I wrote a comment yesterday in response to a couple of blog posts that attacked SEO and the SEO industry, attempting to illustrate to the author of the rants that search engine optimization brings a specialized skill set and a core group of knowledge that can help others, from small businesses with great ideas, to larger organizations that can benefit from an independent voice that has experience and knowledge about search engines.
Unfortunately, my comment went unpublished for whatever reason.
One of the underlying assertions of the post I responded to was that in the hands of a competent web developer, a site should rank well in search engines as long as the people behind the site created something great and beautiful, and told a couple of friends. Another of the underpinnings behind the rants against SEO was that search engine optimization wasn’t a legitimate form of marketing. A third postulated that SEOs were the force behind such things as the botnets, blog spam, and scraped and auto-generated content that appears on the Web.
Except for striving to build something great, I couldn’t disagree more strongly.
The practice of SEO isn’t web development, though it sometimes requires that development problems on a site be addressed. Successful search engine optimization starts with several questions, such as:
Who is your audience?
Who are your competitors?
What makes you stand out from your competitors?
Some other important steps can include learning about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to a business, defining business goals, collaborating on defining metrics to measure success, and developing an SEO strategy to optimize a site for search engines and visibility in other places on the Web.
The practice of SEO isn’t spamming the Web, with the creation and use of spyware, viruses, and scrapers that auto-generate webspam. Instead, it’s helping people make intelligent and creative decisions that help them reach an audience that is interested in what they have to offer.
In my response, I included 10 questions involving SEO and search engines which might be issues that search engine optimizers might come across, that I wouldn’t expect most developers to have spent much time thinking about. I’ve written about most of these here, and I thought it might be fun to share them.
1. What impacts might Microsoft’s VIPS, Yahoo’s Template Extraction, and Google’s Segmentation of Visual Gaps have upon a search engine’s weighing of links, document representation, shingles based duplicate content detection, and categorization of topics on a page, and how might a search engine determine which segment is the most important?
2. What steps should one take to try to get a site to rank well for a query in Google Maps, and how might something like location prominence and location sensitivity of that query term impact the range and rankings of sites that appear in a Google Maps listing?
3. What are some of the potential flaws that a search engineer might make when using a discounted cumulative gain approach to evaluating the relevancy of search results at different positions?
4. How might image size, image resolution, image contrast, the inclusion of a face in an image, use of images across multiple pages of a site, internal links on a site to images, and external links on a site to images impact the possible rankings of images in search results?
5. What should be contained in a video XML sitemap to make it more likely that the videos included are crawled and indexed by Google?
6. How might Google customize search results for a searcher based upon language and country preferences and past browsing history, even when a searcher isn’t even logged into their Google account and seeing personalized results?
7. What types of user behavior data might the search engines be used to reorder search results besides simple clickthrough rates, and how might those kinds of signals be used in determining sitelinks or quicklinks that Google, Yahoo, and Bing may show in search results?
8. How might a search engine determine which kinds of results besides web pages to blend into search results, and how might that approach change when named entities are involved?
9. What kinds of ranking signals might make it more likely that a news source ranks well in Google’s news search, and why might the search engine choose one article over others when the stories are substantially similar?
10. How are search suggestions (query refinements) chosen by a search engine to include in search results, and why might a search engine show one type of search suggestion at the top of search results, and another type at the bottom of the results.
I was thinking about including answers to these questions over the next few days in the comments section, but decided that it might be better to leave the comments for conversation and discussion. So, I’m going to provide the answers here.
October 15, 2009 – Answer to Question 1:
1. What impacts might Microsoftâ€™s VIPS, Yahooâ€™s Template Extraction, and Googleâ€™s Segmentation of Visual Gaps have upon a search engineâ€™s weighing of links, document representation, shingles based duplicate content detection, and categorization of topics on a page, and how might a search engine determine which segment is the most important?
Microsoft VIPS, Yahoo’s Template Extraction, and Google’s Visual Gap Segmentation are all methods described in patent filings and whitepapers from the search engines that attempt to break a web page down into segments such as headings, footers, main content, sidebars, navigation bars, advertisement sections, related product recommendations, and other areas.
While one purpose behind this approach might be to identify what might be the most important segment on a page, another might be to identify important segments that focus upon different topics, such as a news page that includes abstracts of multiple stories, or a magazine article that includes reviews of multiple restaurants.
The approaches all look at the HTML code behind a page, and things like a horizontal rule element <hr>, or changes in background colors of a section, or the use of different font types or colors or sizes might help indicate a different section. There’s also a visual element to them that might simulate how a page might look in a browser to identify things like whitespace between pages.
