I first started using the internet back in 1995 when the “World Wide Web” was still fairly new. In 1997 I wrote my first extremely crude HTML page and so my first website was born.
In the years since then I spent a lot of time learning to write better HTML code which made my websites look better. Though there was precious little in the way of traffic. In those early days getting thirty or forty visitors to the page over the course of a week was cause for celebration. It was around then that I first saw the term “Search Engine Optimization” commonly abbreviated SEO.
It didn’t take long to realize that this field held the promise of actually getting serious amounts of traffic to the websites that I had built for myself and my wife. Note: Those websites were not commercial in nature so it wasn’t a matter of earning money.
I spent a lot of time combing search engines for clues about how to optimize websites to be search engine friendly and ways to increase the number of ways that search engines would index a website.
Back in those days a lot of people used “doorway pages” These were specially crafted web pages that focused on one particular keyword. The keyword was used in the meta description and keyword elements and in pretty much every link on the page. Images used that keyword in the alt tag. Some even went so far as to name the image files with the keyword and variations of it.
Those pages were not built for people. They were made specifically to give search engines yet another way to find your site. Webmasters would spend hours generating huge lists of keywords related to a website and then use software to build a doorway page for each and every one of them, often building literally thousands of doorway pages.
In addition to this, the science (or art, depending on who you asked) of SEO also expanded to the actual website content. Experts determined by experimentation just how many times a keyword should be used in a page and even how much text should be on the page.
Importance was given to various ways text and especially keywords were used. Some were to be in bold type, some italicized, some underlined. The main keyword should appear in the page title, meta keywords and description, in H1 and H2 tags, as well as bolded, italicized and so on.
While doing all of this you were told that you should use a certain “keyword density”. Which meant that all the appearances of the keyword should be a set percentage of the number of words on the page. Experts often disagreed on what was considered the right percentage but it was usually a good idea to shoot for about three to four percent.
In all of this more and more websites were written in ways that made them intended more for the search engines than for human visitors. Pages would be written specifically for search engines to find and crawl. Many webmasters would even go so far as to use “Cloaking”. This meant that they had their website set up to give search engines one version of a page and human visitors would get a different one.
All of these tactics and more are referred to as “On Page” SEO. They’re all about the various things that you can do on your own pages to make them more appealing to search engines. “Off Page SEO” involves things you can do, mostly involving link building in one form or another.
Some tactics are considered a good idea, others not so good, and then there’s tactics (like cloaking for example) that Search engines have a special dislike for.
At some point somebody labeled these using something from old westerns. You could always tell who the good guys were because they wore white hats. The bad guys wore black hats. Thus you have “Black Hat SEO” and “White Hat SEO”.
Then there’s people that didn’t quite fit into either category. Often using some of both kinds of techniques but not ever going totally Black Hat. Of course when you mix white and black, you get grey. (those weren’t in the old westerns of course).
Over the years I spent a lot of time learning SEO tactics of all flavors, trying them out and using things that seemed to work. I once had a thousand doorway pages for a site. Then I read about changes that Google made to their algorithms that made doorway pages suddenly a bad idea and those thousand pages got deleted.
I have finally come to the conclusion that people like Google’s Matt Cutts are absolutely right when they advise people that they should write their web pages and most importantly, the text content on those pages (be it a blog, a commercial site, or whatever) specifically for their human visitors.
Even years later, in today’s wake of the now infamous Panda and Penguin changes to Google’s algorithm, many people still seem to put a lot of emphasis on SEO. Just today I saw that no less than six different people had written advice that you should put a lot of importance on SEO because good SEO is vital to a site being successful.
The thing is, while I agree that a certain amount of attention does need to be paid to doing SEO for your website or blog, it is NOT where you should put the lion’s share of your time and effort.
Instead you should focus more than anything else on producing content that gives visitors to your site something that they are looking for. Solve a problem, answer a question, entertain, advise. I believe that this is the best SEO you can possibly do.
When people go to a web page or blog they are looking for one of those things. If you can give it to them then the chances of them coming back skyrocket. It also increases the chance that not only will they come back, they’ll tell others about your site. If they have a website or blog of their own, they might even link to your site from theirs.
I saw a statement somebody wrote recently that I can say is dead wrong. They said that “content is not king”. They’re wrong. If the content of your site is something I’m looking for then great. If it’s not then I am outta there just as fast as I can click the “close tab” button.
This post is an example of what I’m talking about. I wrote it without even so much as the first thought of what keywords I should use, what should be the main keyword and so on. I didn’t spend even so much as one minute tweaking it for SEO.
I wrote it with you the visitor in mind. I hope to convince you that while SEO is important, you need to put that on the back burner and focus first on the people who come to your site and exactly what it is they’re looking for. Give them that and the SEO will pretty much take care of itself.