I've never really been an algorithm chaser. As an SEO, I understand the need to keep up with what's going on with the major search engines as a prerequisite to being able to perform solid optimization strategies. However, there is a point where you start getting diminishing returns from chasing every nuance in the search engine algorithms vs. building a solid, well-optimized website that performs well for both search engines and visitors coming through search.

Chasing Algorithms is Like Trying to Hit a Moving Target

Chasing search engine algorithms, to a large degree, is like trying to hit a moving target from a moving train. It looks easy in the old western movies, but it's not so easy in real life. Optimizing your site becomes difficult because you actually have to aim while taking into account where you will be, not where you are. Otherwise, by the time you're done optimizing each page "perfectly", you're six algorithm changes behind the curve.

Chasing algorithms tends to be very short-sighted and too narrowly focused in the overall approach. Algorithm chasers tend to focus on a very narrow set of elements in an attempt to "beat" the search engine at it's own game. Such algo-chasers can be effective, but usually only for one search engine, and only until the algorithm changes in ways that do not favor their particular techniques.

This leaves algorithm chasers looking for the next optimization elements they can manipulate. In the meantime, rankings for their clients suffer, until they figure out what "works" today.

The problem here is that the search engine algorithms analyze over 200 different factors. And, what works for one site does not necessarily work for another. A "trick" learned here isn't applicable there. And, the trick is only good until the algorithm engineers close the loophole.

Using a mathematical formula to create an effective title tag or finding just the right place to insert keywords into your body copy is not an effective long-term optimization solution. Every site is different, every industry is different, and what works today for good rankings won't necessarily work tomorrow.

Chasing Analytics Lets You Adjust Your Aim to Hit A (Mostly) Stationary Target

Instead of trying to hit the moving target of search engine algorithms, it's far better to chase your site's performance analytics. While your audience isn't a completely stationary target, it is much slower moving and broader. As you improve on your optimization through analytics, you are able to see where your last shot hit the mark and adjust your next shot accordingly.

When chasing algos, you have to forever be looking for the next big change in order to stay ahead. You may be right, but you may be wrong. The data gathered from analytics is historical. Documented truths. The only thing you need to predict is what changes need to be made to keep moving closer to the bulls eye.

One thing to remember is that search engines just want to be like people. They are working toward adjusting their algorithms to learn what we think is relevant, important, and is what we want. If you look at the human behavior of those who hit your site and adjust your optimization accordingly, you're giving your visitors what they want and the search engines what they are trying to get to. You're staying several steps ahead of the engines, rather than trying to play catch-up.

The great thing about analytics chasing is that it's all about your visitors. The bad thing about it is that you can build a great user-friendly site and still get virtually no traffic from the search engines. One without the other is like having a fast sail boat without the wind. You can always use the motor to power it--or run PPC campaigns--but those are not as cost effective as the free wind provided by SEO.

Merging Analytics with SEO

Most reliable practitioners of SEO will tell you how valuable analytics is to improving their SEO efforts. It's not just about getting keywords to rank well, but it's what happens after those searchers visit your site. You can't get visitors to the site unless you have a solid understanding of how the search engines work, what "signals" they are analyzing, and what changes they are making that may affect your global optimization efforts.

You can hire the very best SEO that will get you rankings, but if you don't know if your traffic is targeted or converting, you're wasting money. Similarly, you can perfect your on-site conversions, but you need to get the traffic in order to convert them.

With a solid and applicable knowledge of search engines and analytics, you'll be able to merge the two into a chasing of customers, rather than one or the other. And, not just the customers you already have, but the customers you are not currently attracting to your site, but should be. That gives you a more successful website that doesn't only focus on one thing that gets you half measures, but on finding and converting your customers into profits.

October 29, 2010

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Some excellent points Stoney. Sometimes we can get so caught up in what the SE's are doing/tweeking that we lose sight of the big picture and what really matters which is traffic and traffic trends which ultimately will convert to customers!

Good stuff man!

I definitely agree. There are so many outsourcing companies out there promising high rankings but the truth and the matter is, conversion is what is more important.

I received an alert which is a practical approach to what you were saying. SEO and Analytics applied.

Great article! I think you totally summed up what quality seo really is. You made such a great point that the purpose of seo is "finding and converting your customers into profits." We can't be focussed on one arena or the other, but need to find a good balance between finding customers and keeping them.

This is one of the main reasons I am a huge propionate of in-house internet marketing teams. Granted, perhaps being an in-house professional myself I may be a bit biased. That being said, agencies have a tendency to throw around empty buzz words and focus on short term, over hyped results. Then they cash their check and move on, sometimes leaving the client worse off then when they started, ex. shady link farms, unnatural anchor text

A solid in-house team will look at the big picture and always do what's right for the bottom line.

Thanks for this article. I think people get so caught up with trying to figure google out, that they forget that it is the human visitors that get them the sale. Thanks for putting it back into perspective

Personally I do not pay attention to Algorithms. I pay attention to people, my potential customers. I learn about their buying habits, wants and needs. Then I change my tactics accordingly and I have found the coincidentially they coincide with Google. Follow your customer and potential customer, the rankings, listings, links and business will follow.

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