Heightened Senses: Optimizing Beyond SEO

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If you’re looking for something close to a top ten or link bait post talking about some cut-throat SEO strategy, then I highly suggest that you close this window now and go on with your day. On the other hand, if you’re looking to understand SEO from a deeper perspective, then you might find this article quite interesting and refreshing.

I tried my best to keep this article as succinct as possible in hopes that it would leave you a lasting impression–and possibly heighten your senses and change the way you perceive SEO. To kick start my discussion, allow me to share with you a parable from the Chuang-tzu (an ancient Taoist text) that, in my opinion, perfectly illustrates the taxing pace of the reliant SEO life:

Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow and who hated his footprints, and so he tried to get away from them by running. But the more he lifted his feet and put them down again, the more footprints he made, and no matter how fast he ran, his shadow never left him, and so, thinking that we was still going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without a stop until his strength gave out and he fell down dead. He didn’t understand that by lolling in the shade he could have gotten rid of this shadow and by resting in quietude he could have put an end to his footprint. How could he have been so stupid?

Raise your hand if you can relate to the parable above. No? Yes?

Similar to the man in the story, SEOs are always on the run, in our case though, after the breadcrumbs search engines planted for us to pick up and follow. We’ve become so reliant on the objective stuff (though they are not at all useless), the ranking factors, the low hanging fruit, that most of us have forgotten to look up and see beyond the real landscape.

Where are We Actually Going?

I don’t know what your experiences were when you first started with search optimization, but in my early years as an SEO practitioner, it always felt like a race–a race to publish as much quality content, a race to acquire as much relevant links  from PR4 and above sites, a race to submit to DMOZ and other trusted seeds, a race to do this, a race to do that.

It was a mad scramble–and it still is today. Algorithm updates from big search engines leave us in suspended reality, biting our nails, waiting for the verdict–will we squirm in dismay? Or should we rejoice in triumphant rankings?

And it doesn’t stop there, Social Media has contributed big to the constantly changing state of search–social search is not anymore a theory–it is a reality. In fact, we see social activities all over SERPs, and we are well aware that social signals impact search results and human behavior.

And again, we ride the bandwagon and join the fun run towards better rankings–do you know where we’re all heading towards?

You tell me. I don’t really know.

The Picture that Speaks a Thousand Words

Don’t get me wrong–understanding the basics of SEO, pinpointing opportunities, and creatively implementing well-crafted white hat tactics,  are all good. However, until when do we subject ourselves to this unliberating consequence of being an SEO? When will we take a break, lie under the shade, and remove ourselves from the cudgels that make us typical, constrained, and common?

Honestly, I don’t believe that we should stop chasing the clues search engines are leaving us to understand. I do believe, however, that like the man in the parable, we should take a break, and loll in the shade.

I guess it’s because of the relentless analysis that we do that we forget to see the bigger picture, that the real question is not to ask where we’re going with search but to ask what are search engines after?

Believe it or not, I will end my article here and intentionally leave it open-ended. And before I finally end, here’s a tip that I want every SEO to think about in relation to the industries that they are working with:

Human Intent

Have you ever optimized for human intent?

It’s your turn, I want you to drop everything and loll in the shade with me. How do you think search is evolving provided that they are out to master human intent? As SEOs, how do we adapt? Follow? Or potentially even lead?

Jurgen Estanislao
Jurgen is a Certified User Experience professional experienced in Integrated Marketing, Human Factors, Usability, & Interface Design. He's also an avid photogrpaher, and you can... Read Full Bio
Jurgen Estanislao
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  • Changes to search are needed, but the BIG changes are what is annoying. When you follow a SEO plan that say Google says they like.. and you see results from that then to have them make a change that hurts all your hard work.. is annoying.

    If Google really wanted to dump crap sites they could do a more focused clean up.. and not do a broad slap that affects many people, people that are playing by the rules.

    leading is t be less and less dependent on search.. that is the only way to truly be free and have full control of your site.

    Social media is making search less and less relevant I believe.. why do a search when you can go on Facebook and get recommendations from people you actually know and trust?

    • I agree with you on trying to be able to rely less on search – and one great way to go that way is to have a strong brand, however having a strong brand is anything but easy, at least for small businesses. It takes either enormous creativity (viral campaigns,etc) or some serious budget – usually both – to build a brand strong enough that the majority of traffic is browser type-ins or through brand keyword searches.
      Google can release as many bamboo eating cute animals as they want but if you have majority of searches coming from your branded key terms, its very unlikely that your search traffic will get affected by it.

      Regarding your statement “Social media is making search less and less relevant..” – I am not sure I agree with this.

