Beware Of False Solutions

Just because someone articulates a problem well does not mean someone knows the solution. That’s when we’re susceptible to a false solution. In my many years of experience, I’ve found these two fake solutions to be very common, very distracting — and very disappointing.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Snake Oil

Oh, poor JC Penney. This major retailer fell victim to SEO snake oil, such as buying extensive link placements and other “black hat” techniques. And, JC Penney fell hard, with a detailed and brilliant expose of the situation making The New York Times, no less.

Now, besides avoiding embarrassment, I suggest that you avoid SEO snake oil because it will not bring you results. The spirit of a search engine is to find quality content. A search engine algorithm factors in signs of good content. When someone focuses on tips and tricks to game search engines instead of publishing quality content consistently over time, that person is missing the spirit of SEO. And, sooner or later, that person’s results will suffer for it. Google might punish the website or, more likely, the website will get the wrong kind of traffic, or visitors. If you drive lots of visitors to your content instead of attracting visitors who are interested in the content topics, you will be disappointed with the results.

And, now, a big caveat: I don’t think all SEO is bad. There are legitimate SEO concerns, techniques and advisors. Just remember that SEO tricks are not magic pills for your content ills. If you’re spending lots of time and money on SEO but not much on content, you’re on the way to disappointment.

Andy Budd recently discussed a closely related point of view in his recent article. He requests to “white hat” practitioners to distance themselves from the world of SEO, stop talking about search engine rankings and start helping clients deliver real value to their users. Therefore we should stop defining ourselves by the discovery medium and focus on the content itself, he rightfully argues.

Overpromised Technology

What else is not a magic pill? A technology product or feature alone. I see this false solution most often with larger companies, who put unrealistic expectations on products and tools such as a content management system (CMS), an analytics tool or a web application. For example, a prospective client recently vented to me that his organization spent $100,000 on implementing a new CMS but absolutely nothing on planning and creating content worth managing. The result was a one-person Web team destined to fail with its brand new CMS. This short-staffed team was saddled with:

  • managing every aspect of a very large website,
  • responding to strange or political stakeholder requests for new content and
  • dealing with the boss’s frustration with the lackluster content.

Sounds awful, right? Unfortunately, this situation is too common. And it needs to stop.

The Real Solution

No SEO trick and no technology product alone will solve the content problem for you. The real solution to the content problem is hard work that demands change in your (or your company’s) approach to planning, designing and developing interactive experiences. That’s what gets results. There’s no shortcut. And indeed, the path to content that counts is a hard road. But it cannot be the excuse for compromising the quality of experience we provide to our users.

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