SEO, Usability, and The Golden Rule

I admit that I roll my eyes at the mention of ‘best practices’ and SEO for website design and development. Everyone makes it sound so complicated.

But it’s simple. Here it is:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Yep, the Golden Rule.

I’m not trying to promote a particular religious or spiritual agenda here – just an ethic. (Besides, the Golden Rule is found in some form in spiritual or ethical expressions all around the world, so relax).

A simple ethic to boot. Put another way:

Be considerate and empathetic.

It’s not hard. Yet, it is.

It’s not hard because we do this sort of thing all the time; holding the door for someone, calling a friend, lowering the toilet seat.

But for some reason it’s really hard to do on the web; maybe it’s because we’re all so focused on page rank or conversion or creating something really cool or increasing margin that we feel justified in putting our own needs ahead of those of our users.

I have another post in the works about the ethics of the web, but for the moment I will say this: concern yourself first with the real needs of your users. That means listening to, and thinking about, what they really need. It means creating content, interactions, and experiences centered around those needs. It means writing semantic code with accessibility in mind, because users browsing with assistive devices are users with equal weight to the rest of us (and, conversely, crawlers are not users).

And that’s really it.

Now, you may think that I’m oversimplifying things a whole lot, and that there’s a lot more to executing good SEO than what I’m suggesting here. I am, and there is. However, I don’t think I’m being disingenuous; take a quick look at Google’s own best practices document, (or anything else they’ve ever said about how their algorithms work and why they work that way) and it’s easily evident what their perspective is, i.e. put users first: quality content, good usability, and proper use of tech. Doing something other than this is really just a dishonest attempt to lure visitors; there’s a reason SEO professionals are equated with pedophiles (as the joke goes, having an SEO professional provide input on your website design is like having a pedophile provide input on your playground plan).


So, yeah, just give a shit about the people who are visiting your site (or your client’s site), best practices will follow, and people will find you.

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