Remember our post on Nofollow links? That was prompted by a presentation made by Matt Cutts, the Google software engineer who has gained some notoriety in the SEO world by keeping a blog. For optimization professionals, his word is practically law – or at least, it’s as close as they are going to get to understanding the finer points of the famous and ever-changing Google algorithm.

Cutts’ transparency is legendary and admirable. His blog posts are often followed by hundreds of comments, queries, and even angry quibbles – and what is most remarkable is that he tends to find the time to answer them.

I mention him not because he’s a good read (if you are not completely immersed in the world of SEO, you may actually find his posts rather heavy going), but because he followed up the presentation we referred to with a post that clarified his points even further – and, of course, allowed for extended debate in the comments below. Read the post here if you would like to know all about Google’s attitude to page sculpting, plus a bit more about page rank and how it is distributed. As I say, though, it’s fairly in-depth, and perhaps not one for novices to the industry.

I return to the topic really because Cutts put, even more clearly, the point which struck me in my last post. Here are his words:

<I>The notion of “PageRank sculpting” has always been a second- or third-order recommendation for us. I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.</I>


<I>Search engines want to return great content. If you make such a fantastic site that all the web has heard of you, search engines should normally reflect that fact and return your site. A lot of bad SEO happens because people say “I’ll force my way to the top of Google first, and then everyone will find out about my site.” Putting rankings before the creation of a great site is in many ways putting the cart before the horse. Often the search rankings follow from the fact that you’re getting to be well-known on the web completely outside the sphere of search. Think about sites like Twitter and Facebook–they succeed by chasing a vision of what users would want. In chasing after that ideal of user happiness and satisfaction, they became the sort of high-quality sites that search engines want to return, because we also want to return what searches will find useful and love. By chasing a great user experience above search rankings, many sites turn out to be what search engines would want to return anyway.</I>

This is the clearest explanation I have yet seen of one of Notting Hill Web Design’ most deeply-held beliefs. First and foremost, we will always advise you to look at your content. Yes, we can perform what some may consider minor ‘miracles’ with SEO – but you will make our job a lot easier, and your customers will be a lot happier if you concentrate on great functionality and superb content before you even look at SEO. Furthermore, you might even find that by addressing your content and architecture in a completely user-centric way, you have already done half the SEO work. Food for thought, isn’t it?

Feel free to debate the issue below. Like Matt Cutts, we will find the time to respond to you ;).