When the web as we know it today was in its infancy, and search tools became a primary navigation of said web, folks starting competing for spots in search results. This got ugly, real fast. Tactics known as “black hat” emerged. Marketing bullies began using any means necessary to try and trick search engines into presenting their content first. Search engine optimization (SEO), they called it. Nothing screamed “sleazy” like SEO.
This ugly practice of black- and grey hat (slightly murky on the ethics side) SEO continued until Google emerged as the clear winner on search. The company took a staunch stance on user experience, and they began to punish the less-than-ethical SEO folks by turning their tactics against them. Suddenly, keyword stuffing did nothing. Content farms dried up. Buying a bunch of inbound links was now ineffective. The battle raged on, as Google announced newer and improved algorithms that would knock huge players off their horses in one fell swoop.
Increasingly, good SEO became all about producing and maintaining valuable, well structured content. While there are certainly white hat tactics (PDF) the SEO specialists can strategize around, the best foundation is useful, unique content that both humans and machines can easily digest.
UX Booth columnist Jess Hutton has more to say on the white hat tactics. At Confab Central this year, she’s giving a talk called “Keywords and context: How SEO can make content more human,” which touches on a more specific element of this discussion.
Jess will be discussing how keyword research is a powerful secret weapon for content strategists and creators, allowing them to produce more effective, relatable content. By researching and understanding how users (or potential users) are talking about the products they’re using, designers and writers can build a strategy around anticipating and answering their questions through content.
So, even though content strategy and UX have had a tumultuous relationship with SEO over the years, it’s this research that brings them together. Here’s what she wants her attendees to walk away with:
- An understanding of the psychology behind user-centered keyword research
- Concrete ways to build context around your brand and offerings
- Tricks to find the actual words people are saying about your product
- Ideas for adding depth and empathy to product descriptions, service offerings, and websites
It’s bound to be a pretty fantastic talk, so if you’re around Confab Central this year—June 7th – 9th—be sure to check out Jess’ talk (it’s on Friday, after LAVAR FREAKING BURTON’S KEYNOTE OMG).
Anyway, my point is this: try not to cringe when the phrase SEO pops up in conversation. Google’s been fighting the good fight to make it a positive thing; making content friendly for humans and machines isn’t so bad.