Learning how to break a page into different parts may also help display the content of that page on smaller screens, such as those of smartphones.
Links in some segments might carry more or less weight, depending upon how important the segment might be determined to be. For instance, links found in the main content section of a page might carry more weight than links in an advertising block, or a footer.
What a page is actually about may look to things such as page titles and anchor text of links pointing to the page and content that appears on a page, but there’s often a great amount of boilerplate on web pages, from sidebars filled with links to other sites and advertisements to navigation bars that use anchor text describing the content on other pages, to copyright notices and other information in footers. Understanding which segment contains content that is unique to a page, and is the main focus of the page can tell a search engine in which words on a page are the most important.
If a search engine uses a shingles approach to detecting duplicate content, it doesn’t usually look at all of the content on a page to try to determine if there is an exact match or some percentage of matching content. Instead, it might capture a window (or a few windows) of content from one page, and see if the same content appears on another page – much like matching fingerprints works. The idea is that if there are matching points of content, there may be some duplicate or near-duplicate content on a page. If you were to look at the headers, and footers and sidebars on the pages of the same site, and compare them using this approach, you might consider a number of those pages to be duplicated, even though the content in the main content area for each of those pages were very different. If the same content was published to very different sites in the main content section, and the other segments of pages on those sites were different, a search engine wouldn’t want to compare the less important segments to see if there was duplicate content – it would want to look at the main content segment on a page.
When you display advertising on a page, such as Adsense, it’s ideal if the ads are shown match the main content of a page, rather than something unrelated found in a sidebar or heading or footer. A category might be created for a page based upon the main content of that page, and the words found within that segment to determine what contextual ads appear on that page.
Determining the most important segment of a page could be based upon several factors, including the location of that segment, the amount of text and content it contains, the height and width of the segment, as well as things that it doesn’t contain, such as a list of links that might look like a navigation bar.
October 16, 2009 – Answer to Question 2:
2. What steps should one take to try to get a site to rank well for a query in Google Maps, and how might something like location prominence and location sensitivity of that query term impact the range and rankings of sites that appear in a Google Maps listing?
The answer to this question could be fairly long, so I’m going to just provide a high-level summary and some links to other posts here.
An organization doesn’t have to have a website to be included in Google Maps, but if it does have a physical location that people can visit or specific and reasonable geographic serving areas where it provides services, then showing up and ranking well in Google Maps may be helpful. Map results sometimes show up in regular Google Web search results in addition to Map results, so it might be possible to reach a decent sized audience by ranking well in Google Maps.
Google Maps takes business location information from a range of sources, including purchased telecommunications data, business directory data, information from web pages, verified information from business owners, and user-generated content from map users. Because of that, it can help to be listed in a range of locations and data sources on the Web to show up and rank in Google Maps:
1. Register with the local databases and telecommunication services that provide Google with location information.
2. Get listed in business directories that allow location information.
3. Include business location and other information prominently on the pages of your web site, so that your site might be identified as the authority page for your site. See: Authority Documents for Googleâ€™s Local Search
4. Do things to get mentioned on other sites that might include a link to your site or location information about your business or both.
5. Verify your business with Google Local Business Center
6. Include terms on your pages that you would like to be ranked for, and choose the categories that your site should be listed under with those terms in mind.
In addition to ranking well in Google Maps, there are steps that you can take to rank better for geographic searches in Google organic results. These two posts provide some suggestions:
- Assigning Geographic Locations to Web Pages
- Google Determining Search Authority Pages and Propagating Authority to Related Pages
Location sensitivity is the idea that some searches for some specific queries may result in larger or smaller maps being shown at Google Maps based upon many factors. A search for “pizza” in Manhattan may show a much smaller area than a search for pizza in a suburban or rural area since pizza places might be much more spread out in non-urban locations. A search for pizza in one location might show a smaller map area than a search for real estate home inspectors since people might not be willing to travel too far for lunch, but they might consider contacting a home inspector from a much wider geographic range.
The factors that might influence location sensitivity are described in more detail in my post Location Sensitivity in Google Local Search
Location prominence is the idea that Google might look at more than just a distance from a center point on a map to rank results in Google maps, and that those factors might be non-geographically related. These signals or factors can include things such as a score associated with an authority site (see above link on authority pages), links to that page, and mentions of it, scores related to pages that refer to the business, and reviews of the business. More on location prominence in this post:
So, location sensitivity can influence the map size that is shown for a query in Google maps, and location prominence can influence rankings within the boundaries of that map by looking at non-geographic related signals. The results may still let a geographic signal like distance from a centerpoint on a map have some influence in ranking results, but those non-geographic signals may play a role as well.
