Get Out Your Hand Sanitizer: The SEO You've Come to Love is No More

Hands in plastic gloves on a keyboard next to some hand sanitizer.

The days of sanitary SEO are on the wane. Oh sure, there will always be tools to hide behind and technology barriers to raise. As long as site speed is a factor, we will be able to amuse ourselves in the solitary pursuits of caching, minifying, and optimizing consolidated JS and CSS files and images. However, the serious ranking mojo is found in offering a “good user experience,” whatever the heck that means.

Google knows what it means, but they’re not telling. They are not going to repeat the mistake they made publishing the PageRank paper in 1999. First, they spun the Internet marketing and optimization communities into butter with their super smart algorithms that seem to understand whether two linked pages are really about the same thing. Then Google put a bird on it with Panda, the “user experience” update. Now we have to talk to actual people, stakeholders, and users. No more hiding behind those spreadsheets and keyword tools. Dangnabbit!

It is not all bad news. There is a new way tech-head SEO can cross its own digital divide to collaborate with User Experience without bloodshed or eye-rolling – it is called Soft System Methodology (SSM).  Okay, SSM is actually an old way. Developed by system engineer Peter Checkland in the early 1960s, SSM was intended to better incorporate user behavior at the outset of system design to enhance adoption once the system is in place. Checkland’s SSM is best encapsulated by the following maxims:

  • All systems are made up of subsystems as well as are part of larger systems
  • Understanding subsystems leads to more efficient system development and operation online
  • Users are a subsystem
  • Stakeholders are a subsystem
  • System design and development is an ongoing process

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

“They legalized marijuana in Washington State and that is where this must be coming from.”

Audi Contraire mon ami. This is coming from a brainstorm that I had (thanks to Portent colleague Katie Fetting’s 7.5 Tips for Becoming a Brainstorming Genius webinar). SSM is Google’s Panda update(s). With Panda, Google (a system) incorporates user behavior (a subsystem) into the sort and display of search results (another subsystem) as part of the all-encompassing information retrieval system that is search.

The tools that Checkland gave us are: CATWOE, a checklist of sorts, and the Experience Learning Model. In ensuing blog posts, I will delve more deeply into how the SEO community can apply SSM to form a new, better, and search engine-approved method of optimizing sites. There will be something for the propeller-heads, something for the bespectacled content strategists, something for the black-turtleneck-wearing user experience designers, and something for those digital-Lincoln-log-loving information architects.

Hand Sanitizer 2

The only folks left out are the fly-by-night, SEO-1-hour-a-day carpetbaggers. The sun is setting on that empire and rightfully so.

Stay tuned.

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  1. Thanks for the insightful article. SSM sounds like it has some TQM in it. The integration of the stakeholder and user subsystems is certainly something I’d be interested in hearing more about.

  2. You bring up a good point about how to get the google ranking you need the user experience. Being a more recent SEO I’ve noticed a connection between user experience and content. A lot of ranking to driven by your content which also drives your user experience. Thanks for the post.

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