SEO Is Not User Experience Optimization

I just got back from SMX Advanced and boy are my arms tired. Actually, it’s my brain that’s feeling overwhelmed with lots of fresh insight and illuminating data. The cast and crew over at Third Door Media and Search Engine Land produced an exceptional event; they outdid themselves.

Except, I left Seattle’s Bell Harbor conference center with a ravenous bugblatter beast gnawing at my brain.

Let me explain.

Speaker after speaker kept saying that Search Engine Optimization should be guided by User Experience Optimization. For example:

Instead of chasing after the search engines, chase after the user experience because the search engines are chasing after the user experience,–Matt Cutts

I heard similar advice from Bing staffers plus a whole host of SEO and social media luminaries. While I respect their perspective, I do not share it. And when you get right down to it, neither do other competent SEOs. Here’s why: The job of an SEO professional is to build off-site authority then leverage that authority on-site.

1. Build ranking authority

2. Target ranking authority

3. Use ranking authority

Are you beginning to understand why SEO is NOT user experience optimization? In this one-two-three scenario the user cannot always come first. It’s an impossibility.

I do not advocate chasing the ranking algorithm. However, I most definitely know the search ranking factors and I will create a sound optimization plan that takes important organic ranking factors into account because this  will boost rankings. I am also going to monitor any ranking factor related data I can get my grubby little paws on, especially if it gives me insight into how my sites measure-up against my competitors. What does this have to do with user experience optimization? Zero zip nada.

I might even degrade the user experience in the name of good SEO, like when I recommend decreasing the number of links on a page.

When it comes to straight SEO I have one goal in mind, earn higher rankings. Sure, many of my recommendations will improve the user experience, but I always make plenty of recommendations that users never see and a few that make their lives a little harder.

Ranking authority comes from other websites in the form of off-site or external links. It doesn’t matter how good or how relevant your content is, no off-site links pointing at your domain equals no rankings. Zero zip nada.

This creates a huge disconnect. Link givers or The Linkerati are not your users. They are not your target market. They are not your community. They are people who create links. Members of the linkerati are independent from you. They have their own audiences and their own goals. Help these people reach their goals and you get links. If all you do is push your own agenda you get ignored, blacklisted and derided.

Would you balk at publishing link-worthy ROI boosting content if it does not specifically address your sales market? I want to know.

If The Linkerati are not users, then creating link-worthy content targeted at the linkerati is not user experience optimization. Publishing and promoting linkbait for the sake of getting links is not designed to satisfy or help users. Well, I suppose if you receive higher rankings than you are helping users to more easily find you and therefore you might be optimizing their user experience, but I think that’s stretching it too far.

So to the search engines I say yes, I agree that your perspective should be to laud the user experience as paramount. But your perspective is not my perspective as an SEO. I value user experience, it is entirely complementary with search engine optimization, but SEO and user experience optimization are not the same and sometime you have to chose between the two.

So are we clear? Good, because I’m about to tell you why I love User Experience Optimization and why it is good for Search Engine Optimization

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  1. Completely agree with your thoughts here.
    SEO and UEO – for the most part – go really well hand in hand, but there really is no way any experienced SEO could, in their right mind, think that if they only focus on user experience they will be establishing all necessary signals to perform optimally in search engines.
    I think the next question this discussion needs to answer is one of priority and process. The way I look at it, depending on the parties involved on-site SEO and User Experience can really be tackled almost simultaneously. But in most cases that isn’t going to be how it’s done.

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