I realized a couple of weeks ago that I use the term “SEO” so rarely compared to a few years ago. Search engine optimization is still a major part of our strategy when we help our clients with their online marketing. Yet, I abandoned the term because SEO recalls a time when black hat internet marketers would prey on consumers and business owners by selling them on the basis of the hot-button term of the day. Their goal was to game the system and boost the search rankings of a site with no regard for the actual website’s visitors.

It used to be easy to “outsmart” the search engines. I remember the Google bombing days when you could backlink your website to death and Google’s bots would have no choice but to assume you had something real and valuable to offer people. The reality of course, was that you could have a completely useless website plastered in ads making you tons of money for nothing.

Now Google has gotten smarter. They use a sophisticated algorithm that sets out to determine whether your website and brand is truly valued by the people who visit it. Today search engine optimization has little to do with strategic backlinks and the meta-structure of your website code. It has to do with people.

The search engines care about who you’re bringing to your website. They care about how those people interact with it. They care about whether or not they like it. They care about whether or not they tell their friends about it. And it’s pretty easy for them to figure all of these things out.

Do your visitors stick around on your site and hop from page to page, lingering for a while and exploring? Or do they leave within a second of landing on your homepage because they realized you’re not at all what they hoped for?

Do your visitors share your website by posting a link to it on their social media profiles? Or do they feel it has nothing to offer their friends?

Do you provide your visitors with high-quality content that consistently and continually adds value to their lives? Or is your website static, just sitting there in the world wide web taking up cyberspace?

The search engines know all of this and take it into account when ranking you. So how do you optimize your website for the search engines today?

Optimize for people. Optimize for your customers. Optimize for the customers you want. And the search engines will do their best to send them to you.

Is search engine optimization dead? Not in the slightest. The search engines are just more optimized. And we have to keep up our end of the bargain by giving searchers what they need, want, and deserve.