Accidentally in Code

Why SEO is a Load of Crap

Posted on: August 18, 2009

A blogger I read, wrote this post commenting on SEO. I suggest you read it, because it’s good, but in brief the question she’s asking is – what is SEO? Why isn’t blogging about content? I commented on her post, but I think my thoughts on SEO merit their own little forum. So here we go!

Blogging is all about creating content, it’s one of the many reasons having a “company blog” is so good. It provides an easy way of regularly updating your site, which determines how regularly Google crawls it. Even if you accept a niche for SEO, would it apply well to blogging? Do you try and optimize every post? Or just your homepage? How do you divide your time? Should you be spending as much time optimizing your post for search as you do writing? It doesn’t really make sense to me. I don’t think that blogging great content will necessarily get people to your site, but I’m pretty confident that blogging mediocre content but spending a lot of time ensuring it still ranks well in search won’t get you a lot of people subscribing to your RSS feed. Are you supposed to measure your worth in hits, or the number of people who engage with your content, comment, respond to stuff you’ve written, pass it along to their friends?

So one way to do “SEO” is to go around commenting on things related to what you’re doing and include a link to your site. This has a dual goal – one of getting people to click on the link (more hits) but from the SEO perspective each link out there is a “vote” for your site, and the more votes you have the better your search ranking. There’s a spammer equivalent of this, which writing a bot to post all over the place (WordPress does an excellent job of stopping that kind of thing). And there’s a smart way to do it, which is to join in the conversation on a few things and prove you’ve got something worthwhile to say. Then the fact that a lot of sites use a nofollow tag won’t matter as people will be looking at your site to see who the person with the insightful comments is, and perhaps linking to you in a future post. Twitter uses the nofollow tag, so including the URL of my blog in my profile makes no difference to my page rank. But it’s still a good idea to include it – I’m taking part in the conversation, and if people want to find out who I am or what I do – they can.

My degree is in Computer Science and I took a course on how search engines work. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I know enough that when I hear people talking about SEO it’s often apparent that they don’t know how search engines work. No-one outside of Google knows exactly how their search engine works, but there are a couple of things we do know – first is that content IS important, because the ranking is a combination of popularity and content. Having people link to you is good, but reciprocal links are ignored. The more popular something that links to you is, the more that boosts your ranking, etc.

Ultimately, I think SEO is not and cannot be a long term strategy. Firstly, because people find ways to make SEO tactics less effective – the no follow tag is an example of this, and a long time ago Google stopped considering “keywords”, and some time in between invisible text got left out too. And secondly because every year the search experience gets better and the current movement is to make it more personalized, but there’s also a lot of data about how everyone is using the web. So there are a lot of improvements we can reasonably expect to see, and soon.

I know! It’s harder! It’s a longer term strategy. And ohhh you went to so much effort to make your website. So what! Doesn’t mean you deserve a top ranking in Google right away. Looking at SEO this way, it’s apparent that SEO means trying to approximate the way people get a well respected site (with a good page rank), cheaply and quickly.

And, by the way, the only person I know who makes any money from Google works for them. Those ads about making money using Google? They’re a load of nonsense too. Great article on that here.

Finally, and most importantly, I think SEO misses the point of having a website. You don’t create one to interact with Google – you create one to interact with customers, potential customers, potential employees, partners, potential partners. So even if you can get these people to your site by artificially inflating your ranking, your content determines whether they’ll come back. There’s some new and cool ways to measure “engagement” with a site, such as seeing what people have highlighted, cut and paste etc. So as those kind of metrics become more mainstream the old metric of “hits” will seem like the blunt tool it is.

So here’s where I see SEO ending. I think that sometime soon Google’s algorithm will be smart enough to tell the difference between people trying to simulate respected content and people having respected content. And sometime around then, the effort people go to to simulate respected content will exceed the effort needed to have respected content. And after SEO, will come something that I’m describing “Web Strategizing”. This will mean thinking about the entirety of your presence on the web, what social media is appropriate and can best represent your brand. You probably should be blogging, but what should you be blogging about? How do you engage your community? Who is your community, anyway?

Here’s why I think “Web Strategy” is the way – it’s because when I talk to people, they might say they want to rank higher in Google but that’s not their only goal. And they have other questions about how the web works, too, that SEO doesn’t answer. There are a few conversations I’ve had relatively recently, and I’ll talk about them below.

  • Talking to a consultant  about Facebook. A company he advises is thinking about their Facebook strategy, and how best to use the platform to promote themselves. He asked my opinion, and amongst other things I talked about Privacy concerns on Facebook. Why? I don’t talk about Privacy concerns to everyone who asks me this, but because given the business model of the company concerned Privacy is a crucial thing to address.
  • Small business owner, also on Facebook. Wants to use it as a marketing tool. Has some good ideas, some distinctly half baked. I told him – Facebook complements your online strategy, it doesn’t replace it.
  • Small business owner, on his website in general. He’s fired a web designer because they were being flaky, but anyway isn’t convinced they were doing what he wanted. He’s computer literate, but not that technical and wants to be able to update it himself. Blogging is an obvious part of the solution here, but Twitter is also going to be part of the strategy – I’ll keep you posted.
  • Analyst asked me to look at a site for specialized search. The usability was really appalling. If you’re going to out-Google Google, you’re going to need to bring something new and more impressive to the table.
  • Conversation with director of a small multi-national. They’ve hired someone to do a much needed redesign of their website and also to improve their Google ranking. I talked to him about some of the more spam-like SEO strategies and what doesn’t actually work and he was keen to make sure that none of those tactics were used. Also, they’re not so interested in their search rank, it’s more about leveraging the contacts they have – so having more of a presence on LinkedIn would be a good thing for them.

Conclusion – none of these tools are magic. But they’re incredibly powerful, if you understand them. Being “on the internet” is not a business plan. What do you want to portray in your web presence? What do you hope to get from it? How do you plan to monetize that, and if you don’t plan to – how can you measure the value that you get? Facebook is the fourth largest site in the world, but isn’t profitable. Why? Because they didn’t start with a business model, although perhaps that’s part of the reason why they’ve been so successful. What they do have, is content which will eventually be incredibly valuable – once they work out how to monetize it without annoying their users too much. And they’re being patient.

The only site I saw making money out of SEO was one that charged $10 and redirected you to OpenOffice. But when I tried to find it just now, I couldn’t. Go figure! So SEO? Not a long term strategy.

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5 Responses to "Why SEO is a Load of Crap"

You know, I was worried about writing that initial post because I thought everyone was all about SEO and I was just incredibly behind the times with business blogging. But your comment and this post have been incredibly helpful in sifting out what is total crap and what might actually be worth trying.

You’re right, long-term strategy centered on useful content is the smartest approach, and even though I didn’t quite get that at my conference, I’m glad it at least started a conversation to get me to this point.

Thanks so much for all of your insights on this!

I’m really glad you found it helpful! I have more stuff to write on this kind of thing and now summer’s over hopefully I’ll have more time. Blogging conference sounds so exciting – I’m enjoying your posts on it 🙂

[…] of dodgy practices. bMighty has an article on How to Hire An SEO Company. And, in support of Why (I think) SEO is a Load of Crap, a lawsuit for an SEO company that made infeasible promises from the Seattle […]

[…] said this before, but as we get more sophisticated ways to measure engagement things will change. This entry was […]

[…] of dodgy practices. bMighty has an article on How to Hire An SEO Company. And, in support of Why (I think) SEO is a Load of Crap, a lawsuit for an SEO company that made infeasible promises from the Seattle […]

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