October 17, 2009 – Answer to Question 3:
3. What are some of the potential flaws that a search engineer might make when using a discounted cumulative gain approach to evaluating the relevancy of search results at different positions?
Like many webmasters, search engineers are concerned about the quality of their services, and the value that they provide to their customers. If the pages returned in search results aren’t very relevant to the query terms used by searchers, then people might start searching elsewhere.
There are many different possible approaches that a search engine can take to try to evaluate the quality and relevance of the pages that they display. And, the algorithms being used to determine which search results may address several different concerns, such as whether or not the pages shown contain unique information – showing substantially the same content at different URLs in five of the first ten search results would disappoint many searchers.
Some query terms may have more than one meaning, and it might also be helpful if search results shown included a diverse range of results – someone searching for “java” might want to find information about a programming language, or an island, or coffee.
Some query terms might be seen as navigational – meaning that a searcher is trying to find a specific page, but they may not know the URL for that page or maybe too lazy to type the whole thing in, such as a search for ESPN, where the searcher wants to find the ESPN home page. Other search queries may be ones where a searcher is looking for information on a topic, such as “how do I knot a tie? Other queries might be more transactional, showing a desire to buy something, or download something, or perform some other task that isn’t solely informational.
Those are a few examples of concerns that might be behind algorithms developed by a search engine, and when search engineers consider modifying the algorithms they use, they want to be able to compare how effective different algorithms might be.
When undertaking such an evaluation, they might look at how often people click upon search results for queries, and see which results get clicked upon. In doing so, they might attempt to adjust for a bias that searchers might have, of believing that the higher a page appears in search results, the more likely it is that the page being shown is relevant to their query. A discounted cumulative gain approach to understanding that bias, predicts a click-through rate based upon position alone, without considering other possible independent factors, including how well pages above that result might be for a query.
This can be a problem, for example, when the query term is “ESPN” and it’s likely that a searcher is looking for the ESPN web site. The probability that someone will click on the third or fourth or fifth result is much lower than would be assumed by a model for evaluating results that predict clicks solely upon position within those results.
There’s more on this topic in my post Evaluating the Relevancy of Search Results Based upon Position.
82 thoughts on “10 SEO Questions”
SEO is a legitimate form of marketing and from the results I am experiencing with our sites it is proving itself very worthwhile.
I tried to congratulate the guy for doing in a day what most SEOs haven’t done in a year (get on the first page of Google for “seo”) and he deleted my comment, apparently because my browser immediately put the SEO Theory URL into his comment form. I thought nothing of it but he apparently felt I was trying to use his site to drum up business.
Frankly, when these guys slam SEO, the best thing the SEO community can do is leave them alone. Instead of everyone writing “open letters” and response posts, just ignoring them really is the best response.
He probably would not have ranked 9/10 for “SEO” so quickly if the SEO community had simply done nothing.
I think it’s a hoot that he assumed I was trying to promote an SEO business! Well, he still outperformed the SEO community on its prime keyword. Kudos to him for that.
Thank you for sharing your success. I started out on the Web in ecommerce before turning to consulting, and I know the challenges that you face. Good to hear that you’re doing well.
Well i read the article that this was responding to and I have to say your response was very well written.
I think you’re probably right on all counts, Michael. I’d much rather try to build something positive than attack others, and try to open conversations and build common ground. My comment was deleted, even without listing a URL, which indicates to me that the desire to actually have an intelligent and thoughtful discussion wasn’t there.
Thank you very much, Todd.
Those who don’t believe in the merits of SEO/SEM must have so much business that they don’t need to worry about attracting new customers on the web or being seen on the first SERP. The fact remains that if a page does not contain relevant content to search terms that consumers use (along with many other variables handled by SEO/SEM professionals), then the chances of good positioning are low.
This was refreshing Bill, like reading through possible exam questions for a test I was about to take. After reading through all 10, I can’t say I’d get a perfect score, great reminder to brush up on my SEO knowledge. Thanks.
Thanks for those questions. I hadn’t thought of several of those applications of SEO before I read them.
From your specific questions that you outlined above, which some terms you kinda lost me on. That’s ok, will have to do some research to understand better. But here’s my comments and 3 questions.
I think part of your analysis would also have to include, what is your ultimate goal of the website that you are promoting? For example, if you are building a website that you put Adsense on, then you may not want to have the best information for one reason. You want people to click on your ads, so you make money. If you have great informative articles, then people will end up reading, staying on your site – which is good, but they likely won’t click on the ads. At the end of the day, different sites will be for different markets, services and reasons.
