without any link back and link submission. all goes to content writing.

  • http://www.wsibusinessmarketing.co.uk Web Design Preston

    Hi Sid – I read your post yesterday with great interest – surely if only you’re only concentrating on the on-page factors, then you’re missing a huge opportunity by ignoring the off-page factors? It is estimated that the on-page stuff only accounts for around 30% of SEO, with off-page accounting for the remaining 70%. I would think your strategy carefully if you aren’t using link-building in your SEO work.

  • Brett

    So your saying a “1992 Honda Civic built website” with SEO isnt as good as a “Mercedes built website.” I get that, but what about a “Mercedes built website” with SEO practices. Wouldn’t that be the best. SEO is hard and takes time, maybe hard work inst your thing and belittling those who disagree with you your “No SEO Needed method” is easier. I would say that “In Page” SEO on top of great content is ideal. There are also many other small details that can help such as canonicalize your URLS, setting up a xml sitemap and submitting it to search. Also setting up a google webmasters account and google analytics to track your website data and user search information and then tweak your content based on the results is a great way to improve your content.

  • http://www.intercomm.co.za Dianne

    While it would be very nice if this was true, it simply isn’t. As a south African company we are lucky that not many local copanies bother with SEO at all, and most are too lazy to go to any effort to cheat the system.

    I have been designing, writing content and developing sites that meet all the SEO requirements for 12 years, and despite amazing content, every client is still beaten by a handful of local, mickey-mouse, 1 page websites stuffed with keywords. And every 6 months my client (who happens to be the industry leader) wants to know why their site still struggles to make the first page when all these 1 page sites are listed.

    And then one of my clients bought AdWords – within a week he had moved to page 1. And not just on the terms he purchased, but on all kinds of terms – some of which are not even mentioned on his pages! Google gives priority to people who buy Adwords. They protect their clients and their income, like any good capitalist company.

    After you have adwords, perhaps you compete with other adwords purchasers for the top spot. But without adwords first, you don’t have a hope no matter if you are the best result or not.

  • http://www.fldtrace.com Lucian

    I agree with the article. In my SEO services I never offer link building or high density keywords. Having a good design, SEO friendly code, focus on marketing, it’s what really helps the website rank well and visitors conversion.

  • http://www.seo.ba/ Nedim Sabic

    As a SEO expert, I can just say – you are 100% right that woothemes doesn’t need SEO. But not all sites are like woothemes and especially not all sites are so small like woothemes. Projects like woothemes should focus on the written things in this article, but broader projects can’t survive without SEO. Many great projects and products failed, because noone ever heard of them and they didn’t had money to pay highbudget ad campains. Just SEO could have helped them, but they didn’t want to listen. I don’t like generalisations, it’s all about being distinctive!

  • http://joemacstevens.com Joe Stevens

    I love this article. I work for a company that puts way too much emphasis on SEO, it really hasn’t done shit for us but full our site with a bunch of “keyword rich” copy that makes no sense. Even worse, all of our competitors are using the same shitty tactics so we are really in a race to the bottom of the barrel. This year I am going to recommend that we shift some of the money we are spending on SEO to do some other type of advertising.

    • Tom

      I think your company are doing it wrong.

  • http://www.thematosoup.com Dragan Nikolic

    SEO without content is form without function..it’s like shouting – I’ve got the best car in the world! – as many times as you can and as loud as you can, when you really don’t. (and everybody’s bound to see it, eventually)

  • http://www.fiberoptics4sale.com Colin

    So there are basically just two steps

    1) Create a great product or web site

    2) SEO

  • http://www.ronakinfotech.com/ Website Design

    Hi,

    Great post thanks,
    Even I am thinking about your great idea.I often reads the blog but seen that your blog post should have different idea.

    SEO is the main part of the business,without SEO no websites can stand

  • http://www.abdpromotions.com Cheryl Ellemberg

    Great points! I’m so glad there are others who agree that content and relevance are more important than playing an ever changing SEO game. When it boils down to it, you should have something to offer that is relevant, creative and/or interesting. People will follow you and you will be seen as credible in the filed you are pursuing. Thanks for some great discussion points.

  • http://www.springtexas.com/ Jon Sterling

    Being found for extremely competitive keyword phrases still takes some good old fashioned relevant back linking. I agree with most of your post, but it is my experience that doing things like guest blogging from high authority sites that are germane to my website works great for gaining rank, and authority with big G.