Search Friendly vs Search Optimized

Last month Stoney DeGeyter wrote an excellent post about the differences between developing a site to be search engine friendly and one that has been optimized for search engines. Joe Dolson followed that post up with one equally deserving of comment and a little over a week ago Joost de Valk added another post in the chain. Now it’s my turn.

Before getting into it here are the three posts I referred to. Feel free to have a read and then come back. I’ll be happy to wait for you.

Ok. Glad to have you back. For those who never left allow me to quickly describe the issue. Design/Development and SEO, while sometimes overlapping are two different things. It’s possible to hire an individual or a company that does both, but doing one doesn’t automatically mean you do the other. Search engine friendliness is a part of site development. An obvious part of search engine friendliness is building a spiderable site. Developing code that allows search spiders to easily crawl your site is a friendly thing to do, but that doesn’t make your site optimized.

Optimization goes beyond search friendly development. Optimization will include research into keywords, ongoing link building, and plenty of testing to see what really is and isn’t working. An optimized site will be search engine friendly, but the reverse is not necessarily true. Whereas search friendliness can be seen as a one time thing, optimization is an ongoing process. There are seo tasks that can be done one time, such as generating a keyword report, but even then an SEO would continue to research keywords and add and adjust the original report based on testing and continuing research.

The Search Engine Friendly/Optimized Overlap

I’d like to take the discussion in a slightly different direction. I want to look at the idea of how the two disciplines overlap each other. From Stoney’s post

Design/development and SEO are two completely different things, though closely tied together. Each, however, requires a completely different skill set. Most SEOs don’t claim to be web developers (though some are), but oddly, many web designers claim to be able to SEO (though most can’t.)

The last part of the quote above hits a nerve with me, though not because I disagree with with it at all. In fact I’d go further and say most designers can’t even develop a search friendly site. It strikes a nerve with me because, I think it’s increasingly difficult to categorize skillsets online, especially when it comes to marketing, search engines, and design/development.

Search engine optimization is such a bad term to define what an SEO does. The name would imply that if a search engine isn’t involved it’s not part of the work. Yet I don’t know many competent SEOs who would advise doing everything only with a search engine in mind. Most would still tell you to build a site to please people first. Most would advise you to make a site usable and encourage you to market yourself in ways beyond a search engine.

The skillsets of SEOs can differ greatly from individual to individual and company to company. Some might be experts where keywords are concerned and others might consider themselves as link building experts. Amongst link builders some might consider themselves better at identifying link targets and acquiring those links, where others might see their link building strengths more in the realm of linkbait and building links through social media. Yet another might focus on viral marketing.

There are many things that go into making a website or business successful and just as many different paths to achieving that success. I think defining job titles gets silly. Here we’re differentiating between what’s the realm of a designer/developer and an SEO, but what about the differences between a designer and developer? Some web designers came to the profession through a background in graphic design and others came to the profession through a background in coding or programming. Either background can lead to a skilled web designer, though each background will likely lead to different strengths in skills.

Another area of consideration is the nature of search engine optimization itself. Let’s not forget it’s still a very young industry. Search engines are still trying to figure out how to rank pages. If you’ve been paying attention a lot of the movement over the last year had been toward tracking user behavior and traffic patterns and increasing the weight of user behavior in the overall algorithms. I think if search engines could get to where they ideally want to be the sites and pages that rank best will be those that have the best content on top of a search friendly site.

That’s not to say search engine optimization will be taken out of the picture. There will always be a need to research the words people use to find you and there will always be a need to promote your site through the use of links. The point is that the lines between disciplines tend to blur and will continue to blur even more.

I agree completely that a search friendly site is not a search optimized site. Search engine friendliness is a part of the greater optimization process just as optimization is part of the greater marketing process, which in turn is part of the the greater process of running successful business.

I think it’s important to understand that there is a big difference between creating a site friendly to search engines and optimizing that same site. The two are not the same thing at all and it’s true that different skillsets are involved in each. But I don’t like the compartmentalization of skillsets under specific job titles. In the end you’re probably looking to have a successful business and there are many different ways to get there and many different sets of skills to get you there as well. There are SEOs who can design a better site than many web designers and some of those who’s pages constantly rank at the top of search results would not consider themselves SEOs at all. Skills overlap and the line between disciplines is often blurred.

Ever since I started working online I’ve always wondered what to call myself. When someone asks what I do for a living I generally tell them I build and market websites. It seems general enough to cover what I do and easy enough to say without getting confused looks. I originally came to the web from the development side of things and in truth my greatest skill is the ability to create a search engine friendly site with an understanding of the greater processes necessary to build a successful site. As I grow as a person and a business I strive to continually develop my skills. Sometimes that means branching out into optimization, sometimes into more general marketing, sometimes into design, and sometimes it’s all about strengthening the ability to build a search friendly site.

When you’re looking at a company or an individual to help with any facet of your website or business don’t look at their job titles. Look instead to understand what skills they possess and understand what those different skills mean. There is a strong difference between search friendliness and optimization, but who provides the best services for each isn’t always as clear as the title on the job description.

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  1. Funny. Of course feel free to write that article and link back here. I think the idea of search friendliness being different from search optimization is a pretty good topic for conversation.

  2. Hii Steven,
    I was searching about the difference about search engine ready and search engine optimized themes and I landed on this page. I am glad to read your article. But, I think if your theme is SEO ready then you can make it SEO optimized via plugins or tools. SO, I do not think SEO optimized web design is a big deal now.

    • Thanks Ayan. I think you need more than a plugin or tool to optimize your site. Tools and plugins can help you do the work, but they can’t optimize a site for you.

      The tools can make it easier, but you still do the work to optimize your site.

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