While you go find your credit card so that you can pay the nominal fee to read the rest of this article, let me tell you a quick story.
Back in the early ’80s there was a company that advertised that they could legally get your phone bill cut to nothing. You’d never have to pay another phone bill again, all you had to do was send them $19.99 and they’d mail you the amazing, perfectly legal details.
Hundreds of people sent off for this offer and eagerly tore open the package that was sent by return of post. Inside the packet was a single sheet of paper with 3 lines on it:
- Call your phone company
- Ask to be connected to the accounts department
- Ask to have your phone disconnected
Bait & Switch?
Of course there’s no quick fix way to jump to the top of the rankings, which is how it should be, as SEO isn’t about who has the most money, and is able to buy their way to pole position, it’s ideally about helping the search engines discover and rank the content that has the most relevance to the query.
Not everyone believes that SEO is a worthy pursuit, Search Engine Watch Director Jonathan Allen recently wrote a very eloquent response to Bill Barol of Forbes, who had expressed his dismay with SEO, and a few weeks ago BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti was quoted in the Business Insider as saying
“The problem with SEO is that you’re not trying to delight people, you’re trying to get your content through a gatekeeper, that gatekeeper being the Google algorithm. You’re not making the best content for humans, you’re making the best content for a robot…you’re trying to game a system”
Unfortunately this looks to me as though Mr. Peretti just hasn’t met the right SEO. I have never in my career as an SEO asked to have keywords inserted into copy, or on a website that detracted in any way from the user experience. He goes on to explain that his new venture will be a socially focused publishing site, but he’s missing out on a huge opportunity if he doesn’t think that the search engines still drive a huge chunk of traffic to a well optimized content site.
Whenever I work with these groups I make sure that they know that I always want them to write for the user, but that they should consider some minor tweaks to also make their article work for the search engines, nothing that affects the readability though.
A good SEO practitioner primarily has the users in mind because a search engine isn’t going to click through on an ad, or purchase a case of ball bearings. So suggesting that a journalist uses the full name of a person in a headline rather than a nickname helps a user to identify the subject when they’re searching for a specific article about them, and also helps the search engines rank the page as they can more easily determine the primary entities involved in the article.
SEO is neither a scam, nor anti-user. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t people out there that do scam in the name of SEO or that think that inserting the phrase “buy Viagra here” in every second sentence is a fantastic idea, but there are people like that in every industry, people who find loopholes or leap with both feet over ethical boundaries in order to make lucre.
As with any industry, you tend not to hear too much about those that are working away behind the scenes, doing the right things for their clients (especially when many large companies have SEO firms working on NDAs), but you do hear about the ones that are caught out doing the wrong things. Consumers just have to do some due diligence before handing their hard earned money over to the first company that mentions title tags.
In fact, think about what the web would look like without SEOs working to help legitimate sites rank for the terms that they should rank for. If you think that perhaps I’m biased, feel free to jump over here for 3 minutes & 14 seconds and listen to Matt Cuts of Google talk about why SEO is good for the web.
SEO as a Force for Good
Last week a friend asked me to take a look at her e-commerce site, she was concerned that she wasn’t getting enough traffic. I looked at her analytics and saw that her traffic numbers were low and had been pretty static for the last three years.
Looking more closely at her site I was able to identify several architectural issues that were impacting her ability to rank, as well as a selection on on-page issues. Fixing those will enable the right pages on her site to be found for the right terms. The more optimized and targeted her site becomes, the greater the chance that potential customers will find it. Then the focus switches to ensuring that that the conversion process is as effective as possible, one may even say “optimized”.
Does this really sound like a scam, or something that’s detrimental to users the world over? I don’t think so, but maybe I’m biased (if you still believe that then I refer you back to the aforementioned Matt Cutts video above).
If you’re looking for the definitive guide to SEO, you’re going to have to go ahead and actually do the work yourself, although you could start by reading around Search Engine Watch on the topics that are of interest to you. They won’t cut your phone bill to zero, but they will help you make your site more findable.
*the term guarantee, in this instance, implies no actual guarantee, nor really even an implied guarantee, and we guarantee that.