On SEO, good content and quality design

Yesterday, Derek Powazek, a designer and writer who I have always admired, posted an article about SEO called Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists. As expected, the SEO pundits came out swinging.

Interestingly, I agree with both sides on this one. Yes, content is king. Yes, doing something well, having people talk about it and doing that again really is the single best way of gaining credibility in the marketplace. This is what @pirie and @joelkelly are always talking about and exactly what we’ve done with one of our latest co-projects.

The fact is, if you create great content, wrap it in a compelling design that communicates and provides well-developed tools for sharing, there’s a good chance you’ll do just fine. You’ll gain mindshare, break into new markets and get a bit of credibility in the bargain. As some of the best minds in the business say: half the battle is getting someone to talk about you.

But, what if you’re a small B&B or cottage owner, with a niche offering and a need to fill rooms quickly to get money back on an investment? We’ve built a handful of sites for small vacation properties over the years. All of our sites are built properly, using standards compliant markup wherever possible. We get how Google crawls the web, and know how to create code it and screen readers will happily devour.

As an example, one of our sites for a group of architecturally-designed and constructed ocean-front cottages was launched and the client needed to fill rooms as quickly as possible in the shoulder season. This client had the budget, and so we engaged the services of a partner SEO agency who put together a handful of linked pages and designed a PPC campaign. The result? Much more traffic than they would have gained otherwise, a low bounce rate and increased bookings.

Alternatively, we also recently built a really great little site for an ocean-side cottage in PEI. It’s a beautiful site, miles beyond what they had before and gives a nice glimpse into what is on offer. However, PEI cottage rentals are hotly contested in Google and because this client wasn’t prepared to invest in SEO this year, I think they could have had more traffic, and potentially more customers.

The fact is, even though some SEO purveyors game the system, there are a defined set of rules that everyone has to play within. As such, if everyone else is playing at the party, and you’re not, you’re going to lose. Unless you’re in a business that no one else can get into (eg: ALC’s Going to the Max promotion), you need to play on the same pitch as the rest of the crowd, or offer something so different that your customers have no choice but to talk about you.

There’s no question that our clients have benefitted from SEO over the years. It’s also the case that some of our customers haven’t needed SEO to gain marketshare, as the the campaign was so good, it passed virally through the fingers of everyone who viewed it. I believe this to really be the secret ingredient of any good marketing campaign. But, this often requires more budget than many small businesses have. And so, good quality web design and development and a side order of SEO can help propel a business to the top of their niche listings.

Previously posted on

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