December 5, 2021

It’s Not Google’s Fault Your Site Isn’t Useful

Update: I wrote this post in 2006, but the advice is still relevant today.

Let’s talk about a simple concept that many webmasters and business owners can’t grasp: If your site isn’t showing up in Google it’s probably because it’s not useful.

Well ok it may be useful, but not in the way you want it to be. One of the hardest things to do in SEO is to look at your site from the perspective of a searcher. What’s useful to you may not be what’s useful to your visitors. That’s why it’s a great idea to hire a 3rd party company, they’re not attached to your site in any way; they have no feelings to hurt.

Let’s use a fictional example:

John owns a chimney sweeping company, and he’s really frustrated that he can’t get on the front page of Google for “chimney sweeping”.

John’s done his SEO, he’s traded links, got listed in all the good directories, put out press releases, wrote articles, has a blog and a newsletter, updates his content frequently, has a good PageRank, and even an affiliate program, but he just can’t crack the top page of Google for his key term. (2011 Update: He’s doing fine in Google Local – but only for his city, and he still can’t get into the natural search results.)

Eventually John gives up and buys AdWords. He then swears it’s a Google conspiracy to force him into buying AdWords. He even makes a post on Matt Cutts blog accusing Google of unfairly not ranking his “useful” site. He claims Google is putting a good chimney sweep out of business.

The problem here is that while John’s site IS useful, it’s probably NOT useful to somebody searching for “chimney sweeping”.

Among the top results for “chimney sweeping” we [saw – in 2006]: National association of, how to guide, training school, job profile, and how to find a chimney sweep. (Fast forward to 2011 and we see national chimney sweep guild, wikipedia, chimney sweep institue, and “how to” sites. Pretty similar)

These are useful sites. Why? the term “chimney sweeping” implies that the searcher is looking for information about the topic, NOT a chimney sweeping company. If they wanted their chimney swept they’d have searched for “chimney sweep Boston” or “chimney sweeping company”. These are the terms John should focus on. He should worry more about what his customers are doing and less about ranking.

Since John never did his research and couldn’t look at his site from the perspective of a searcher, he wasted months optimizing for terms that he realistically couldn’t achieve top rankings for.

That’s what SEO is about. It’s not about tricking the search engines or writing code to make your site better than others. It’s about anticipating what somebody is searching for, and then building a site that is relevant to that search – from the searcher’s perspective.

About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website: www.RyanMJones.com