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Make Sites for Users not Search Engines

This is a rebuttal to Rand Fishkin's recent post entitled, Terrible SEO Advice: Focus on Users, not Engines. While I believe Rand has some excellent points, and I tend to agree with the overall sentiment (that we need to cater to search engines), I feel strongly that it's very good advice to focus websites on users rather than search engines. I accept that we must do things just for engines. If we didn't SEO wouldn't be part of my job. The irony is, when we do things for engines we're really doing them for users. Not convinced? Please read on...

Why do search engines exist?

Search engines exist in order to make it easy for users to locate information on the Web. We create websites in order to serve users, not search engines. Without search engines, websites would still exist. However, without websites, search engines would no longer exist (on the Web). Search engines serve users first.

It's all about users

Search engines are an avenue to users. They are not a destination in their own right. Well, Google is pushing the limits on that one! But technically speaking, their web search is very much an entrance point to the web, rather than a destination on its own. (Yeah yeah, One Box, etc... I think you get my point.)
Search engines aren't people
Here's the ironic part: What we do just for search engines is really a PROXY for what we're doing to attract users. Logically speaking, we need search engines because:
  1. Websites need visitors.
  2. Search engines grant visitors.
  3. Therefore websites need search engines.
... search engines are a means to secure visitors. Websites don't depend on search engines in their own right. Websites depend on search engines in order to reach visitors, who are the end goal.

Search engines look to users first

I often quote Bob Massa, who once said...
Search engines follow users.
If you think about it, search engine algorithms seek to understand where quality and relevance lie by mimicking the 'real world'. Factors such as link authority, traffic, brand strength, domain trust, citation frequency, and more are online adaptations of offline credibility signals. Search engines are all about users. Udi Manber of Google reinforces that when he says,
…the goal is always the same: improve the user experience. This is not the main goal, it is the only goal.
This is why it's an error to apologize for telling people to, "focus on users rather than engines." Rand, you've been right all along. Sure, we'll always need to do things just for engines (that's a big component of SEO). But search engines exist to serve users, and SEO exists to build online audiences through search. Search engines are a means to an end, not the end in itself. The user is the true end.

By the way, I'm on the road...

I’m speaking at SMX East
I'm currently on the road at SMX East, speaking on the following panels:
  1. Revisiting PageRank Sculpting
  2. Ecommerce Search Marketing Tactics
  3. Diagnosing Technical SEO Issues
If you're at the conference, give me a shout on Twitter (follow me @audette) or comment here. I'd definitely like to connect. Also, my latest article at SearchEngineLand was published today, entitled: 9 Tasty Tips for Ecommerce SEOs I'd appreciate your input there (here too), but bear with me - I may be a little slow to respond. New York City is a long way from Bend, Oregon. Catch up with me on Twitter. I'll also be stopping by Las Vegas on my way home to spend some time at the greatest online retailer in the universe, Zappos.
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