Is SEO evil?

It’s an old debate, but always worth a good discussion: The Digital Edge podcast by Jarred Cinman and Saul Kropman is tackling the topic of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). It’s a contentious topic, around which there is still discussion, and a bit of obfuscation.

The podcast sensationally interviews two “anonymous SEO practitioners” to see how they use their knowledge in an “unscrupulous manner” to promote the likes of online casinos and even remove websites from Google rankings.

But, more importantly, it also looks at the scrupulous, above-board side of the industry by speaking to Rob Stokes, founder of respected web marketing firm Quirk — a ten-year old company that specialises in SEO for various clients.

Differing views on SEO
So some would argue that it’s a dodgy practice, focused on “cheating” Google into giving websites higher rankings. In the early days of the web the practice was probably more effective than it is now. It was a cat-and-mouse game largely with one search engine: Google.

These days, the search engine has wised up to many of the dodgy practices designed to exploit loopholes. There aren’t too many of those loopholes left, or at least Google closes them quickly, and SEO focuses on legal means to boost search engine rankings.

SEO should in fact not be about SEO
My personal view is that while I believe the practice has value, for me it’s never been the primary focus of any web development project. For me SEO is a by-product of good web development and publishing practices. This means that the focus is not on explicitly achieving SEO, but rather on building good websites. Open source sites, like Drupal and WordPress, achieve excellent SEO merely by virtue of the fact that they are well-built.

So for me search engine prominence is a natural by-product if:

  • Your content is compelling enough for people to link to, talk about, and achieve prominence. This seems to be the most neglected part of search engine optimisation, yet everything always begins and ends with the content. Spend a few more bucks on good writing and contentious, valuable topics — and that will get you optimised.
  • Your web development follows W3C standards and is executed according to best practice. The blog content management system, WordPress, is a shining example of this. Using features such as tags will make the search engines love you even more.
  • You use available, legal tools and APIs provided by the search engines. Register with Google and the other search engines and use their APIs to make your site more searchable. For example, use Google Webmaster to allow you to optimise your site by doing things like creating site maps.

The rest? How important is it really?

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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