With close to 2 billion websites live on the Internet, findability online depends on a constant adherence to what is often referred to as “SEO best practices” (specific to organic versus paid search). This article explores what those best practices are, how they come to be, and spotlights how a little less optimization can go a long, human way.
I get it
After years working as a Senior Digital Strategist, I’ve repeatedly envisioned, constructed, deployed, and led countless of paid and organic campaigns for brands across search and social; and as a former Director of Web Communications and Senior UX Lead (leading domestic and offshore dev and design teams) across a multitude of desktop and mobile appdev projects for brands big and small, I *totally* get that search engine optimization (SEO) is a multifaceted digital marketing practice — combining technical and content-tweaking approaches — for enhancing your site’s (organic) findability online.
Findability is SEO-dependent
Establishing and nurturing findability online depends on a regular deployment of what’s often referred to as on- and off-page SEO best practices; collectively known as “SEO best practices.”
While this article’s focus is more specific to on-page SEO, the overall practices generally include ongoing chores like, for example:
- updating website content regularly
- targeting post content with niche keywords
- adding and optimizing H1s, H2s and other headings
- incorporating relevant META details per page and post
- adding keywords to content paths and destination URLs
This overly basic list of tasks represents only a mere scraping-of-the-SEO-surface in terms of what’s recommended for establishing a solid SEO foundation.
Sweeping and granular
Search results for “SEO best practices 2022” on Google underscore the notion that the upkeep for all-things-SEO is sweeping and granular, especially for on-page SEO.
This is evidenced by the smorgasbord of links to SEO tips and tricks that touch upon everything from SEO-a-tizing tabbed content and navigational sections to image optimization and much more.
Beyond the SEO Shuffle
Yet what tends to consistently get lost in the thickness of the SEO wilderness are the drivers behind most of the “best practice” advice.
For example, when you examine the origin of where most of the SEO best practice advice comes from, you can see it broadly gets assembled and distributed from three primary pillars:
- Independent SEO consultants (individual freelancers, digital marketers, SEO v/bloggers, etc. who share expertise to attract audiences, build awareness, and grow follower/client bases)
- SEO technology platforms (SEO-related management software or cloud-based services who tout detailed and comprehensive advice for brand positioning, audience recruitment, and increase sales)
- Industry organizations (subject matter expert communities, associations, credentialing institutions, industry news and related groups)
This trio of SEO best practice dispensers are indeed SEO-fluent and knowledge-prolific; it’s impressive how robustly and speedily they share detailed how-to and step-by-step SEO best practice advice across videos, social media, and blog posts almost overnight the moment a search engine, namely Google, undergoes any update — large or small — to its algorithm(s) or interface(s).
The “namely Google” point is key as Google’s 83% search market share is the 800-pound search-gorilla-in-the-SEO-room that can’t be ignored.
With Google as the dominant search engine in use, it’s safe to say the SEO industry by and large gleans a significant portion of their best practice advice from the Google mothership itself; much of the counsel shared by these SEO best practice distributors often does reference specific Google algorithms or product upgrades.
In some cases, Google also has indirect influence on the SEO community’s best practice advice as there seems to be some level of conjecture and prediction that takes place amongst practitioners whenever the search giant doesn’t spell something out as explicitly.
In either case, the way SEO best practices rise and proliferate online works something like this:
- Search engines (predominantly Google), put(s) out (or doesn’t) detailed news, events, and content that speaks to its upcoming changes, bug fixes, or roadmap features under development.
- The SEO industry then swoops in to analyze, interpret, and disseminate that information while branding or positioning their take(s) and understandings as “best practice.”
What exactly is a “best practice?”
Oxford Dictionary defines a best practice as follows:
commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective.
This definition includes two salient points:
… commercial procedures
The “commercial procedures” aspect of any best practice originates from a business enterprise of some sort, and business entities are chiefly focused on achieving (and growing) sales, revenues, and profits.
… practices prescribed as “being correct or most effective”
With this “being correct or most effective” context, one could argue that the more SEOs optimize their blogs and websites in accordance to Google’s “correct and effective” specs, the more money SEOs inadvertently make for Google’s ad-based business model (more traffic = more ad impressions, more clicks = more $).
That’s how ad-based models work.
And like all ad-based model businesses, Google depends on sales generated from ad impressions and clicks to generate sales to be profitable.
