Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Search Engine Optimisation - it's the customer, stupid

The classic story is that when Bill Clinton was running for President, he had a reminder on his desk saying, "It's the economy, stupid", just to remind him of the core issue at stake.

Yesterday, at the East Midlands EBusiness Expo at Nottingham, Hugh Jackson of MediaCo could well have used a similar analogy, "It's the customer, stupid", when outlining the key issues to remember when considering search engine optimisation. At the end of the day, you should always remember to write copy for the potential customer, since its the customer who will buy (or not), not the search engine.

Jackson outlined the importance of keyword analysis, of avoiding flash-intensive web design, of using CSS & good coding standards, good use of keyword phrases in page titles and headers, etc. These can be called the classic 'on-page' optimisation techniques. However, he also stressed the importance of good copy, web copy that engages the end user - "It's the customer, stupid"! There's no point in spending time & money gettting the search engines to deliver clients that you then alienate by poorly written copy.

From our perspective, as a web design agency, Jackson's overview was reassuring, since it seems to imply that we are following best practice when designing and optimising our client's websites. We tend to start the design process by understanding our client's objectives, the market they are operating in, and the customers they are attempting to reach. We then undertake keyword research and analysis, using tools such as WordTracker. We then try to ensure that we know the themes, the target audience & how to reach them, and that we have the client on board, before we start to actually design and build the website. Finally, we increasingly use services of the Leicester copywriter Gist Consulting when budget allows - in order to make sure that we're remembering that it is actually all about the end user or potential customer.

However, there was a sting in the tail of Jackson's talk. On page optimisation is only part of the story. 'Off-page' optimisation - essentially strategic link building - is of almost equal importance but is also getting harder! Google now smells a link farm as if it were down wind from a real pigsty. As the net becomes more cluttered, the worth of good quality links will grow and they will become harder to find. So, expect to pay more to appear in relevant directories, for example, in the near future.

As web designers and search engine optimisers, we will need to ensure that clients begin to get a real appreciation of the difficulties and costs involved in off-page optimisation. This may not be an easy story to sell to our customers, but if we don't then we will ultimately fail them. We too have to remember, "It's the customer, stupid"!
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