As with so many things in life, perspective is important. On the surface it’s easy to say Bing likes SEO. But what does this actually mean? Do we actually care whether you have clean URLs, H1 tags and properly written meta descriptions? Sure we do, but the reasons might not be what you’re thinking. At the very core of its work, SEO is about improving a website. In today’s ever-populated SERPs, that’s important. Small things can help your website appear ahead of a competitor in the results, and with so much money online today, every advantage counts, right?
Well, yes and no.
Ranking well today requires so much more than just tweaking basic, on-page technical factors.
And you can never escape the basic rule of business: that being you need a positive ROI to stay in business long term.
As an SEO, you’ve been asked before “What’s the return if we insert an H1 tag on that page?” And your answer usually began with “…er…”, “…umm…” or some other general stammering. Savvy amongst the SEO crowd would gravitate towards an answer that started sort of like this, “Now, you see, SEO isn’t about individual items, but the sum of all the parts combined…” The bottom line remained however, that in your heart of hearts you knew the actual, direct answer to the question is “The H1 tag installation alone will likely net no measurable gain.” At some point you need to be honest if the work you’re doing actually returns a net positive gain to the company. Does chasing that one lingering on-page element change the balance sheet at the end of the month?
So what’s the point of having the H1 then?
Blame Gutenberg. With the advent of the printing press in the 15th century came an almost immediate need to figure out how content on the page should be laid out. With finite space to print on, and news abounding, early newspapers understood the value of a headline. This heading was precious space, designed to capture the eye with bold, large fonts, enticing the viewer to buy the newspaper. Today’s H1 tag fulfills much the same roll, albeit modified slightly. Whereas the heading on an old-timey newspaper was meant to get you to buy the paper, today’s H1 tag’s job is to help you quickly understand the content of the page. The sales “ask” being not money, but for your time. Both then and now, part of the heading’s job was to explain the content held within. Sure, this information is helpful for us as an engine, but really, this is for the people. It helps them understand what they are about to consume and determine of the content on the page matches their needs. The H1 is more about usability than outright SEO. If you subscribe to the idea that SEO is about usability, then you’re on the right track.
What about clean URLs?
Not so many years ago you’d find plenty of websites with disastrously long URL strings. Many still exist today. Our crawlers can, by in large, get through these now. Still, shorter and cleaner is better and easier to crawl, which we always appreciate. We also appreciate the “hint” that the keywords in a URL can provide to us towards relevancy of the content. An additional benefit from using clean URLs goes directly to how a visitors sees your website. With today’s tabbed browsing experiences, it’s harder to read the entire <title> at the top of a browser. In many cases, the very next section either next to, or below those tabs, is the address bar, where your clean, keyword rich URL is on display. Now, if that URL holds the title it may be immediately visible to a visitor, helping to explain the content of the page. Admittedly, this is a low percentage situation, but there is still some merit. Finally, what about all those times that links get pointed at your site with the URL as the anchor text. At least with a keyword rich URL there’s a chance to get some keywords into that anchor text. Again, a small win, but a win nonetheless. In truth, as long as we can get through the URL, either type of URL works fine in most cases. We’re after the content on the page, don’t forget, so the URL is a small thing in the big picture we’re looking at.
Think of these as your call to action that gets placed in front of a searcher. The meta description is your chance to expand on the idea or topic noted in the page title, and insert a call to action for the searcher to take. This call to action can be as overt as “click here now” or as subtle as “complete your task with our tools”. The range is nearly limitless. Those roughly 160 or so characters that appear in the SERP are really a chance to sell your site to the searcher. “Dear searcher, you should visit my site, and let me explain why…”
Failure to craft a good meta description is met with our best attempt to fill the void. Blank meta descriptions and poorly constructed ones are skipped over in favor of content we find elsewhere in an attempt to explain relevancy to the searcher in our SERPs. We may pull from content on the page, the ODP listing for the site (if there is one), etc. The point here is that you should take control of this space to help the searcher zero in on your listing in the SERP. What you shouldn’t do, however, is pin your hopes on the meta description suddenly vaulting you higher in the rankings. While we can see them, and are happy to read them and take hints from them as to the relevancy of the content on the page, they aren’t a silver bullet for rankings.
What’s the point of all this you ask? Well, the bottom line is this:
If SEO is viewed as an investment in the usability of a website, you’re onto something. If, on the other hand, you feel SEO is the full monty on its own, you need a hit the reset button. We’ve progressed far enough today in the world of search that even poorly optimized sites can give off signals strong enough to rank well. Thanks to the integration of social signals, a niche player can jump ahead of entrenched sites to capture eyeballs through sheer force of being viral. This doesn’t mean that social alone has the power to guarantee you rankings, but when unique content, a good user experience (UX) and social come together, the net result can lead to favorable rankings.
When it comes to SEO, if your investment is centered around building a more useful, useable website, then you’re on the right track. If your goal is simply to game your way to a top ranking, thinking “SEO” is a short-cut around investing in quality content or a solid UX, in the long run you’ll fail. In fact, today it might make sense for us to move past calling the work search engine optimization. Maybe “content optimization” or “experience optimization” may better capture the nature of the work performed. Today, tweaking those few on-page elements that still are useful signals to a search engine is only one very small slice of the pie. Factoring in social, content creation and user experience alone easily vaults the work past the status of simply “SEO”.
And in the end, if you’re still focused on “what the search engine wants”, you’re at the wrong party. The cool kids long ago moved past this type of thinking. Today’s environment demands you think of the big picture at all times, and you might even say that basic SEO work has been relegated to the “tactic” pile. Still worth doing, but more muscle-memory than “deep-thought” type work. Today your focus needs to extend to social interactions, click rates, user satisfaction, the trace of actions groups of users leave when interacting with you in the SERPs and so much more.
Yes, Bing likes SEO. Trouble is, it might not be SEO as you think of it. This depends on who you’re focused on. The engine, or the searcher. Bing very clearly focuses on the searcher. Maybe you should to?