Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

Reality Check: Context Applied to Common SEO Advice

As SEOs and other search visibility enthusiasts, we all keep a checklist of standard search engine optimization tactics that match what are generally believed to be Google’s ranking signals. Unfortunately, a little information can be a dangerous thing.

If you understand and value the basics of content strategy, information design, and user experience, this post might not be for you. Then again, maybe you should read it anyway, just so you can high-five me on the way out.

The Usual Suspects

Here is some of the most commonly seen SEO advice, along with typical misinterpretations, topped off with some context to set things straight:

  1. Start a Blog
  2. Create internal links
  3. Use social media
  4. Get backlinks

SEO Advice

Start a Blog

Standard advice: Start a blog. Regular blog posts can keep your site fresh and current.

Bad SEO adviceMisinterpretation: Just keep adding content, because blogs posts show search engines that your site is fresh. Make sure to use your site’s most important keywords as much as possible. Keep it growing, the more pages the better.

Added context: Do blog posts intrinsically help the search visibility your site, just because some paragraphs are regularly added? No, of course not. Update services are pinged and search bots do come crawling, but if your content sucks, why bother?

Blogs do, however, give you us opportunity to write posts that might attract visitors, and persuade them to engage with us—or our brands, or our company—if the content is compelling enough to catch people’s attention. Great content has social network sharing potential, and is often, worthy of a a few decent backlinks.
Blogging for SEO
Don’t measure your blogging efforts in number of posts per month; a blog that shows absolutely no sign of engagement can very well be a signal to Google that nobody cares about your site—not even its newest content. Fresh doesn’t always mean good.

Takeaway: If, for whatever reason, you can’t come up with compelling content, then hire someone who understands writing for the web. Even one creatively strategized post per month can have a much greater impact than several articles nobody cares about. Content is not a feature that conveniently allows us to target search engines, it’s the lifeblood of a website. It is its function, and largely, its design.

Standard advice: Internal links help strengthen their target pages. Link to important content throughout your site using descriptive anchor text.

Bad SEO adviceMisinterpretation: Link to the pages you want to target with particular keywords from as many other pages on your site as possible, using the target page keyword as anchor text.  The more internal links to that page the better.

Added context: Internal links are meant to be user-friendly navigational aids, so use them where think they’ll help  your readers. Don’t take all—or random—opportunities to link to a page just because that page’s target keyword appears in a paragraph. Use internal links with discretion; when they’ll improve navigation and overall usability; when you’d like to give readers an opportunity to link through to related content.

Google is improving its ability to understand the context that drives content. Linking to a search engine optimization services page from an occurrence of ‘SEO’ on a resource such as a glossary would be inappropriate, because readers generally don’t want to be interrupted with marketing message when they’re learning.

Takeaway: When used appropriately, internal links can be used to guide your readers to related content. Used incorrectly, internal links can confuse human visitors and search engine algorithms.

Use Social Media

Standard advice: Make a Facebook business page and Twitter account to engage more customers.

Bad SEO adviceMisinterpretation: Just make a Facebook business page and Twitter account, follow/friend some people, update it from time to time. Everyone is on social media today, so it will attract customers, right? Wrong.

Added context: Social media can be used as a channel to engage customers. It’s only a tool in your marketing toolbox. With some effort and creativity, it can be a very powerful tool. Without the effort? A dead end.  Take the social web as seriously as you take your other online efforts, or don’t bother Nothing looks worse than a Facebook or Twitter page that hasn’t been updated in a year.

To make social media work for your business, you need to be social. Go figure. Make connections with people in your industry, your suppliers, the people you look up to, and the people that look up to you. Interact. Get creative with marketing you offers. Give people a reason to interact with you or your brand on social media, and they’ll become your brand advocates.

Takeaway: Don’t just create a social media account and wait; a desolate social media business page very well may be a signal to Google that nobody is really that enthusiastic about your brand online. If you don’t have the time, hire someone with some marketing or communications skills.

SEO Advice

Standard advice: Acquire backlinks to build site authority and trust.

Bad SEO adviceMisinterpretation:  Get as many links as possible, as long as they’re “followed”.  The more the better.Links from high PageRank sites are best, but if you can’t get them, look for them from social media profiles, forum signatures, blog comments, guest posts, and anywhere else, as long as you mix it up for a diverse backlink portfolio.

Backlinks for SEO
Added context: It blows my mind how many still misinterpret the concept of “link building”. The objective here is to attract links, not build them. Once you have some worthwhile content, then you can share it with your social network. Shares, likes,  links, and comments are good feedback. If you aren’t getting any of those on the strength of your content and some minor social media exposure alone, you’ll know you’ve missed the mark. Go back to the drawing board. Write appealing content.

Takeaway: If you want backlinks, put 90% of the work into creating content that attracts them.

Applying search visibility tactics appropriately can be challenging to the newcomer—as well as to the more experienced who walk a fine line between optimization and over-optimization. To those that get content strategy, information design, and user experience, the path to take often just makes sense. If you’re less than gifted in those areas, start with common sense. Leave the shortcut/trickster mentality at the door, and make visitors-first your new mantra.


  • SEO tactics are nothing without a visitor-first mentality and strategy
  • Tactics without context is just monkeying around


About matt

Matthew Edward is the founder of Springboard SEO, a usability-first search engine optimization company in Montreal.

  • Deluvas

    I was a little surprised when you described the situation with blog posting, but it’s true; you shouldn’t spam hollow blog posts, just for the sake of it. You could have a one post blog, but if it has quality and attractive content, you’re set.

    Informative post, thanks for sharing.

  • I see why you’d be a bit surprised by my view of blogging for SEO, I could have been a bit clearer there. I’ve now edited that section a bit. Thanks for commenting!