I’ve been doing SEO full-time for about 6 and a half years now, and in that time a lot of strategies and buzzwords have come and gone. Keyword Stuffing: gone. Keywords META Tag: gone. Reciprocal Linking: gone. Over that time, one buzzword (strategy) that has become increasingly more popular in the SEO community is user experience (UX), which essentially acts on the principal that a website should be created for the user and not search engines.
Whereas once SEOs were consumed by the idea of ranking their site at any cost, the modern SEO should be concerned with creating a site that users will enjoy. While I’m all for making users and site visitors happy, as an SEO my primary concern is bringing them to the site in the first place (and getting a conversion after that); at least it was until I set up a site for a hobby of mine.
An avid hiker at a local reservoir, when looking I found that no maps of the reservoir existed, so I decided to create some and make them available on a website. After some preliminary keyword research, I decided to go with lochraventrails.com, targeting the primary phrase “loch raven trails”. I mapped the trails of the reservoir with a GPS and transferred them to Google Maps, making them available to all. A fan of plants and trees, I also made a guide to plants and trees found at the reservoir, allowing visitors to scroll over plant and tree names and see an image of them. That’s it: some keyword research, a sprinkling of keywords in the Titles and content, and nothing else…no link building, no social promotion…nothing.
Within 3 months the site was outperforming my other sites in traffic, ranking first for nearly all of the keyword phrases I’d hoped to target, including “loch raven trails” and “loch raven hiking”. After years of begging for .edu and .org links for client websites, an analysis of links to lochraventrails.com showed that the site had BOTH a .org link (www.outdoors.org) and a .edu link (www.jhu.edu). While it didn’t have many other links, those were enough. In addition to that the site had the lowest bounce rate I’ve ever seen, about 8%.
What I learned
The site’s success wasn’t due to over-optimization, it was due to providing a good user experience through information. If a user (visitor) finds what they’re looking for, that’s a good user experience. By providing all the information I could muster about Loch Raven trails, including maps and plant life, I was ensuring that visitors found what they were looking for, and some of those visitors considered the site a valuable resource and linked to it.
The term “set it an forget it” used to be kicked around a lot in the SEO world, mainly in the context of “SEO is not a one time thing,” and I wholeheartedly agree with that; however, if my hobby website has taught me anything it’s that if you build a good website that is a valuable resource, it is positioned for success.
The lesson is to answer any question a searcher may be asking about your product or website, thereby making your site a valuable resource. If you own a pool company, a page showing average pool costs might be valuable for visitors, even if it doesn’t directly help your business. If you sell home windows, a page explaining common key terms might be useful. Websites should be viewed not as sales engines designed to sell a product, but as resources that are valuable to searchers. UX and SEO are not two separate things; they go hand-in-hand. While web design, platforms, and user interface are important to UX, the most important things are information and value. Another lesson may be: Don’t try to sell, try to inform. Google has been saying this for years, and I think all SEOs would be wise to listen.
The going rule for link building and content development is 10/90, with 10% of work going to link building and 90% going to content development. Previously, the ratio I used was more equal, at about 40/60, but this experience has proven that the 10/90 content development strategy is a viable long-term strategy for SEO, so long as your content is high quality and valuable to visitors.