I’ve been unhappy for a long time with what is on the pages of the Wikipedia for Search Engine Optimization. I decided this weekend to start making some changes to present the subject from a more rounded perspective.
Some of the things that bothered me about the article as it was:
1. It presented the industry as one largely drawn into two different camps, mostly at odds with one another – white hats and black hats – or those who follow ethical practices as defined by search engine guidelines, and those who don’t.
Ethics aren’t defined by search engines, but rather by moral codes of conduct, and having search engines set the tone of that conduct probably isn’t appropriate. They are businesses, beholden to shareholders, reliant on advertisers, and dependent upon searchers. They’ve never set themselves up to be the moral policemen for the search engine optimization community, and it’s a role that I suspect that they don’t relish.
2. Search engines have expanded their offerings considerably in the past few years to include much more than just organic results, and someone practicing SEO can be helped by having an understanding of RSS feeds, local search, mapping, vertical search, shopping search, news, and paid advertising.
The Wikipedia article focuses primarily on optimizing pages to achieve rankings in organic results in search engines. Yet, if you perform a search in Google these days, you’ll see results from other offerings of the search engine before the organic results even begin, including news, definitions, local results, paid ads, and more. Search engines are changing, and SEO needs to change, too.
3. The Wikipedia article also has given an inordinate amount of attention to one patent application from Google, Information retrieval based on historical data, while ignoring the fact that the search engine has been assigned over 180 patents and patent applications from the US Patent and Trademark Office which often contain conflicting approaches to ranking sites, and defining algorithms.
If the article is going to focus upon patents and patent applications from Google, it should at least have a link to the two PageRank patents from the search giant.
4. There’s a list of ranking factors that may play a part in how search engines rank pages in the article, and a number of those factors are pure speculation, though the way they are listed makes them appear that they are from the patent application I mentioned in the paragraph above.
That’s just not true, and even if it were, we can’t be certain that the factors mentioned in that patent application are ones that Google has incorporated into their processes for listing results.
5. There wasn’t a single mention in the article of search engine marketing, nor a link to the search engine marketing article on Wikipedia. There should be some more discussion of the connection between the two endeavors. There’s also very little in the article on marketing itself. That’s an oversight.
6. There’s nothing about where one could go to find out more about SEO in the article, and a strong discouragement to link to some of the primary sources of information on the subject. The people who police Wikipedia are concerned about external links to reliable sources within the industry and would prefer to have links to guidelines from the search engines only.
While there’s nothing wrong with links to the search engine guidelines, it’s a little like learning how to swim by watching Baywatch, instead of jumping into the water, or taking lessons. In one of my additions to the Wikipedia article, I noted that forums, blogs, conferences, and experimentation are often the primary ways that one learns about SEO.
7. The article went on about how Google was unique in its time by looking to how hypertext and link popularity could play a role in ranking web pages, while completely ignoring the efforts of people like Jon Kleinberg and the folks at the Clever Project. The article might benefit from some additional input on the history of search engines, and search engine optimizers.
Statements like this one need to be changed:
Search engine operators became interested in the SEO community soon after the first search engine was launched. In some early search engines, such as Infoseek, ranking #1 was as easy as grabbing the source code of the top-ranked page, placing it on your site, and submitting a URL to instantly index and rank that page.
As far as I know, there wasn’t an SEO community that sprung up out of nowhere at the time that the first search engines were launched.
I’d like to see the Wikipedia article improve, and I ask that if you have some ideas and a few spare moments in the next couple of weeks, to visit the page and see if you can help make it better. I’ll be making more changes as I find the time. Instead of trying to add links to external resources, a sentence or two in the article itself that helps improve its quality would be a great addition.