One of the criticisms of standardized testing is that it encourages schools to “teach to the test.” Rather than educating students through a well-rounded curriculum, students instead practice only the type of questions that will be on the test, learn test-taking strategies, and other short-cuts.
Critics argue that teaching to the test may achieve desired test scores, but can actually cause students to learn less overall. When it comes to optimizing your website, you can easily fall into the same trap.
Teaching to the test is a key problem when it comes to websites and SEO. These are the website owners who anxiously await the latest updates from Google’s Matt Cutts or Rand Fishkin of Moz.com, and then immediately go and analyze 100+ different website analytics to ensure their search rankings won’t be impacted.
When your site is designed for the SEO test, what happens when the test changes? Websites that are engineered around Google algorithms are the ones that have the most to worry about each time changes are made. They read the news and rush to scrub off keywords stacked at the bottom of pages, delete paid inbound links, or rewrite copy to smooth out keyword-stuffed content.
Most recently, Cutts announced the de-emphasization of guest blogging. His post prompted more than 445 comments, and sent many SEO companies scrambling to adjust their strategies.
But as Content Marketing guru Joe Pulizzi commented, that’s exactly the problem when website owners focus on teaching to the test: “If your goals with guest blogging are to get links, you should never have been doing guest blogging to start with.”
However, if your goal is to grow your reputation, or take part in a community-wide conversation – i.e. doing it for the right reasons – then you should continue to do guest blogging regardless of what Matt Cutts says.
In reality, your SEO focus should be on just doing the right things for your website:
Make it user-friendly — Does your website load quickly? Once loaded, do people want to stay on your website, or is it poorly organized? Is it responsively designed, or are you making your readers pinch and zoom to see your content?
Make it relevant — Customers come to your website to find answers to their questions, whether about the products and services you offer, your location, or your hours of operation. To make sure your site stays relevant, think about the questions you’re asked most often by customers who visit or call your business.
Make it thorough — You don’t have to fill out title tags, meta descriptions, or image alt tags to set your website live, but these are important pieces of your site that help you get found during online searches.
Regularly update the content — You wouldn’t run the same print ad month after month, year after year. The same approach should apply to your webpage. Change up the images, post new specials, freshen up the writing, and blog! Google loves new content, but more importantly, so do your customers!
This isn’t to downplay the importance of SEO strategists. Some of my favorite co-workers are SEO strategists, and they do a important work helping business owners make the most of their websites and get in front of customers searching for their services.
You should rely on your SEO strategy as major league pitchers still rely on pitching coaches to review their mechanics. But a pitcher who focuses solely on his mechanics, rather than the larger goal of making good pitches, is ultimately doomed for problems.
Same for those who teach to the SEO test. Doing it for the right reasons may take some extra energy, but the results will be a stronger, better-functioning website.