screen shot of a new website

Who is Your Website FOR?

We want people to find your website and we want Google and all of those other web tools to help them do so. But we design for you and your clients first.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m the least tech-savvy person in our office. As the copywriter (and someone who began with a long history in the restaurant business), I focus on the words our clients use and the words we use for them. I make three sentences three paragraphs and 2,500 words 250 characters. As our designers and developers build new websites and begin to explore the UX (user experience) they try to figure out where people instinctively look, what buttons they want to click, and whether the average user can find the information they need.

“Let’s get Chris to test it…”

That being said, I’ve had to learn an awful lot about how folks use websites and how to get folks to find them.

We had an experience several years ago with a client that was an expert in pest control – not the creepy crawly kind but pests like squirrels and rodents. He not only knew how to get bats out of your belfry, he knew why they opted for your belfry, how they got in, and how you could make certain they wouldn’t return. A client called him because he kept seeing snakes near his garage.

“You don’t have a snake problem, sir. You have a rodent problem and the snakes are eating your rodents.”

Up until he met us, his work was all referral based. When we began building a website for him, we wanted to make certain that it was functional, that it conveyed his expertise and unique character, and most importantly, that people searching for help could find his site.

When we began researching his peers and competitors, we noticed that the first 15 or so results in Google Search featured similar websites. Several of them offered the same 1-800 number for service. As we dug deeper, we realized that it was the same business.

This business owner had utilized a clever tactic to “game” the Google algorithms to make certain that he appeared on the first page of Search. While you certainly get what you pay for, he found a service that could create multiple websites for a reasonable fee. By polluting the web with these sites, anyone searching for an animal control service in Central Virginia would land on one of his websites.

Back end coding on a websiteThe 2nd facet of this approach was the use of keywords. By looking at the data behind these websites, we could see that a website titled “Bob’s Animal Removal” at “” with a physical address in Richmond was crammed with words and data that would lead most any search to his website. In addition to Richmond, the script in the back end would say, “animal removal in Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico, Virginia, Powhatan…” When a viewer looked at the website, they would read, “We can help you remove squirrels from your attic.” On the back end, the programmers had written, “We can help you remove squirrels, bats, opossums, rats, mice, birds, armadillos, chipmunks, foxes, deer…”

You get the gist.

Google soon began to get wise to these tactics, and now penalizes you for stuffing your code with keywords in order to game their Search platform. Yet while they insist that they want to promote compelling content that provides valuable information to users, they still reward the builders of websites for using algorithm-driven tactics – and sometimes explicitly encourage developers to do so.

A recent article in The Verge spoke of how Google has changed how we build websites. The authors built a website that appealed to them and that they assumed would be attractive and appealing to their viewers. But after they used Google’s web- and SEO tools, they ended up with a website that looked nothing like their original, and in their opinion, was less interesting and didn’t represent their character. It was full of titles and links and popups, and looked increasingly like every other website on the internet.

As it turns out, they had built a website for Google – not their audience.

We always start with the basics: What’s your mission, what are your values, and what do you want to say? We always build websites with an eye towards that magic word: optimization. We want people to find your website and we want Google and all of those other web tools to help them do so.

But we design for you and your clients first.

Share this post