While SEO is very
important, don't forget
that it's the people
— not the robots —
who are the
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COOKING FOR ROBOTS
by Liz Ross
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I've been thinking a lot about food lately. I keep The Food Network on my TV nearly non-stop, and I can't stop looking up recipes on various cooking web sites, like epicurious.com.
I'm not hosting this year, but that means I'll have more time to focus on the few dishes that I'll be preparing for the meal at my friend Adrienne's house. I'm considering a sweet potato dish with a lime glaze and some kind of corn pudding. But if I don't make my mother's stuffing this year, then Thanksgiving just won't be the same. And face it, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays (if not the only one) where people don't just like the food to be the same — they actually expect it to be the same... year after year after year. So when you introduce a new addition to the Thanksgiving table, you sometimes end up with disappointed guests.
A lot of the time when I'm not thinking about food, I'm thinking about search engines. And since it's difficult for me to completely stop thinking about food, sometimes I'm thinking about food and search engines at the same time. Like about how search engines base their rankings on how well web sites follow certain "recipes," even though they won't reveal what those recipes are. And how frustrating is that?
Like cooking, search engine optimization is all about trial and error and perseverance. But unlike cooking, there is no time-tested recipe from which to deviate in hopes of making a meal better suited to a particular guest — in this case whichever crawler has decided to come unannounced to dinner. Further, while the rules of cooking basically stay the same over the years, those pesky search engines change their darn recipes all the time, leaving us catering to an unknown clientele.
But, the meal must go on. So, in honor of Thanksgiving, I've put together a quick guide, which you'll find below. I hope you enjoy it!
COOKING FOR ROBOTS
The Five-Ingredient Fix
Don't Use Artificial Ingredients
Use Fresh ingredients
So how can you keep your content fresh? Add new products on a regular basis. Write reviews of those products. Invite guest contributors to write about those products. Add press clippings, articles, blog posts — anything you can. Why do you think I'm writing this article? Just remember to keep it relevant. If you're selling apples, don't post articles about oranges.
Cooking for robots is, of course, a silly idea — especially since robots don't eat. And if you love to cook, like I do, emotion is probably one of your favorite ingredients — a factor that those same robots wouldn't — couldn't — use to review your meal... or index your web site.
That's why it's sometimes good to put SEO into perspective. Yes, SEO is very important to the survival of your web site. But it's clearly not everything. You can invite a crowd over for dinner, but what if no one stays to eat? You can drive a long stream of traffic to your site, but what if they don't see anything they like when they get there?
While catering to the search engines is like inviting a guest to dinner without knowing their preferences for food, your target audience shouldn't be so mysterious. Cooking for people, after all, is something we're wired to do. But we often don't put enough thought into the individual people we're actually cooking for.
One time, I made peanut noodles for a dinner party without asking my guests beforehand if anyone had an allergy to nuts, which, of course, someone inevitably did. Even though my peanut noodles were delicious, my allergic friend would most certainly have given me a negative review.
When you invite people over for a meal, you should know their food preferences. And when you create a web site, you should know what kinds of people are likely to be your end users — and then serve them up what they came for. After all, it's the people — not the robots — who are the invited guests.
Which brings me back to Thanksgiving. This year, my son and my father will come with me to Adrienne's house, along with a lot of people I don't know and who don't know each other. Since my sister and her husband aren't coming up to visit until December, I'll probably wait until then to cook up some of our mother's stuffing. And since Adrienne's guests will be a mixed lot of mostly strangers, no one's expectations for a "conventional" Thanksgiving will get in the way of a little culinary experimentation. Ah, food. I can't wait!
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