The searchersThe 1956 western, The Searchers, tells the story of Ethan Edwards (played by John Wayne) who returns home from the Civil War and shortly thereafter is forced to embark upon an epic journey to find the surviving member of his brother’s abducted family. Most critics consider it to be among the best western films ever made.

Ethan Edwards didn’t search because he wanted to (he would have rather stayed home and rested), but because he had to. Likewise, people who search the web don’t do it without reason, but because they have to in order to find something. The goal of every search engine is to try to make the search less difficult for searchers.

As we embark upon a rewrite of our Search Engine Optimization class, Achieving Top Search Engine Positions, we’re contemplating how to teach timeless lessons about search engines and the way people search. Our goal is to reduce the need to constantly update the material to keep up with every Google algorithm change.

Search engine optimization is about understanding people who search and what motivates them. No one randomly searches the web — the act of searching requires a person to enter a keyword into a form, and they expect the search engine to return relevant results no matter how imprecisely they express what they’re looking for. Based on this knowledge, Google and the other search engines are constantly tuning the way search results are returned and which results are returned.

If you try to optimize your site to show up in search results where it doesn’t belong, you’ll have the opposite of your intended effect because search engines will learn that they can’t trust your content to be relevant and will rank it lower.

If you focus on creating high quality content that answers questions that your desired audience may have, you’ll succeed in reaching that audience more often. The reason is that more people will click your links and the search engines will infer that your content is relevant and rank it higher.

Besides issues of content, there are technical factors involved in SEO. If your site is slow, doesn’t work well on mobile devices, is difficult to read, or contains only lists of keywords, you’re not meeting the needs of searchers and search engines will punish you for it.

To have the most success in SEO, you need to understand people. People who use search engines are just like you: they have flaws; they say dumb things sometimes; they misspell words; they’re unsure of the motivations of websites trying to get their attention; they like to laugh; they care about appearances; and they appreciate great and helpful content and good user experiences. Regardless of the inner workings of search engines, the timeless truth about SEO it this: seek to understand people, and you will understand SEO.

We Are All Searchers
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