Be Relevant and Useful

By , August 1, 2009

For at least 14 years, I’ve repeated the same “mantra” for web publishers: Be relevant and useful.

That’s the answer to many “how can I” questions:

  • “How can I make money from my web site?”
  • “How can I get more traffic?”
  • “How can I increase my sales?”
  • “How can I attract links from other sites?”
  • “How can I increase my ranking in the search engines?”
  • “How can I grow my list of ‘followers‘ on Twitter?”
  • “How can I make people like me?”

Yes, folks, it’s just that simple: Be useful and relevant.

Of course, “simple” isn’t the same as easy.  In fact, “being useful and relevant” can be an incredibly complex and difficult task.

You can’t be “useful” or “relevant” to everyone — only to a specific audience.  That’s a huge “problem” for many web publishers: you can’t be all things to all people; you must narrow your focus in order to serve a particular audience.

Of course, being “relevant and useful” isn’t enough to guarantee any particular results — but I absolutely believe that it’s an essential foundation.  Many web publishers over-rely on “search engine optimization” techniques that lead them to shift away from “relevance and usefulness” — for example, rewriting articles, titles, and headings to optimize “keyword density” and “keyword position” for search-engine crawlers (web robots), or splitting articles into “chunks” that are each optimized for a specific keyword.

Finally, I must emphasize one key point: it’s not enough for your site to appear useful and relevant — it must actually be useful and relevant.  Web publishers whose sole focus is on “attracting traffic” often over-emphasize “keywords” (search phrases) without actually delivering on the “promise” that comes from a high ranking for a particular search phrase. That “promise” is that you will answer the question, meet the need, or solve the problem.  If your web site doesn’t deliver on the promise, you’ll quickly lose that high ranking.

Note: In 2009, when I posted this, a Google search for the terms “relevant and useful” and “seo” together returned 18,000 web pages. In May 2012, it returns a list of five or six — ironically, none of them are relevant or useful.

2 Responses to “Be Relevant and Useful”

  1. Totally agree. Looks like we’ve both been advocating that for a loooong time. I’ve been living by that thought, “be relevant and useful for your readers” since I started online with a school website back in 1997. My first “commercial” site was launched in June of 1999 – and several of those original pages are still ranking well – because of that simple mantra. Bravo – to us…

  2. Mark Welch says:

    Interesting: today, when I execute the search for “relevant and useful” plus “seo,” Google gives me just five results (some absurdly irrelevant), not 18,000.

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