The Human Factor: SEO for People

June 14th, 2007 by Chris

There is a pervasive myth or misconception in the SEO world that has to do with how your site is constructed. Many believe that your site needs to be strict xhtml with a table-less CSS markup or the search engine is going to vomit when it tries to crawl your site. They correctly recognize that a compatible, quick loading, standard following markup tends to be good for the end user and so they figure a search engines wants, nay needs, to see that.

This is not true in the slightest, a search engine will happily gobble down 1995 spawned HTML markup generated by Frontpage if it is surrounding good content.

Instead, what people have stumbled onto here, is the Human Factor. The Human Factor, summed up simple, is this: If people like your site, you will rank better.

How is this possible? Well there is this little implant put in your brain at birth and…. Well actually, its possible because of a beautiful system called PageRank developed by Lawrence Page & Sergey Brin, the guys who founded Google. PageRank, at it’s core, is a recommendation system, if a site is recommended, it gets a little bonus. But I’m not here to talk about PageRank, follow the above link to read more on it. I’m here to talk about the Human Factor.

It is important when building, optimizing, and hoping to profit from a website that you remember the human factor. You can do something to make your site better, and doing so can in the end help your search engine rankings, increase your traffic, and make you more money, and it isn’t going to be because of any direct connection with any of those things, but rather because you made your site better, more enjoyable, and yes people like it.

So many SEO myths end up spawned of the Human Factor, but they’re all easily enough explained away. More futile are the arguments that take place regarding it. Everyone will agree that you should do things like use clean code and follow accessibility guidelines, but what they argue about is the reason why. Some people just insist it’s a direct relationship, they haven’t heard about the Human Factor yet.

Well, should we really blame them though? Things can be confusing out here. For instance, some things that make your site better for people also make your site better for search engines. I’m talking about accessibility. What are search engines but big, relatively dumb, blind, text readers. They can’t see your final rendered page, all your pretty images, and aren’t always smart enough to use context clues. So the same things you add to your pages to make them more accessible to the disabled will help you with search engine rankings… both directly in this case and indirectly through the Human Factor.

The bottom line, and the purpose of this post, is to explain a simple truth. Often, the best piece of SEO advice I can give someone is to make a better site, publish better content, add better features, or otherwise make people like your site more. If you build a site that is useful, informative, and entertaining people will use it, they will recommend it, and you will get better search engine rankings.

Make a poorly constructed site with generic content, a shoddy design, cross-browser compatibility problems, and you’re just making your link building efforts that much harder.

So get a quality design, a professional logo, brag about your content, and maybe give your visitors the power to control content. They’ll like you for it, and in the end, Google will too.

3 Responses to “The Human Factor: SEO for People”

  1. Kyle  Says:

    Very well said, it all comes back to the seo that happens naturally without calling it seo.

    Regarding CSS though, I wouldn’t discount it completely regarding its effect on rankings. I won’t go into detail in a blog comment, but I think there are some benefits outside of the human factors you refer to.

    The most simple example I can give without going into detail is your navigation. Lets say you have a 20 link navigation on the left side of your content. CSS allows you to make this visible on the left, but the code is positioned below your content. I don’t think there is any debate that having your content higher in the HTML code is better than having a bunch of garbage above it first.

    Also, regarding Google, I have no doubts at all that Google is able to go through your code and not have prejudice over tableless code vs. 1995 code. However, MSN/Yahoo… could be a different story.

    In the end, your human factor statement applies to everything above… but my brief yet simple example of CSS and how it relates to navigation and content position could be a tricky debate. Other examples could be talked about in the future in a forum thread.

  2. Chris  Says:

    CSS has it’s uses sure, and there may be a keyword density factor involved as well with having cleaner source code. But I was more specifically mentioning it in regards to comments that it must validate perfectly.

    Also, FWIW, I wouldn’t put my content above my menu. If your menu gets cutoff by the page size limited those links won’t get followed.

    As for Google prefering CSS to tables, I really doubt it. I’ve never seen that.

  3. Daniel  Says:

    Great article Chris.

    I have always been a bit frustrated with the lack of time I have to put into SEO. I have always just focused on trying to ensure I have good content and run a community well. And.. its served me well.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am sure I could do much better by proactively trying to build links, optimising pages, doing searches for what might be the best keywords, but I have not done any of that and I have built a reasonable audience because we publish good quality articles and have a nice community.

    You reminded me I need to do more to make my site slightly better for the human factor, but also made me feel a bit better about my lack of direct SEO action :)

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