What do you think of that strategy purely from a marketing aspect utilizing SEO and SEM?
It sounds like you are referring to latent semantic indexing (LSI) that the search engines are moving towards in search results based on some of your questions above.
Is that what you are referring to?
Could you elaborate alittle on what you think of LSI please?
You couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any better than with your opening questions regarding “audience” and “competitors”. I have a feeling that your 10 questions will make small business owners who maintain their own sites eyes glaze over. On the other hand, your 10 questions will get people to dig deeper into their own strategy to gain a better understanding of why things are the way they are.
Thanks for all the great information you share.
You will always have a few idiots out there who doubt anything. SEO is a proven form of marketing and people will mock it because they aren’t intelligent enough to understand it
I’m sure marketing wasn’t accepted at first either in the early 1900’s, but with each generation the science was perfected and segmented. SEO is a necessity for each business, just like advertising. Time will prove you right Bill, if it hasn’t already.
Great points. I’m not sure if not being concerned about SEO is a signal of too much business, or lack of knowledge, or too much confidence in the value of a brand, but I agree with you completely that it makes sense to use words on your site that people looking for what you offer will use to search and find your site, and will expect to see on your pages. Understanding who that audience is, and the words that they might use is an important part of SEO that isn’t usually within the realm of what developers do.
Hi Michael D,
Thanks. One of my favorite exams in school (can you have a favorite exam?) was the question, if you were teaching this class, which material would you present, how would you present it, and why. The class was on American Regional Fiction, and it was both a great way for us to show off what we learned, and think about how we might relate what we learned to others. I was thinking about that when I wrote this post.
I’ve written about most of those topics here before, but usually in bits and pieces, inspired by patents and whitepapers that may cover parts of them. It helped me piece some of those ideas together in coming up with the questions, too. 🙂
I’ve written about most of those topics here before, but some of them really haven’t been discussed much elsewhere that I’ve seen, so if you’ve seen some terms and phrases that you haven’t run across before, I’ll admit that it’s because some of them are kind of obscure.
I agree with you that you have to look at the objectives behind each site before you decide what kind of information to present on your pages, how much, and why. I’m usually a big fan of helping people make informed decisions, even if the goal is to get them to click upon ads on your pages. So, for instance, if you have a page about mountain bikes that you are running adsense upon, it doesn’t hurt you to give some information about the best kinds of bike frames, tires, seats, etc., to look for in a mountain bike – and have ads on that page that might tempt people to look for bikes with those features. If your information is good enough, people will stay around on your site and look at other pages as well, and may consider visiting more ads.
I’m not referring to LSI as it was orginally conceived to apply to document databases – rather than web pages. None of my questions have anything to do with LSI. If you want to learn about LSI, this is a good place to start – SVD and LSI Tutorial 1: Understanding SVD and LSI. Note that the first section warns against marketing firms that claim to use LSI to sell their services. I agree.
Thank you. I suspect that my questions will make the eyes of small business owners glaze over, too. (Sorry to all of you that happened to, if you’ve come down this far.) I purposefully choose questions that I felt most developers, even ones with years of experience, likely wouldn’t have the answers to at the tips of their fingers, or have an idea of where to find those answers easily. The education and experience of an SEO is different than that of a developer, and the claim that a competent developer already knows everything that they need to in order to perform SEO is just plain wrong. And you’re right – I was also hoping that the questions might inspire people to do some more research.
There are a lot of people selling services that they label as “SEO,” that isn’t really SEO. There are still many hosting services and design pages show advertisements to services where they where they can submit their pages to many thousands of search engines. There are many “make money fast online” services that combine SEO from 1999 with social media services or other technologies that ignore the actual marketing aspects of SEO. There’s a lot of misinformation on the Web about SEO.
There are a lot of content management systems, ecommerce platforms, and template systems available online that provide great security, wonderful usability, and flexibility, but fail to even consider SEO. There are many developers who make wonderful websites using the latest technology who follow standards and are great coders, but don’t always make pages that are search engine friendly. There are very knowledgeable developers who do understand the best way to code pages so that visits from search engines are more likely.
But, SEO isn’t just about the best way to set up a web site so that it is search engine friendly – it’s also about understanding audiences, and the words that they might search for, and what they might expect to see on pages. It’s about raising the visibility of a site in places other than in search results. Its also about helping a site owner meet the objectives they have for a site, whether those involve sales of goods or services, or increasing subscription rates, or generating leads, or educating an audience, or a number of other goals. Most developers aren’t also the people who create content for a site, or set up and interpret analytics, or conduct keyword research, or make it more likely that a business will show up in local search results.
