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I long held the belief that SEO was “shady”. There is a common conception of it as a necessary “evil”. I now believe that nothing could be farther from the truth. Although there are systems that attempt to cheat the system, I find that these attempts either ruin the user experience, resulting in poor sales conversion, or risk punishment from the search engines, namely Google. If I really wanted to, I could demonstrate a hundred different ways to hide content on a page, and none of it would be worth it if you want to be spending your money rightly.
Many of you know something about SEO already, and we each have our own unique idea of what it is. The acronym itself doesn’t lend much help. It refers to anything from optimizing a page for keyword content, to link building and article campaigns.
Where money is being spent in the SEO industry:
Although I am unable to find accurate statistics for the amount of money being spent in each respective area, I have come to believe from my experience that there is massive overspending in the first category. The reason there is overspending is because of the history of Google’s PageRank system.
In 1998, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, their idea revolutionized everything about the way search engines operate. By offering better search results, they proved, almost overnight that “link popularity”, or the number of websites linking to yours, was key in understanding the importance of pages in the hierarchy of the web. Affectionately known as a “democratic system”, this opened a potentially massive can of worms for exploitation. Huge websites were built that were designed to pump up many websites’ link popularity (now known as “link-farms”), and thus PageRank, artificially.
Because of the link-farms, and other forms of link spam, that are still pervasive to this day, Google was forced to reconsider it’s formula in order to continue offering the best, most relevant search results. They began to weight their formula more heavily towards content, in an effort to find relevancy, analyzing the language used in the context of a web page. The best example I know of this reformulation is the famous hoax that caused a search for “miserable failure” to land on the front door of the white house, featuring on it’s front page a picture of President George W. Bush. After Google changed the formula, a search for “miserable failure” landed on pages with commentary about the prank.
This famous hoax was a result of a huge piece of link spam, in which bloggers and forum posters created links to the whitehouse, with the term “miserable failure” in the anchor text of the link. This type of technique is now considered to be marginally useful, and is considered by some not even to be SEO. You cannot be punished for bad links coming in to your site (you don’t have control over who links to you), but often, massive link campaigns similar to the miserable failure hoax can and will quickly become irrelevant overnight.
Because the history of PageRank is a long one in internet years (10 years is a blink of the eye in real history), it has become a convenient sales pitch that sounds perfectly reasonable but can be dramatically misleading. PageRank simply is not what it used to be.
In November of 2007, Google performed another update to their PageRank system. Sites which were perceived as selling links were punished. As a result of lowered PageRank, they passed on less value to their links, and a trickle-down effect began. Almost every website that I worked on suddenly lost exactly one PR point, even the ones that had never bought a link. Despite this, not one page I was responsible for suffered in Google rankings. Each continued to be indexed in the exact, or almost exact way. One site I managed even improved, suddenly breaching a couple of moderate keyword categories that I did not expect, although they were definitely relevant to its content. What began as anxiety and worry about the PageRank correction, became a realization that the PageRank depreciation was a positive thing, a movement towards the relevancy of content. Google in the future will be even more closely connected to the programmed interpretation of the meaning of language. This is something that cannot be artificially optimized for.