SEO and content design at Confab

This blog post is 1189 words long. If that’s too much for you, the summary is:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to get traffic alone can cause pain. Be useful or get off the internet.
  • Look at this presentation - this is SEO and content working together and it is marvellous.

The tech side of SEO

I regularly have negative things to say about SEO. Let me explain those a bit more.

For all the tech stuff: schema code, redirects, reports etc, lovely. I don’t have a negative word to say about it. (At the moment.)

Page views are a vanity metric

My main problem is that some SEO organisations will ask you to publish pages on anything that is trending so you can get numbers to your page.

I have huge problems with that.

Accessibility first, please.

If you use link text or a heading to pull people in and you don’t deliver, at best you have wasted someone’s time. At worst, you may have caused pain.

Imagine having mobility problems and you just want a quick look at something that looks relevant. Clicking and scrolling can be genuinely uncomfortable for some people.

When you can see, you may scroll down a page to see if you can pick out the words and topics you are thinking of. Screen readers can skip down headings but they can’t skim over the page, so your audience won’t know if a page is going to give them the thing they’d like to hear. They have to go through the whole thing to understand it is useless. This is not good practice.

Swamp the internet with crap.

I have had a conversation with an SEO person who said they wanted to produce pages on anything – and I mean anything – that was topical, trending or any word they could think of.

Just so that people would come to the site.

The company didn’t have a product or service that had anything to do with most of the keywords. The strategy was to blast the internet with rubbish and hope.

Call me weird, but I don’t think hope is a great tactic.

Writing anything in the hope of traffic that might actually convert, is the same as writing white text on a white background. (Yes, people really did that in the early days of the internet when keyword stuffing was a thing.)

Generally, people go to your site, realise they are not going to get what they want and leave. At best, they won’t take any notice of you. At worst, they will remember you and not visit again because they know you are useless to them.

SEO teams are brought in at the wrong time

I have worked with some lovely SEO teams. They are very talented people who basically do discovery as we would: looking at what language is being used on what channel, what the priorities are, how much emotion people have and much more. All really useful and amazing stuff I expect any content designer to be able to use to the audience’s advantage.

But they were brought in at the end of a project to shove some keywords on a page. It’s a complete waste of their considerable talent. Understanding your audience is everything.

Confab session: SEO and content design

I read a lot of SEO material. Most of the time, I come away horrified people put themselves before their audience for some empty number or other that isn’t attached to a meaningful metric.

However, I heard Chris Corak speak at last year’s Confab and found him interesting as he looked like he cared for his audience. So I went along to his session with Rebekah Baggs, called SEO and content design: Integrating user-centered search strategy into your workflow.

I was blown away.

Here are 2 people who seem to have the content and SEO relationship totally nailed.

I’ll admit I was a bit jaded before I went to that session. My pal Gerry says I have experienced some terrible SEO practices and not all SEOs are like that. He is probably right. Chris and Rebekah go a long way to proving that.

2 short highlights of the presentation

I loved the way that SEO and content are together throughout the lifecycle of the project. We do this on every project we work on. I now couldn’t work any other way.

User experience (UX) is all about the user.

SEO tools can help you understand the user.

Bring all the teams (marketing, legal, product) together and you get to the goal faster.

What’s not to like?

Chris and Rebekah talked about having a shared roadmap, which some of us are used to but many more aren’t because their organisation won’t allow it. We suggest using journey mapping to help break those silos.

There’s was a lot about intent in their presentation too. What users want to do, what they search for and what you can do with that data. We use SEO tools for that all the time; the way that people talk about things can help you determine what they are trying to do.

The example Chris and Rebekah used was insurance. If you say cost and quotes – you know what the audience is looking for. But you can also prioritise the content with the volume that they are using their search terms.

There’s probably about 20 blog posts on this bit alone.

In my experience it is the exception, not the norm, to see content and SEO work together like this. Some organisations do and they do well out of it. I hope everyone who left Chris and Rebekah’s session is able to go back to work and see some change for the better.

Chris and Rebekah also gave tips on schema code and much more. I don’t want to repeat their session and what is in the slide deck. Helpfully, Chris and Rebekah have also created a worksheet.  

All I can say is I hope they do an online course on this in the future [nudge Chris and Rebekah].

I still believe:

  • vanity metrics don’t get long-term gains and can produce inaccessible content,
  • we should focus on the audience, not a search engine,
  • organisations should use SEO teams (if they have them) at discovery stage.

Every time you publish, add value.

The last point I want to make is that every time you produce content, you are spending time, energy and money. You could be making people into brand advocates, making people happy or at the very least not causing them pain.

We’d recommend concentrating on how you really add value. Don’t publish everything you can think of. Don’t publish empty content. Focus on what you can do well. It will serve you better in the long run.

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