There is a lot of confusion about what makes a website search engine friendly and what makes it search engine optimized.
When a business goes to get their site built by a developer, the best a developer can do is to make the sure the site is search friendly. But the process of optimizing that same site is vastly different, both in scope and scale.
To clear up any misunderstanding, let’s look at the difference between the two. Bear in mind that when I talk about “SEO,” I’m really talking about optimizing your entire web presence (“web presence optimization,” as I like to call it).
SEF is One-and-Done. SEO is Ongoing.
Making a site search engine friendly is pretty much a one-time only process. There may be a hundred things involved in that process, but once a site is search engine friendly, there isn’t much more to do unless and until there is a forced change to the system.
Search engine optimization is an ongoing process. There are always more keywords to optimize, more content to create, more links to get, more rankings to achieve, more traffic to build, and more conversions to fulfill. There is never a day when the SEO gets to sit back and say, “It’s done!”
SEF Focuses on Site Construction. SEO Focuses on Site Messaging.
Developers are largely the ones in charge of building a search engine friendly site. Which means much of what they do focuses on the construction and coding of the site. They want to remove any barriers that prevent search engines from easily finding and indexing the content.
Search engine optimization cares a great deal about the construction of the site, but it also focuses on the content and messaging. It’s the SEOs job to make sure the content can be found (working with the developers) and that the content engages the visitor, moving them toward the goals.
SEF Ensures All Pages have Unique Content. SEO Optimizes Content for Rankings and Conversions.
There is value in making sure every page of the site has unique content. It can be as little as a paragraph or as much as several hundred words, depending on the needs of the page. A search engine friendly site will ensure there is unique content on each page of the site.
Search engine optimized content is content that does more than hold a place on the page. It’s content that is specifically relevant to what searchers are looking for and optimized to perform well in the search engines. That means considering more than just keywords, but the messaging and authority of each page as well.
SEF Uses Title and Description Tags. SEO Optimizes Title and Description Tags to Get Clicks.
When a search engine friendly site is rolled out, every page will have a unique title and description that is relevant to each page it’s on.
The title and description tags have to play a much bigger role when a website is optimized. While it’s important that they support the messaging of the page, they also have to match the searcher’s needs. This means not only adding keywords to the tags, but using compelling language that entices the visitor to choose that site over any others in the results.
SEF Implements Readable URLs. SEO Implements URLs That Follow the Navigation Paths.
URLs should always be readable to the human eye. In fact, you should be able to look at the URL for any page and have a pretty good idea as to what the page is about. A search engine friendly site makes sure all URLs are simple and readable.
But a search engine optimized site takes the URLs one step further. URLs should mimic the navigation and breadcrumb paths on the site. Instead of site.com/page, the URL should use relevant navigational paths: site.com/navigation/sub-navigation/page/. Keeping URLs aligned with your navigation path can impact how your URL displays in the search results, which can impact click-through rates.
SEF Employs Canonical Tags to Prevent Duplicate Content Issues. SEO Helps You Eliminate Duplicate Content Issues Altogether.
A search engine friendly site will be set up in a way that duplicate content won’t be a factor in the search engine algorithms. This is done with the appropriate usage of no-index and canonical tags and some other clever strategies. But in all, these are just band-aid fixes.
A search engine optimized site will do more than direct search engines to the “correct” content. It will eliminate the duplicate content altogether, to the degree allowed by the CMS. It’s always better to remove all duplicate content to avoid possible issues than to send signals that you hope the search engines will follow.
SEF Adheres to Current Algorithmic Guidelines. SEO Adheres to Algorithmic Guidelines of the Future.
A search engine friendly site should adhere to a majority of the currently published search engine guidelines. Many of the guidelines are pretty well established and easy to implement from a coding perspective.
However, a search engine optimized site goes far beyond what the search engines say today. It focuses on where the search engines are going tomorrow. A truly optimized site should be way ahead of search engine spam filters, implementing solutions that bring value to their visitors, not just solutions that find loopholes that get them rankings.
SEF is Just a Start
Having a search engine friendly site is the first step to having a search engine optimized site. In fact, most SEOs spend a good deal of time making sites search engine friendly before they can even begin the process of optimization. But that’s only because the site wasn’t SEF to begin with.
If you build a search engine friendly site from the get-go, you’ll save a lot of time and money by not having to go back to re-do what the developer should have done. Plus, the site will be ready to be promoted as soon as it’s rolled out. Not only does that save you money, but it shortens your time to web marketing success!
What do you think? Do you agree with how I differentiate search engine friendly and search engine optimized?