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by Ben Norman on 22nd February 2010
Muddled, linear, maddening…heaven? What would the Internet really be without SEO and can we live without it?
You don’t need me to remind you how unpopular SEO is in some circles. Whilst some see it as a great equaliser and an enabler of smaller websites, others see it as a giant leach, slowly sucking the life out of the Internet as we know it. But is the Internet actually for having SEO?
After all, SEO has helped to form the indexes that the search engines now hold. The dark arts once practised by some have also helped to strengthen algorithms and paved the way for the latest developments.
Everything that achieves great success has to have a nemesis. In politics, fiction (although these two aren’t always mutually exclusive) and business everybody has to have a competitor to drive it forward; but some also need a third element.
Google have Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Baidu and Facebook (among others) to contend with. But if you are to believe Matt Cutts, SEO professionals can be added to that list too. Search engine optimisation is perceived as a way of gaming the likes of Google and Bing. It was conceived to give weak sites the opportunity to compete with the big guns. Granted, this wasn’t always for the best – particularly for human visitors. But things have changed.
Without SEO of any kind, how would a search engine determine where to place a site?
There are other metrics, such as user popularity (measured by the number of visitors a site achieves and the comparative bounce rate); but any alternative you can imagine – aside full semantic web – involves the need for a ubiquitous overseer to judge where sites should rank and for what terms.
SEO at least provides something of an opportunity for a website to identify what key words and phrases they believe best match their site’s pages. From there the quality of the links and content will do a good deal to determine whereabouts everybody slots in.
There’s no exclusivity or bias when it comes to SEO. Anybody can produce good content that will attract links. It does take time and you may not have all the skills yourself, but if you put in the effort to improve your site, the results should follow. Ultimately it will be the better sites that prosper; the sites that provide exactly what the searcher wants and are able to do so efficiently.
SEO today is about best practice, not keyword stuffing.
If you want a quick fix and some short-term traffic get involved in social media or PPC. SEO is a slow methodical practice. It is also highly competitive. To get yourself ahead of competitors and stay there, you have to be prepared to go the extra distance. That means a better quality of content and in greater quantity too.
Don’t worry about keyword density. Get a couple of instances in your content naturally and a few synonyms and you will be sufficiently optimised. SEO today preaches from a different gospel; the gospel of visitor enjoyment. If a human is unable to navigate through your site, pick up the sign posts (your call to action) and feel suitably obliged to follow them, then it is fundamentally flawed. Search engines won’t thank you for it either.
The common metaphor for links is that they provide the electricity for search engines (sadly only figuratively, each Google search actually produces 0.2g of CO2 due to energy use). Their algorithms and crawlers need these to pass from site to site with ease; therefore, by following SEO best practice and getting plenty of (quality) links, you are also helping search engines to do their job more efficiently.
But should you have to pay for SEO?
Well, there’s no reason that anybody should have to pay for SEO. But that doesn’t mean that it is free. As mentioned, SEO is a time-consuming process. Not all businesses can afford to employ a specialist within their midst or have the resources to spend time researching and implementing changes.
There really is no great mystery to SEO, the information is out there. But it is very much like building a house by yourself. You have to draw up the plans, dig the foundations and place the bricks one by one. Even when the structure is up, you then have to do the plastering, plumbing and electrics. None of those tasks are probably beyond you. All can be adequately researched and done by you. But the honest truth is, without the experience, the knowledge or the time, we tend to go to professionals to help.
I don’t this as being any different in SEO.
If you don’t know what Meta is, how to structure your internal linking architecture or write engaging copy (all of which are specialist areas in their own right) then you will end up with a half built house.
So is SEO a necessary evil?
Well, it has been vilified in all corners, but SEO is far from being a negative influence on the Internet. As an industry it could probably do with a little housekeeping; flushing out the sharks and negative practices that plague it. But the truth is most people would be lost without it, not least the search engines.
Google would have you believe that SEO is its kryptonite. Whilst they may be doing everything to make it difficult for websites to optimise, they aren’t about to make it impossible. Users require some form of quality rated ranking and until web 3.0 becomes a reality, algorithms will have to rely on the optimised pages of SEO friendly sites. It’s a friendly rivalry with many mutual benefits.