Optimize for Search Engines or Users?

Over the years a lot of SEOs have gone back and forth over this legendary question:

“Do you optimize for search engines or users?”

From my SEO point of view, it’s a ridiculous question.

We like to ask leading questions, and this either or type question is extremely prevalent in our daily lives:

  • Do you take the red pill or the blue pill?
  • Do you cut the red or green wire?
  • Do we go left or right?
  • Nikon or Canon?
  • Chevy or Ford?
  • Pepsi or Coke?

From an SEO point of view, can you see what’s wrong with all of these questions? They’re written to suggest that you only have two choices, when in fact a creative SEO will be able to come up with a lot more than two answers. SEO is usually not constrained by physical limitations of the real world, as in the questions above.

The most obvious answer to the question is that you optimize for both. The two choices given in the question are not necessarily mutually exclusive, that assumption is inferred by the question. Challenge your assumptions!

Other answers could be:
1) Test and see which wins
2) Take sections of your site and focus each section on either engines or users.
3) Create a similar site and write it the other way, then refer to #1.

You see, even with a question that started off with what appeared to be only two possible answers, within a few seconds, we’ve expanded to many more possibilities. With some more creativity, you can probably come up with a larger selection.

So next time you’re asked a leading question, take a moment, challenge your assumptions, then deliver your creative SEO answer.

4 thoughts on “Optimize for Search Engines or Users?

  1. I believe in optimizing for both as well. I also feel that user friendliness might play a role in Google’s Algorithm as well when it comes to ranking your site first. Perhaps optimizing for SEO should be the first goal and then begin split testing for a good usability factor.

  2. Hi Reuben,

    Stumbled upon your blog and found some interesting stuff here.
    I would recommend to put the potential client first. If he can find the thing he is looking for on the website, the rest will follow (including search engines). A good feeling and ease of use of the site is good for word of mouth… so you’ll get a good name online and will attract more visitors and thus more (hopefully) conversion (if you’re site is optimized for that i mean).

    It works both ways, but focus on the consumer.

    ps: feed added in my reader ;)

  3. Amen! When given the choice of writing for search spiders or people I always say write for people…your content should turn out seo friendly naturally, if not “perfectly” optimized from a spider’s POV. BUT you are very correct, that you can write for BOTH search spiders and people if you are creative…and you MUST be creative to be a successful SEO anyway.

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