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If you work in digital marketing, then you most likely know the importance of search engine optimization (SEO).
But perhaps like other people, you also tend to confuse a search engine optimized website with a search engine-friendly one.
“Wait, what? You mean there’s a difference between a search engine-friendly and a search engine optimized website?”
Perhaps that’s what’s going through your mind right now.
Maybe you’re even wondering, “What’s the difference, and why does it matter, anyway?”
Okay, first things first.
YES, there is a difference between the two.
In fact, any comprehensive local SEO guide will show you that there are several differences.
And in many cases, people who think they’ve designed a search engine optimized website actually just made a search engine-friendly one.
Note that the optimization process is different both in scope and in scale, and when you learn what the differences are, it will be easier to understand why it’s importance for you to differentiate one from the other.
One-and-Done vs. Ongoing Process
Creating a search engine-friendly website is pretty much a one-time deal.
Once you’ve succeeded in the task, there isn’t much you need to do, except perhaps tweak it from time to time.
You may think of it as the first step towards making sure your website does well in search results—building a solid foundation for search, so to speak.
SEO, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that constantly evolves.
There are new keywords for you to target all the time, more links for you to get, fresh content for you to publish, and more traffic to gain.
Just because you’ve achieved top rankings for particular keywords doesn’t mean you can stop all SEO efforts because if you do, there’s a good chance that other websites will take your place in the rankings.
The day will never come when you get to say your work in SEO is done.
Difference in Focus
The people in charge of making a website search engine-friendly are mainly the web developers.
Their focus is on making sure nothing prevents search engines from finding and indexing the website’s content.
Therefore, they are mainly concerned with the website’s construction and coding.
Search engine optimization, on the other hand, is the responsibility of SEO professionals whose main focus is the messaging.
They make sure the content on the site is engaging, fresh, and properly targeted.
On Handling Content
Your efforts at ensuring that every single page on your website has unique content and that every piece of content on your site is clear and understandable to as many people as possible do not lead to a properly optimized site.
Rather, those efforts help make your website search engine-friendly and user-friendly as well.
In the same way, making sure that your titles and descriptions are unique and well-written does not optimize your site; it only makes the site search engine-friendly.
If optimization is your ultimate goal, then what you need to do is conduct keyword research and competitive analysis so you’ll know which keywords, titles, and descriptions have the highest potential for helping you rank well and convert search visitors.
It also helps to track user behavior so you’ll know exactly what kinds of content your target audience is most likely to relate with and find interesting.
On Navigation Paths and URLs
When you’ve made sure that your navigation paths are easy for a search engine to follow—thereby increasing the chance of important web pages being indexed—then you’ve made sure that your website is search engine-friendly.
However, if you have also made sure that your website is designed and structured such that visitors are encouraged to follow navigation paths that lead to the achievement of your goals (higher sales, registrations/subscriptions, etc.), then you have also made sure that your site is properly optimized.
One thing you may have also ensured is that your URLs are all simple and readable.
You may have repeatedly heard of or read about the importance of making sure all of your URLs are readable not just to search engine bots, but also to the human eye.
You may also have heeded the advice of making sure that anyone who reads your URLs will have a good idea as regards what that particular page is all about. In this case, you would have succeeded in making your URLs search engine-friendly.
If you want your URLs to be search engine optimized, then you will have to go a bit further. You will have to make sure your URLs follow the breadcrumb paths on your website and mimic your site’s navigation path.
By making sure that your URLs are aligned with your site’s navigation path, you can improve the way your URLs are displayed in search results.
Such an improvement can have a positive impact on your click-through rates.
On Duplicate Content
Have you ever used canonical tags and no index tags or any other hack to make sure you don’t get flagged for duplicate content?
If you have, then you may have thought that what you were doing was part of the process of optimizing your website for search.
The truth is that those strategies are nothing more than quick fixes that do not really make your website properly optimized; it simply makes your site a search engine-friendly one by ensuring that any duplication in content will not be factored in by search engines.
For a truly optimized site, you need to do more than just direct the search engine crawlers to the “right” content.
The best practice for SEO is to completely remove duplicate content.
By removing all duplicate content, you are assured that you will never have problems with regard to this issue and you save yourself from simply relying on search engines to follow the signals you have sent using the above mentioned quick fixes.
Following Search Algorithm Guidelines
When you work within the world of digital marketing, you are aware that there are myriad search engine guidelines you need to abide by if you really want to achieve your objectives where search is concerned.
The good news is that many of these guidelines are easy enough to implement, as they are already well-established.
Note, however, that by adhering to currently established and published guidelines, you are working towards making your website search engine-friendly, but not really optimized.
If you want your website to be truly search engine optimized, you have to go beyond the currently established guidelines and consider a lot more than what the guys manning the search engines are saying today.
You need to analyze where the search engines are likely to go in the future.
You should do your best to stay at least one step ahead of search engines and their filters.
Instead of focusing too much on finding loopholes that could help you gain top rankings, you should focus more on consistently providing value to your site visitors.
Working on One vs. the Other
Yes, it is important to distinguish the things that make a website search engine-friendly from those that make it search engine optimized.
By making such distinction, you ensure the accomplishment of all your search goals for your site. But does this mean you need to focus on one and forego the other?
No, it doesn’t.
What it means is that you need to understand how you can work on both for the benefit of your site and your business.
For one thing, you need to understand that developing a search engine-friendly website, while far from being synonymous from having a properly optimized site, is the first step towards getting your website search engine optimized.
In fact, most SEO professionals would probably tell you that you need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort ensuring that your website is search engine-friendly before you can really focus on the optimization process.
Remember what we said earlier?
Developing a search engine-friendly website means building a solid foundation for search whereas search engine optimization is an ongoing process that keeps you on top of search.
Instead of asking which one you need to focus on, therefore, you need to find ways of using both to your advantage.
There is definitely a lot that goes into the process of search engine optimization.
Getting to the top of search rankings isn’t something you can accomplish overnight.
But if, right from the get-go, you make sure the website you build is a search engine-friendly one, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time, money, and effort because then you won’t have to check what you’ve missed and go back to step one.
If you’ve already built your website, that’s fine.
There’s no use worrying about what you may have done wrong.
You just need to check your site and implement the necessary adjustments.
If you’re still in the process of getting your website up and running, then it will definitely be a good idea to keep the above discussion in mind and strive to make your site search engine-friendly so that optimizing it will become a lot easier.