Excellent post illustrating how the knowledge SEO’s have goes beyond just web design. I come from a long stint in response and direct marketing and a lot of the techniques I used and wrote about in the 90’s were adapting things I learned in those marketing regimens which aided me in developing content that an audience wanted. Therefore promotion was driven by mt marketing research not telling a few friends and hoping they passed it along.
The original poster IMO, was just doing the old “Calacanis Maneuver” to get attention. Many SEO’s are just sheeple who will comment and blog about how SEO is legit and in the next minute agree we’re all snakeoil salesman this back and forth Soapopera has been around, for as long as linkbait has been the only difference now is SEO’s pimp the trade themselves by calling it all sorts of crappy names to gain a few links for themselves. It’s all just driven by lazy marketers need for links.
It’s interesting to look back on the evolution of business and marketing, and how the web has transformed many businesses. It’s possible to run a business with no storefront and be one of the biggest booksellers in the world. It’s possible to run your business from a rural community in the midwest, and have clients in countries across the globe. Having a meeting with your clients doesn’t mean that you all have to be in the same room, or even on the same continent.
As a consumer, when I go shopping I’m not limited by the selections in nearby stores. I not only have a wider selection of things to choose from, but also a greater range of prices that I can pay. I don’t have to go to the local library (when it’s open) to find out information on a topic. It’s not just marketing that’s been transformed, but also the sharing of knowledge and information. Search engines have helped considerably, but they aren’t perfect. Understanding some of the potential problems and how search engines do many of the things they do can help.
boy, these are some good questions. Frankly, I’d be surprised if 50% of SEO companies over here in Germany were able to answer only half the questions on the fly. I’m definately looking forward to all the answers, especially #2 and #9.
Great Post – keep it up!
Hey bill check out the post I just wrote on this guy link no longer available
Having an extensive background in marketing can really help. I remember when I was first starting out, I devoured every book and online resource I could find about marketing (and design, and usability, and ecommerce). I still do a lot of that.
A rant is a rant (or in this case, two rants), and linkbaiting may have been a motivation, but I’m not sure that the author of those posts expected the responses and level of attention that he received. There are many people who advertise the services that they provide as “SEO” that bother me as well. The examples that he provided of botnets and viruses and automated content generators aren’t the tools of legitimate SEOs. I’m not all that fond of linkbait either, especially if it intentionally misleads, is based upon incorrect information, and hurts people.
Thanks. As I was writing this post, the thought came to me that making a positive point about the differences between what a developer does, and what an SEO does was more important than how the author of those rants felt about SEO, which is why I didn’t think it was worth bothering to include his name in this post.
I do think that it’s a good to see people respond directly to the points that he made like you did. Maybe some of the misunderstandings about what SEO actually is might sink in.
While we do look at development issues, it’s because we’ve taken the time to understand how some things might negatively impact how a search engine crawls and indexes a site, or how they might cause it to be filtered out of search results. But a competent developer isn’t an SEO – the skillsets and knowledge needed to do both jobs may overlap to a degree, but they definitely aren’t the same. Maybe the author of those rants may see things more objectively in the future, and recognize that his knowledge of SEO is limited and misguided.
And thank you for your kind words about my blog in your post.
No problem Bill. Keep up the good work 🙂
And a great follow up to an awesome post, now that’s class. You didn’t have to bash that idiot you destroyed him with wit and class. Keep up the good work bill. Unfortunately I’m not as kind as you, I’m a brawler and that’s why I wrote what I wrote in my post 🙂
Thank you. I’ve started on providing answers to those, but I’m wondering if I should have included some simpler things, like using 301 redirects when you change domains or the location of a page.
The sad thing is that I’m not sure either approach will really make a difference – the author of those posts is a victim of his own hubris, and it negatively affects his clients. I’m convinced after some investigation that if he bothered to learn about what SEO is and how to do it right it would be a good thing for both.
One of the best posts I’ve seen on SEO and it’s importance EVER! Thanks for sharing. I’m not a web designer…just your every day basement blogger trying to use what I’ve learned along the way to improve. Certainly glad there are people like you out there to help us out!
Its a breath of fresh air to see your determination and thoroughness on the subject of SEO. This is the future of marketing and a lot of people can’t seem to want to give it legitimacy as long as their blog or site is ranking well. People are often reluctant to help others with proven marketing techniques and I thank you for being honest in your work.