      To stop searching and relying on Facebook for recommendations – how can you know for sure that your friends have tried something that you are searching for – especially considering that an average Facebook account holder has 200 friends and that is not enough knowledge base to help you find whatever you want. Also, with new features like +1, Search is adapting to rise of the Social and to some extent, its bringing the Social factor right on its platform. You can stay in search platform and get social recommendations from people without having to go login to Facebook. Yes Social is gaining momentum but to say it will takeover and replace Search….not going to happen at least in the near future IMO.

      • Im not saying search will disappear.. but getting recs from friends comes with the same risk as search results from resources that don’t know much about what your searching.

        Yes your hoping Google will give you a high quality “real” source for info but the reality is most times it wont be the case.

        So you have the same chance of getting bad info from a friend and search.

        Search is important and will aways be so.. but social recs are gaining fast and the more social ties into all aspects of your life the less people will go to google for help.

        Having both is a good thing… the more places a person can go for info or recs the better.. do a search narrow down what you need then go to social sites for info to back your choice or vice versa.. that would be a scenario.

  • BizopMediaMarketing

    I think you couldn’t have said it better. To often I find myself checkin search results or Google Analytics first thing in the morning to see if yesterdays work made any difference.

    Business is fast paced and if you don’t act quickly you may be left behind and I think people to often force that mentality into SEO when the fact of the matter is that it takes time and patience to deliver results.

    • You make a great point. SEO is a long-term thing, I have to constantly remind my clients of that. Monitoring your analytics is important, I won’t deny that. But sometimes we get so caught up in the little details that we miss the big picture.

      • You got that right Nick. That’s the common problem, a lot of people tend to not see the bigger picture and instead focus on the numbers that can win them short business deals and the like.

  • Anonymous

    Great article- thanks!

    The SEO process has changed so much since I started in 1997. I don’t even like to refer to it as SEO anymore.

    There’s still a place for old school Algo chasing. But long-term viability requires a much more steady, MORE SOPHISTICATED approach.

  • I think the ultimate goal was always to provide human with better result and provide the search engine with what it needs to rank the site. A sword with two ends which you as SEO have to wield perfectly to create harmony not chaos. The difference is they have better tools now to recognize human intent and so the ” old dog” needs to learn new tricks fast. Nothing new either , it have always been steep learning curve in this industry…but who wants boring anyways ? :)Great read.

  • Thanks for sharing this article. I started doing SEO months before but honestly, I was not able to have this matter in mind all along. Thanks a lot.

  • Optimize for people not for your keywords , hope you have heard that. We will have to find some thing in between that.

  • I think it is just human nature to want to move as quickly as possible. If you look all around everything is about convenience and agility. Nobody wants to wait for anything even when they know they have to. The seed planting analogy just goes out the window for some.

  • Anonymous

    When started since that time or today time whole funda of SEO changed also competition is too much and you have to run behind the clients. all wants their sites in top search engine….

  • My rule, always provide for people. SEO sites that will give more information to people and use that info the way they want it. SEO people are always running because search engines always bringing out new updates, if we stop we loose our job.

    • Yeah, in fact as I mentioned, updates are very important. But by seeking first to understand, we can also sort of predetermine indicators that SEs might look out into.

  • Boy, some really reflexive posts from the SEJ crowd…it’s all true, though. I tell people all the time, “Don’t live and die by your traffic numbers or site rank.” If you produce quality content and optimize your site for humans and give them what they want and need, eventually it will all fall into place. Running yourself ragged until you fall apart will never be a good strategy. Here’s to everyone who takes this post to heart and shuts off their computer at 5PM and doesn’t turn it back on until Monday morning!

  • Harsha

    To start with, when I saw this post, it reminded me of what I think always and I am happy someone bought it up in better wordings than I could. I ve failed as an SEO couple of times in the recent past as my clients wanted their site to optimized for search engines and I always insisted them to optimize it for the people, failure to show them instant results got me fired. However, I see those were the best things that could ever happen to me, the type of ethical SEO practices I do today help me in getting a good night sleep. I am glad I see some people who question themselves just the way I do. Feels so good to read this post. Thanks for bringing it up. Cheers!

    • Thanks Harsha. The industry can really be harsh and often times misunderstood especially by clients.

      • Harsha

        True. My life is getting better when I started believing in “Change is Always Good”.

  • I’m finally beginning to uncover some decent SEO relevant posts that carry a deeper meaning. Meaning that can be applied and fulfilled outside the realms of the square screen before you, beyond the superficial, and into other powerful influential areas like, well like the Heart for instance!

  • Uday Patel

    Seo is a long term execise but clients wish for seo results if you wish to succeed in this profession first educate the client on how things work. Those who stick to fast results and link building in bulk check them. The will spoil your reputation.

  • Its really a wonderful article. It is good if our website is so user-friendly and make ourself, a best website for visitors. However, when we focus on search engine, we need to write content in a different methodology. In turn, you can gain visitors through search engines. So my opinion is create a user friendly content with some keywords for the search engine. It works!!!