March 29, 2011

Holistic SEO for the Data driven web

I see a link to an article or blogpost bashing SEO as a practice just about every week. I have started to care. In the beginning I didn’t, but considering I hear so much bs from so many people right now I have to write something.

SEO is only partially Google optimization. It is about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all other websites where you really should be present if you want to be visible on the expanded web. But this article is not about that either as both myself and others have written about this before.

This article is about us humans and why we search. It is also about why search will always be a factor regardless of what type of technology we use. Third, this article will be about how to move into a new domain of search that is data driven rather than URL-bundled.

Understanding the Human searcher

When we produce content, regardless of channel, we have to consider the domain and the properties of the community in which we publish it. People search in different ways depending upon where they search. I usually recommend companies to go search for similar content to what they are producing before giving it the proper title. They should record every search they make until they find what they need and want.

They should then do a standard volume vs competition analysis and produce content for the proper keywords of that content. If they want it to be found by relevant users, they should also consider what the searcher is searching for, naturally. Most companies don’t. But they should.

If you publish a video to YouTube, don’t forget to use the word “video” in your title as people use the word “video” when they search for video. If you publish an update to Facebook, then remember to add a question or statement to it so that people have a way of responding too it, and thus leveraging the power of social network interaction. Remember that the perspective of a social network searcher is rather “what is my friend doing” than “cheap sunglasses discount coupon”. This means that the searcher of the social network start by searching for a friend, ends up on the news feed where they see a comment made on your wall. They follow the link of the comment and reach the discussion of the wall post. They get indoctrinated in the types of words used and follow links that seem to be the conformed consensus of the active respondents.

If you publish something to Twitter, then try to own a hashtag as these types of “back channels” are used in order to categorize content and give different 140 character expressions a semantic context. If you then push something in a forum, you can use the hashtag so that people will search for it to find out more about the topic you are discussing.

To understand the human searcher is to understand purpose. There is no search without a purpose. Your greatest mission in life as a content producer is to use all assets available to fill the purpose of those searchers that search for content which is relevant for you and your business. The human searcher does not roam, they want to find salvation to their perceived desire. This will never die. This will never go away, and it is the very core of what search is all about.

Thus when optimizing content for this purpose we need to begin with the humans purpose in mind.

Technology is not the biggie

When thinking of SEO in a holistic way, you need to understand that all your activities online AND offline matter. There are simply too many signals telling search engines and social networks where your content should be placed with regard to other content.

Search engine optimization is technology independent as your main purpose cannot be to produce content that matches all these signals. Especially when considering you probably don’t know which they are and what they will do for your content. Your main ambition should be to optimize the flow of information so that it aligns with your purposes.

This means that you should probably offer ratings and reviews on your website. If you cannot do that, you should feed it from another website onto yours. Your payment is a link and your sacrifice in Google ranking for the competition intense keywords. However, by adding the content you are also relating yourself to the information and as long as it is relevant, you will become more relevant for the end user and thus increase the likelihood of them returning.

So what does content satisfaction and aligning content into sets have anything to do with independence of technology. Well, in the end it is all just content displayed in different formats. However, as more and more of content formats are becoming standardized or easily converted through simple processes that you can automate, the technology you can use is becoming of less relevance. Regardless if you publish to your own platform or if you publish to another place such as Facebook.

It is the content that matters, not the technology that contains it.

Technology should only be used when it simplifies the challenges of communication, not because it is the new black. If you want to optimize your content for a technology such as Google, and at the same time disregard other technologies, then I feel you are making a big mistake. However, if you focus on the purpose driven end user, you will probably gain a lot more.

If you don’t have the content that will make you found, then align yourself with someone who does. Co-ordinate your communicative efforts with what’s out there already and then take advantage of the relationship a complimentary position might offer.

Which brings us to the Data

Cause there is nothing as exciting as considering data in closed environments, sourced from open environments. Naturally I am talking about sites vs apps. In the coming few years we will see the death of the URL and the complete explosion of the dynamically generated response app.

Today, searches are limited in their relevance as most of them return URIs from an index and list these URLs in a list. The content that becomes available through these resources is created before you search for it and thus it is most likely not taking into consideration what you plan to do tomorrow.

The data driven search engine optimizers must understand this. In the data driven search, made through an application, the user will ask questions such as “restaurants I like in Gothenburg where 2 of my friends have been and that is similar to that one restaurant in Sundsvall”. A search engine of today have NO possibility to reply with a specific content meeting your demands of information. However, the data driven web will.

They will source information from all of your friends, all image websites, all review websites and all other such resources needed to understand what you “like”, which of your friends have been at a specific venue and if they use the same furniture and menus as the other place you want it to resemble.

This is why I say that you need to align your content with other relevant content, and thus relating it to networks of people, brands and other such domains that are necessary for you to become findable by someone who has never met you, yet has a lot of opinions about other things similar to you.

The Holistic approach to SEO

So, as you can see from above, this was not the Holistic thinking that is usually put out there. My main point with this post is that you should focus on the humans doing the searches, their needs rather than their preferred technology and then understand that the data driven web will truly change the game as users will ask for more than what you want or are able to give them.

A holistic approach to SEO doesn’t take aim at anything. Rather, it takes aim at being findable by relevant Humans in everything. Regardless of technology or current new black.

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