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Google, SEO and getting it wrong

A couple of days ago I was in a meeting with a small group of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, discussing a new online retail venture. Being a startup, discussion quickly turned to SEO – search engine optimisation – and the techniques writers, programmers and SEO professionals use to get pages to rank higher in search engine results.

It’s a vital consideration, but it made me think…

Google (and let’s use ‘Google’ as a placeholder for ‘all search engines’) want to get it right. Google’s business success is founded on the quality of its search results. Its algorithm is a modern miracle, combining words on pages, page rank (essentially a site’s reputation), inbound and outbound links and a host of other considerations to rank results for any search term you care to think of.

Search results keep changing as Google tweak the results method; it’s an ongoing social experiment aimed at delivering the exact page you want.

So Google try to get it right, based on real websites and real user behaviour.

Yet clever SEO techniques distort websites and search results, trying to provide what they think Google wants to see. Dogs chasing tails or the other way around? Either way, users and usability lose out to copy written for machines, ‘link juice’, and distortions that give better results to whoever spends the most on optimisation.

Don’t get me wrong. I write SEO content almost every day. SEO is vital for business success. You’d be crazy if you didn’t take it into account on your site…

But it’s vital only because Google isn’t perfect. It doesn’t give you the right page, first up, every time. It needs our help.

And while we continue to subvert it to gain its love, it always will.


Date: Friday, 25. September 2009 10:47
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Subject area: Being bad, SEO, Trends
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  1. Christof
    Friday, 2. October 2009 0:41

    Great post.

    You’ve talked about an ‘ideal’, but the problem as I see it, (and it might be worth lightly comparing capitalism to SEO) is that there can be genuine value and long term wealth in a high ranking search position for many important and popular search terms.

    People can (and do) lose their morals (if they had any in the first place!) when some serious ‘coin’ is on offer, and they’ll do whatever it takes to secure and/or maintain their website’s high ranking position.

    Putting it simply: Corruption = rule breaking.

    It’s called ‘black-hat search engine optimisation’; meaning certain SEO techniques break the rules of popular search engine guidelines.

    And when it comes to hiring an SEO company to help, then I suppose it gets interesting because they’re under pressure to deliver. You’re paying them to provide better ranking results than the ones your website currently holds.

    My advice is to make sure your SEO company sticks to the webmaster guidelines set out by the search engines so that your websites’ ranking results are for the long term and are not going to be penalised by search engine for breaking the guidelines.

    Short cuts and up being the long way round.

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