What if search engines didn’t exist? This is a question that came creeping into my mind last night while I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. It’s a silly question, I know, but what if? How would some websites fair against others?
As I thought more about I wondered how websites would be ranked or even found. An idea came to me, what if content was ranked based on how it is perceived by the users? Real people, actual humans being in control of whether a website and its content are ranked high or low.
This may seem stupid or far fetched, or would it? As I scour the web on a daily basis, I tend to come across articles on the first page of Google and sometimes they’re absolute crap. I wonder to myself, how the heck did this get to page one? I know search engines (Google in particular) have really been trying to solve issues like this recently, pushing out updates and basing rankings on actual page content; but until this is complete, some crap content may still appear in top search results.
What I’m saying is…
Back to my main point, what if there were no search engines? The only way for users to find your content is through social media and word of mouth. Do you think your website would still be ranking where it is now if that were the case? Would it rank higher? Lower? It’s a fun question to think about.
Instead of your website ranking based on keywords, title tags, meta descriptions, etc; your website will be ranked based on how users see your site, this includes content, visual design, and usability aspects.
Let’s say your website design and usability are terrible. They’re out of date in terms of design trends, not responsive, terrible font and color choices etc. In reality search engines can’t actually see and perceive some of these design aspects of your website the way a human can. Maybe you have decent content on your site and it ranks high in search results, but this will no longer matter. Users will see your website as a visual and usability headache and won’t even give it a chance. Before you know it, your rank starts dropping and traffic begins to plummet, users don’t like your website’s look and you get a bad rank.
This can go many ways though. Maybe you have an awesome website but your content sucks. Will users share articles or information from your website if your content is terrible (even though your website design is stellar)? Maybe and maybe not, they may share your website for it’s design, but once they’ve seen your design what’s to keep them returning? Nothing, your content sucks so there is no point for them to return.
A scary thought huh?
Design is only part of the ranking decider users will use. Content matters tremendously for readers, especially ones wanting to learn something and get information from your website. This is why you should create the content on your site for the readers. Make it easy for them to read and understand so that they will enjoy it and keep coming back.
There are some positives and negatives to this whole scenario. The positive: users are in full control and they will judge whether or not your website becomes high ranking or drops to the floor and slides under the couch. This is a positive if you create great, well received content. The negative: users are in full control, this means if you create bad content, you’re done for.
If you toss an article together in a matter of minutes just to get a post out for the day, users are going to notice. So what if you don’t have anything to post about for the day? It’s better to not post anything than to throw some crap together in a matter of minutes just to show you posted something that day.
Hypothetically, with search engines no longer existing, you need to make your readers happy by creating content for them, good content. With the ranking of your site fully dependent on how awesome your content is, you need to avoid things like the “5 minute post”.
What I mean by the “5 minute post” is the creation of a post (article or page), that you put no effort towards and is usually worthless, just for the sake of making a post. I will give you some examples to go off of, both for sites doing it the right way and sites doing it the wrong way.
Not to put them down but Yahoo! is one of the bigger websites that, sometimes, is at fault to the “5 minute posts”. This is something I’m sure we have all done, I know I have; but for reason of example (and Yahoo! being a well known site) we will use Yahoo!.
Every once in awhile you’ll see a compelling headline on Yahoo (or other major news sites), you’ll click the link, and it’s a 3 paragraph worthless post. They got you, they duped you with a misleading headline and wasted valuable seconds of your life. It’s frustrating and from reading the comments on some of those types of posts, I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Designmodo and Smashing Magazine are both good website examples (I’m mentioning them because I frequent them regularly, I’m sure there are others) of websites with well created content. They are always on top of the latest trends and they make posts with meaning. They don’t quickly throw together posts just to have something new everyday, they take time with their articles and make sure they’re worth a reader’s time, even if it means not publishing something for a day. Most users love these kinds of websites and it shows by how many social media interactions they receive per article.
I’ll admit fault on this, there have been times where I was scared I wasn’t going to have a new article posted for a day so I threw something together real quick. It showed too, the article barely generated any interest because it was meaningless and I didn’t take any time on it. Things like this will decrease your rankings among web users.
The point I’m trying to make is…
If you haven’t caught on to the point I am trying to make with this post, I’ll lay it out for you right here in three words: make valuable content. Make your website and it’s content for the user, not just for the search engines. Don’t go filling articles or pages with loads of keywords to the point that a human trying to read it just gives up and moves on.
I’ll be honest, I fell into the trap of creating content for just search engines instead of users too, I’m sure most of us have. Some of my past articles are terrible, but I’m working on changing the way I do things now and I’m doing my best to create useful content for my readers.
Google is changing in a way that is going to benefit people who create great and meaningful content. Search engines are starting to focus more on content rather than how well you can manipulate them with keywords and such.
This is a good thing, at least for those of you creating awesome and useful content. It’s not a good thing if you fall into the manipulative category of terrible content but awesome keywords. I’m excited to see how search engines (Google in particular) will continue to evolve. I’d love to hear your thoughts, good and bad, on this whole idea here.