Lee Odden recently interviewed Gord Hotchkiss, and the interview covered some interesting ground. In particular, Gord talked about how Google's moves towards personalization are going to affect SEO in the future. In response to Lee's question: "Will this finally force SEOs to focus on optimizing for users?", Gord said:
Yes, as I mentioned above. And that's why it's healthy. There's still a world of value SEO's can add by optimizing for users, and helping marketers understand how online viral linking can happen and, when it does, make sure that it's happening in a way conducive to being recognized by search engines. This makes SEO more complex, not less so, and as Danny Sullivan has said on a number of occasions, complexity is great job security. If you went to 100 sites at random, I would say 99 of them are not doing SEO right, or at least, not getting full value from it. And that includes a number of companies with in-house SEO staff. This is no knock on in-house SEO, it just means we all have to up our game, both in-house and external agencies.
I agree that this change is coming. I think it remains to be seen how quickly this change will come, and also just how much impact it will have on link building. If you already use a conservative approach to link building then it probably does not change anything for you at all on that score.
But let's break down this notion of "optimizing for users" a bit. I think we all need to ask ourselves what we think about when we are working on our web pages. Are we thinking about selling to our visitors? Or, servicing them? As soon as you decide that you are selling to them, you have begun heading for trouble.
Selling is an old concept that implies hard sell tactics. Hit them with the message. Make them feel urgency. Buy now! You will get an extra 10% off if you make the decision in the next 25 seconds!
Today's consumer is way too powerful for that approach, and they are getting smarter every day. Finding out what your competitor is doing can be accomplished in less than a minute. When consumers are looking for something in an area they are not familiar with, the web is a very powerful research tool. People can quickly check out 3 or 4 web sites to learn what they need to know, before making a buying decision.
How can you leverage that? By servicing them. Provide the best, and most accessible, information. Teach them what they need to know to become a smart buyer. Provide useful tools. Do a good job with this, and you will begin to build a relationship with that person, and trust. If they learn everything they need to know on your site, your chances of moving to the next step with them is greatly increased.
The same strategy applies to repeat buyers too. Make sure they have the tools they need to make their decision process easy too.
Whether you are selling leads, providing services, selling products, or whatever, it doesn't matter. The big winners will focus on servicing their users, not selling to them.