These realities are not in dispute.
Here’s what *is* in dispute
Because 83% of the fundamentals for optimizing for search cater to Google’s proprietary search product, the Google:SEO* dynamic has tremendous impact on how content — the very fuel for all SEO — is approached, produced, and structured for on-page purposes.
(* The use of “:” represents a ratio between Google influence and SEO best practices. How much an SEO’ing brand tailors its SEO for namely Google may differ but broadly speaking, given Google’s search market share dominance, SEO best practices tend to share a strong correlation to Google’s search engine’s fluctuations.)
Under SEO best practices that generally do favor Google, the most basic, on-page content writing approaches one can take are:
Machine-first content approach
Heavily optimized on-page content tailored primarily towards search spiders, bots, and browsers; human readers a distant second.
Human:machine content approach
Partially-optimized on-page content; written for human audiences but always with *some* (Google-favored) SEO best practices in mind. Most brand writing and quality SEO advice favors this content approach more so than the first.
A third on-page option, albeit obscure or entirely unmentioned, remains
And when I say obscure and unmentioned, I truly do mean it’s kept completely in the dark — as in no one is blogging or posting on social about it or launching webinars to present it as a viable, on-page content option.
The often-bypassed approach I’m referencing is this:
Composing 100% “non-optimized” on-page content — liberally written from our inspired hearts and formatted for human-only audiences. Whether bots and spiders show up, index or not and so on is not a concern.
Initially, perhaps yes.
I think it’s safe to say most digital marketers and SEO folks would resist what I’m suggesting. Their disapproval, however, is understood given the tech-and-data-obsessed contexts of today’s marketing approaches.
But any resistance to non-tech-enabled approaches isn’t just a digital marketing/SEO push back; the reluctance speaks to a much broader, cultural and societal trend well beyond the bounds of any given industry.
And that trend is this:
Our society and culture prioritizes, prizes, and pursues technology-enabled approaches and solutions over human-centered ones.
Under such tech-and-data-first-and-only-preference climates, it would be no surprise my suggestion to publish not-as-optimized** on-page content may be met with some level of scrutiny.
(**I’m suggesting limited or no on-page optimization; but off-page optimizations would sure still remain in place. My focus is far more on writers, aka. human beings, being able to digitally write freely while expanding their creativity in a way unhindered by the regimented details of (Google-favored) SEO on-page optimization practices.)
This unfortunate reaction is a strong indicator that the Google:SEO* influence across 83% of our content development, brand writing, and digital publishing practices has become so rotely pervasive that the mere suggestion to compose (some or any) content without keywords or optimization** in mind may be regarded as a folly endeavor.
The resistance to a not-as-optimized**, on-page writing approach occurs because swaths of people (industries and organizations alike) have surrendered, knowingly or not, 83% of their word and content powers to “SEO best practices” mandated (mostly) by Google.
Writing for the web doesn’t have to have to this proprietary or mechanized.
And en masse, we can gradually change this skewed SEO “best practice” dynamic or way of thinking, one non-optimized** piece of content at a time.
As a technologist, I’m not opposed to search engines, optimizations, or algorithms and the like, despite the tenor of this writing.
Digital media technologies have become essential conveniences for human thriving within our modern world.
But as a humane technologist, I’m advocating for greater balance and expanded humanity in the realm of content development options.
Optimized and non-optimized on-page content approaches each have their merit; both are needed, and both matter. Plus the notion of “better” is always 100% subjective and highly contextual.
Also, I’m not (repeat ***NOT***) suggesting one should ignore the value or need for machine-first or human:machine content approaches, as described earlier.
What I *am* suggesting, however, is that digital writers consider complementing their SEO-optimized, on-page content efforts with an occasional piece of non-optimized** content, at least from time to time.
As the demand for content-everything continues surging online, bold brands seeking to expand the range of their content efforts and develop more engaging, creative, and emotive content for audiences will welcome the idea of folding in a more humanized, less optimized content approach into their existing content practices with open minds and willing hearts.
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Thanks for reading!
I write about human-technology interaction, mediated technologies, and cyberpsychology **but** I also enjoy creative writing, graphic design/computer art, visual art, and more. Check out my Medium lists to see if there’s something more I’ve published that might be of interest to you 🙏.