Optimize for the searcher, not the search engine. Focus on your customers, not on the technology.
It is incredibly important to get found when your customers search. However, it is even more important for your customers to find what they are looking for. And it is equally important that when they find what they're looking for that the content be accurate, up-to-date and easy to understand.
When your customers are searching for what they want, you should seek to save as much of their time as possible. They should have to click and read only as much as they need to.
This is not to say that all your content should be short. You need as much content as your typical customer needs. If customers really need 10 detailed pictures of the product before they feel comfortable to purchase, give them that. If they want lots of technical detail, give them that. But let the customer decide how much is enough.
The above sounds like a no-brainer, but focusing on the search engine instead of the searcher can lead to websites that work for the search engine but not for your customer. Search engine-focused strategies may help bring customers to your website, but then the poor experience customers get will quickly make them leave. Here are some of the things search engines love but searchers (your customers) may hate:
Lots of Pages
The more pages you have the more of a chance you have of being found by search engines. But what if these pages contain out-of-date, inaccurate content? If your customers find poor quality content as a result of clicking on a search result they will lose trust in you.
Let's say you add lots and lots of minor content to bulk out your site. One consequence is that the important pages become harder to find. I have worked with organizations who noticed a dramatic improvement in customer satisfaction ratings when they removed minor pages from the search engine index.
Lots of Content on a Particular Page
Search engines love actual text on a page, and generally that can be a good thing. But don't put text on the page just for the sake of the search engine. Only put text on the page if it helps your customers complete the tasks they came to your website to complete.
Think of Google. Let's say Google was a new company started by two students. It wants to get found. If it follows the advice given of some search engine optimization experts then it will fill its homepage with text, repeatedly using words like "search engine" and placing links to top searches such as "Britney Spears."
But Google never did that, did they? They focused on being useful. They focused on helping customers find the right stuff as quickly as possible. The Google homepage is not optimized for a search engine. It is optimized for people who search.
The best optimization strategy of all is: Do something useful.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.