Hi Inconsequential Logic,
Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m hoping that as I answer the remaining questions, the post becomes even more useful.
I love the web, and being able to help others share what they write and create online, regardless of whether it’s commercial or not. In its essense, search engine optimization comes down to understanding the medium and framework within which you publish or create something online, in a way that makes it more likely that people who might be interested in what you are creating may see it.
Understanding marketing helps those who might be engaged in commercial activities on the Web, and marketing online means publishing in a way that makes it more likely that search engines will crawl the pages of your site, index the content it finds there, and display it to the people that you hope will see it. For those who aren’t creating something commercial, there’s still a lot of value in doing that as well – it makes it more likely that people interested in what you are creating will find you and your words (images, videos, music, etc).
Thank you for your kind words as well.
Thanks for the detailed steps to learn a great source of getting website rank well among different but major search engines.
You’re welcome, muqtada khalid.
I’m surprised I have never encountered your site till today, you have so much great articles and information. Kudos for that. Looking forward to your view on question #9 and #10.
This is a real good article. Can we have some articles on the future of mobile SEO, video SEO and voice SEO. These are the topics which would be a lot of interest to read. Cheers to anyone willing to taking the lead
Nice to meet you. Thank you for your kind words.
Thanks. It’s possible that I may touch upon those topics at some point in the future.
Wow, this is massive and really content rich. I’m going to be reading this multiple times to retain it.
I did want to point out that Google can largely tell when someone is flat Spamming. SEO itself is making your site known and, if you’re doing that well, Google will assume the rest of the world will also want to see it. Further, Google still bases your rankings off your content itself too. Crappy content? Crappy page rank.
As was said at the beginning, making a beautiful, useful, site is still key. SEO helps let the world know it’s there.
I always love your website because your top 10 lists are unique, inventive and not the norm. Great post, some of those things are issues that I should look a little closer at when optimizing websites. Take care!
Thanks. I still have a few more of those questions to answer, and I shall. I appreciate your kind words.
I think all of the search engines are getting better at identifying spam – but I still end up seeing spammy pages in search results.
Thanks. I’m not sure that I would call this a top ten list, mainly because I could have spent weeks trying to decide which issues in SEO should be considered a “top ten.” I am hoping that the questions, and the answers can be helpful.
To say that a web designer can create something great and beautiful and it will rank well is totally laughable. Some designers I have come across will basically make a webpage as an image with no readable content for the search engines, they look nice and all but where do you think they end up in the SERPS? In the bin basically.
Secondly, to say that SEO is not a form of marketing basically proves that whoever said such a thing knows nothing about the internet, why do you think big name .coms spend millions on SEO activities?
Great article Bill and I just hope that the people who made these ridiculous comments will have a chance to read it!
I know a few designers who understand how to make a site search engine friendly and who recognize that SEO is a form of marketing. But if you look around the web for a while, I think it’s easy to see that those designers are a minority. I took a very quick look last week at about 180 sites for Virginia Cities, Counties, and Towns, and it was pretty clear from even the best of those that the designers and developers behind the sites didn’t know much about SEO.
Hopefully, if this post can help at least one developer or designer get a better sense of what SEO is, it was worth writing. I’m not sure if it will make a difference to the people who wrote that initial article, or who commented on it in agreement.
The problem with sites looking nice and sites delivering results is that many businesses (and in particular smaller businesses) don’t really understand the potential of the web. Having grown up on a diet of yellow pages and other directories and not this brave new world they are unsure how to deal with online marketing.
In the yellow pages it was all about paying your money to get to the biggest and brightest ad and making sure the ad looked nice. On the web it is a little more complicated. Aesthetics are important, but content is king and often less is more. Try and explain that to the bulk of SME’s who are good at doing their job, but not necessarily experts at promoting themselves online. Add to that the number of “snake-oil salesmen” out there and the intangibility of a Google algo, together with the time, effort and persistence needed to get to where they need to and it is unsurprising that they plumpt with a “me-too” nice looking site, optimised for a worthless search expression.
SEO education, open and clear information and route maps to understanding are clearly needed.
Don’t feel bad, I have been trying to get my comments approved by some misinformed “SEO Haters” too! Although, I must admit my comments were no where near as thought out as yours! Maybe one day enough people will be able to determine the difference between search engine optimization and straight up spam. Btw… I love your blog and have been keeping up with it for a few years now, great information!
I think that sometimes people disvalued the importance of using the right words on their yellow page ads in the past, but I do agree with you that there is some confusion moving from the world of telephone directories to online marketing.
