If an organisation believes that it should be higher in the search engine results pages, the finger of blame is usually pointed at search engine optimisation (SEO). The logic seems reasonable: “we have a problem with search, therefore we need SEO”.

However, in most cases, this sends people scurrying off to fix the problem in the wrong way, since the issue most likely isn’t with SEO per se, but rather with the website’s content. While in some cases it may be that the content needs optimisation, it’s usually that the content itself is the problem.

The majority of search optimisation issues I’ve seen (and believe me I’ve seen plenty) have been fixed not by ‘optimising’ it by some mysterious process, but by rethinking the content to provide customers with what they want; by giving them what they are looking for.

I’d even go so far as to say that, in the vast majority of cases, great content doesn’t need additional optimisation. When created in the right way, it’s automatically optimised. If it needs some tweaks to be better optimised, that’s pretty straightforward. However, if content is poor, then you can throw all of the SEO you like at it – it’s still poor; it will do less well in search engines than great content and it won’t connect well with customers.

True, there are some housekeeping issues. We need to investigate the search phrases and words customers are most likely to use. We need to understand customers’ motivations and behaviours. We need to find out what they want, or get, from your products or services. We need to assess competitors’ marketing, websites and content. But that’s simply good marketing anyway.

There’s some technical stuff to get right, but less than you might think. This includes having important words/phrases in headings, planning social campaigns to share content and optimising website pages for social sharing (using protocols like OpenGraph, and, where possible, using data schemas in the HTML to describe products in a way that search engines can make more sense of them).

But actually, when content is amazing, it can trump all of those housekeeping issues and the technical stuff to rise to the top of search results regardless.

Why? Because content is what Google values most. Its algorithms and indexing processes aren’t built to make your life hard. They exist to provide people with what they’re looking for.

Google has always been clear about this. Google says, “Your site’s content should be unique, specific and high quality. It should not be mass-produced or outsourced on a large number of other sites. Keep in mind that your content should be created primarily to give visitors a good user experience, not to rank well in search engines.”

It couldn’t be any clearer: think about your customers, not search engines. Take care of the content, and the SEO will take care of itself.

I’ve written a brief publication, Content Comes First, about this. You can download it, free, without any kind of registration to surrender your contact details.