Google Ranking: Putting the cart before the horse

As I’ve mentioned before, I am working on a toolkit to help cancer patient educators adopt social media into their practice. Part of the project included circulating an informal needs assessment to members of CPEN and doing a quick analysis on the results to gauge the focus for the toolkit.

I was reading over some of the results of the needs assessment and came across one response to an open-ended question that really stuck with me. In response to a question on what a social media toolkit should offer, one person wrote “tips on how to increase visits to my website and increasing how early it pops up on Google.” I found this quote disheartening; it’s this kind of misguided logic that results in shoddy (maybe even SPAM) sites.

Since the needs assessment was among patient educators, it’s fair enough to say that the individual who wrote this response isn’t an expert on the web, however this logic permeates throughout all types of internet businesses. Some time ago, I overheard a conversation between a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Consultant and his clients. The clients wanted their site (their primary business) to come up sooner in Google search results because they felt that was the best way to get more traffic to their site and to increase their Alexa ranking. The consultant advised the clients to increase the number of new posts on their site, stating that “there are two ways to increase SEO ranking: quality and quantity. Judging from the existing content on your site, it’d be easier for you to go for quantity.”

Instead of being offended by the implication that their site lacked quality, the clients ate up his advice. While they would push contributors to produce more drivel, they would also revamp their existing pages by adding “strategic” meta tags, bolding keywords in the articles, and rename all the articles to include the keywords in their title. They were willing to pay staff to make these changes (which included updating hundreds of now-broken links throughout the site) with the hope of achieving a higher Google ranking.

I couldn’t tell you if this strategy did, in fact, improve the site’s Google ranking or not. But I can say that both the clients and the consultant missed the point (though I think the consultant’s ignorance was intentional).

Focusing on improving your site’s Google ranking is putting the cart before the horse. When you concern yourself solely on your ranking, you are putting an algorithm before your end-users, before the people you want on your website. Search engines read sites differently than people and tailoring your content for a computer is a surefire way to produce spam. It may work to up your hits, but it will also increase your bounce rate and decrease return visits.

There’s no quick fix to being popular on the web. You can’t trick Google into giving you a higher ranking, and even if you could, it wouldn’t translate into anything meaningful. And that’s OK. You need to give people a reason to stick around and come back by providing them with something they value, be it information, community, connection to other people, etc. It takes time to grow a successful site.

2 responses to “Google Ranking: Putting the cart before the horse”

  1. Great post as always Alaina.

    You really isolated a couple of the biggest problems in existing organizations adopting Social Media:

    1- Assuming that more traffic is always a good thing.
    SEO is just a method to direct traffic to your site, but if that doesn’t translate into a lower Bounce Rate (% of users who visit your site and leave from the same page), higher return visits, or higher engagement on the site (participation, shares, etc), that would be fooling oneself’s into believing that the site is popular when in fact it isn’t.

    2- Consultants telling customers what they want to hear instead of what they should hear.
    This is a tricky subject and I’ve seen it many times, especially when the organization that hires the consultant either doesn’t have the internal expertise, or in a few cases they have, but are severely under-utilized. That’s why someone from the organization should always do their homework before hiring consultants and do their research in evaluating the work of the consultant once its done. Consultants shouldn’t be hired to do a job and leave. Organizations need to utilize such opportunities to build in-house knowledge.

  2. Really excellent post As a blogger who has grown my site over the past three years and consistently ranks high on a search for breast cancer blogs, I can honestly say that I did it by providing the kind of content my audience want to read and share. I have written consistently (I do think you need to write both frequently and provide good quality content – I disagree it’s either or) Write for humans, not bots is the best bit of SEO advice I can give!

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