SEO education is very much needed.
Thank you very much for your kind words.
Unfortunately, some people see all lawyers as ambulance chasers, some see all doctors as pill pushers for the pharmaceutical industry, and some people see all SEOs as spammers. Hopefully we can provide some education to help people understand that SEO can help make the Web better rather than cause harm. I’m as much against email spam, comment spam, misleading search results, splogs, and misinformation on the Web as anyone. I’m also very much for search results that help people find what they really want to, and for search engines that provide better and more relevant results.
I just came across your website and this is outstanding.
IMO marketing strategy, as it has been for decades, is really what SEO is based on. Identify a consumer need, connect with those customers and offer a mutually beneficial value proposition.
And of course, adapt.
However, there are multiple approaches to SEO and varying skill levels involved. That, I think, is what creates the concern. I try to explain as much of the process as possible to my clients – so it’s not some black box, but rather a strategic evolution of their marketing strategy.
Your article is first rate and I’ll look forward to more.
Thanks. There are people who dispense medical advice on the Web without being doctors, and people who provide legal advice without being lawyers, and unfortunately, people who provide information about search engine optimization who aren’t SEOs. Unfortunately, there are also people who write an complain about SEO who don’t really know what SEO is, and who assume that it’s little more than web development or design. When someone provides some tactics and tricks to help pages rank better, without an overall marketing strategy behind those efforts, then what is being practiced isn’t SEO.
Being transparent, as you suggest, is an approach that really helps people understand what is going on.
What cracks me up is that once you’ve explained all the big words in the question, I’m right with you on the answers.
I have managed to build up a totally different seo vocabulary from years wotrking in house and privately.
It’s possible that a lot of my SEO vocabulary comes from spending a lot of time with search patents and whitepapers.
Unfortunately, alot of people still miss the fact that SEO as opposed to PPC is a long term play. I get that all the time about expected traffic conversions coming in ASAP, while the site doesnt even rank at all. Bottom line is “you have to get in the game first before you can play the game”
The general aspect still comes into play “how long till Im number 1 in Google” the best answer to date is…”how long is a piece of string” the more work that goes into it the quicker the results, there is no 199.00 solution
Hi Toronto SEO,
I agree with you completely. Sometimes there are rare opportunities where some small changes may have some dramatic impacts when it comes to SEO, but the vast majority of the time it does take patience and hard work.
An effective SEO strategy may involve a large number of small changes to a site, with a passage of time to see the impact of those changes, and then additional changes. Most SEO campaigns need to begin with making a site search engine friendly in the first place, before worrying about how well the site ranks for different terms.
Bill, I missed this article in October and wanted to let you know that I appreciate your insights. What are your thoughts about Google Caffeine and how it will effect SEO.
Thanks for this article. A lot of stuff was new for me and it really got me to reconsider my own website.
/ Denmark …. hope you understand my writing!
Hi Web Design Michigan,
Thanks. Regarding Google Caffiene, and how it might affect SEO – by itself, the changes that Google Caffeine will bring shouldn’t be groundbreaking – it is a change in the way that infrastructure behind the search engine works.
But, chances are that Google will be able to do other things because of Google Caffeine, such as introducing and testing new algorithms quicker, revisiting pages where content may have changed on a faster basis, and capturing new content and new pages on a more timely basis. It’s likely that SEO will have to evolve to meet those challenges.
You’re welcome. I’m happy to hear that this post was helpful to you.
enjoy reading your posts and the variety of comments that follow. I was hoping to get your opinion on Google’s sidewiki tool and what you think the long term effects it will have as it relates to social media as well as the potential to replace some blogs. Thanks in advance for your time and insight.
Thank you. I consider myself very fortunate to have people coming by and leaving some great comments.
The use of Sidewiki is different enough from blogging and other forms of social media that it might not be considered by many as a replacement for those. But, as a way to annotate web pages, it could have some interesting impacts. I did write a post recently about Google’s version of TrustRank, and I see a potential role for Sidewiki in Google’s possible implementation of that. The post is Google Trust Rank Patent Granted.
not only is SEO legitimate is most often provides the best ROI of any form of advertising both on and off line. If your campaign is not generating leads then you may want to reconsider your target audience or rework the efforts and check where and for which terms your site is ranking…
I agree with you completely – for most sites I’ve seen and that I’ve worked upon, SEO does often provide the best return on investment of any possible choices. Imagine if businesses that spent many thousands on TV ads used that money instead on making their web sites better, and easier to find. I believe that they would be pleased with the choice.
