SEF is a white hat term derived from the process of Search Engine Optimization(SEO). A SEF:ed website is generally speaking, the nicer brother of SEO. Many times SEO-consultants use techniques that do more harm than good on the overall user experience. Let's first take a step back to consider why SEO is black hat.
Search Engine Optimization
The process of search engine optimizing a website is usually started out when a SEO marketing firm comes to you and claim “I’ll get you #1 on Google”. They then convince the corporate stakeholders with logic statements like “We can provide a higher flow of traffic for your site, and more traffic means higher conversion rates”. While they certainly can drive larger amounts of traffic to your site the latter part of their statement does not have to apply here. Higher traffic generating more conversions is generally true, but it highly depends on what traffic is driven to you web site and how.
Optimizing your site through traditional SEO has a couple of pros and cons. The most prominent pros is that you will rank higher on the keywords that you specifiy, if you have competing businesses, which almost all companies have, you will often try to rank higher than them on specific keyword. However, this is also the most prominent con, because when you get into optimizing your content for keywords you most often destroy your content instead. The key should never be to score high on a search engine, it should instead be to serve your content as efficient as possible without any hint of confusion to your actual users.
So what is your ultimate goal?
First up, just measuring the number of visitors your site gets á la 1995 is not enough! You need to measure your conversions, that is, the number of users, in percentage over time, that performs a set task that is considered important for your site. The task may be finalizing a purchase, registering for a free account or filling out a form. If you like me don’t have a strong quantifiable variable to measure, you should check out my earlier post about tracking content engagement. So now that you’ve found out your variable you need to measure it through your analytics package.
How would I instead improve my conversions?
Well, you always need to market your site, both through traditional marketing and more modern styles like viral marketing, and e-campaigns. On the web you can buy access to target your advertisements toward your target audience!
So instead of trying to manipulate search engines, by designing for algorithms with SEO, you should offer services and design for your user audience. Designing an SEF-website is to add features for search engines, doing good markup, avoiding flash and making it easy for users to refer other humans of your awesome site.
An example that is most relevant for modern web apps is to deploy public API’s for other companies, services and users to integrate with and utilize your web app, users and data. The API-approach is a very powerful marketing tool because you have a potential to reach customers in many different environments which you normally couldn’t imagine to target with your marketing.
“Always remember a higher ranking is not the aim. The aim is to convince as many users as possible to respond in some way to your site.” – Paul Boag, Episode 209 of Boagworld.