I read your article with interest as I started life as a web designer 6 or 7 years ago and now find myself very much geared toward SEO of our companies sites (I probably spend more that 90% of my time keeping us up search engines than I do designing). Anyway, our business is a telephone answering service and your second question struck a chord as we recently took on a client who (unbeknown to us) was spamming google local business maps to generate business. It caused us a lot of grief as we were inundated with phonecalls from very (quite rightly) angry plumbers, carpenters, locksmiths etc as they were losing business.
We eventually booted off the client as they were harming our business/staffs mental well being too much. It caused me to do a fair bit of research into google local listings and the ease of which you could spam it and Iâ€™ve come to the sad conclusion that in some sectors it’s totally useless as google seems reluctant to police it.
and then when google decides to all-of-a-sudden change their algorithm… then what are you suppose to do when you have followed all the rules before? Interesting how SEO has evolved.
There are some serious issues and problems with the way that local search seems to work at Google. There also seems like a real desire (and possibly a real need) for them to start getting it right. Google does need to start paying more attention.
Build a great site, make it easily spiderable by all of the major search engines, write using language your audience expect to see on your pages, and will use to search for you. Learn about your audiences, and give them reasons to return on a regular basis.
There are too many people on the web promoting nonsense like “keyword densities” for pages, LSI-based keywords, PageRank sculpting using nofollow values.
I may write about patents and white papers from the major search engines on a regular basis, and there may be things that you can do on your pages that make it more likely that a search engine will send more visitors to your pages, but among the most important steps you can take is creating something that people want to find, return to, tell their friends about, link to, bookmark, and so on.
If you can do that, then changes in search algorithms will flow under you without causing much of a stir.
I suspect that if you travel back in time ten years to when AltaVista was the top search engine, you would find people saying the same thing. Then Google came along, and Yahoo purchased a number of search engines (including AltaVista) and entered the competition as well.
Very interesting questions (and answers). I thought the question #4 about image recognition and how it would relate to image searches is interesting. Software has come a long way with this type of technology such as face recognition in cameras. Besides how it can be used in search engine results, I find the fact that they are able to do it at all fascinating.
Image technology is one of those areas that still needs a lot of work, but there are things being done that are surprising. For instance, being able to sort through pictures, and pull out the images that have faces in them. It’s also fascinating that audio can be translated into sound wave images, which can then be compared to each other to find the same audio at different locations on the web.
Hey, We have used SEO companies in the past and we have found that we need to handle at least 80-90% of SEO in house. We have found SEO directly relates to our business as it is market research which is done almost in real time. Since we have stayed on top of our SEO we have found new products and new patterns in customer behavour. I think businesses today do not have this mentality to the web and in the future I think we can start to see this shift.
Good points. SEO is definitely part of a larger marketing plan, which is something that every business should have, and should be working upon on a regular basis. Paying attention to your customers and what they are interested in can do more than provide you with new keywords to optimize pages for. As you note, it can also lead to the development of new products and/or services. I suspect that we will start seeing more businesses and other organizations starting to recognize the value of SEO.
Hi Bill, Thank you so much for a great article – I do agree, SEO is as important as any other part of the marketing mix – and even more important. And it is true that a lot o developers still do not understand the importance of this -and hopefully you might help a few by writing this… unfortunately people reading articles about the issue is often the persons who to a start knew the importance. When I elaborate on the topic I think that the best online marketeers-will be the once that understand their business the best, and know how to communicate their message – just as it is in the outside world. However the advantage of the internet business is the vertical way of approaching the market with specialized solutions for niche markets. If you need to become a great online marketeer – you need to communicate and learn a few usefull seo tips as I see it. But again thank you for taking the time to elaborate your thoughts on SEO
I think you’re right. People who are marketing online who are ignoring the value that SEO can bring them are missing out on something very important – an understanding of the framework of the Web, and the role of search engines within that framework.
I’ve got to say, I dream of a time when ‘SEO’ becomes an extinct phrase. It would be great to think that the results you surf through from Google have been positioned there base PURELY on worth of content and legimate links from other sites. And no amount of meddling could somehow not effect that.
But I fear this pure vision will never become reality, and people are forced to ‘engineer’ their sites and links purely to gain positions in google.
My thoughts on the value of SEO here: https://www.seobythesea.com/2010/03/good-seo/
Too many people design and develop without a notion of the implications of what they do, from putting text in images where it can’t be indexed, to not using unique descriptions of pages in titles and much more. Applying an understanding of how search engines work to the development of your pages isn’t meddling or manipulating – it’s creating with an understanding of the context of the Web.
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