Saturday, October 26, 2013

Is SEO Gaming the System?

A recent Forbes.com article posed the question: "SEO and Other Web Marketing Techniques: Tools or Tricks?" The article, written by Roger Kay, who "covers endpoints and how they relate to the cloud," begins by differentiating Google (over Facebook and Twitter) as the premier Internet platform: "Because," to quote Kay's surprisingly sophomoric writing, "no other company ties together everything on the Internet the way Google does."

Despite our misgivings with the quality of the writing itself, Kay's article inspires an intriguing discussion on the value of Google and how "charlatans" have gamed the platform to increase PageRank. For a definition of PageRank, Kay (showing a first-class knowledge on the subject) links to Wikipedia.

Of course, Wikipedia offers a concise and studious definition of PageRank. However, if you're going to write about PageRank and its relation to web marketing techniques, like SEO, you might seek a more nuanced definition. We attempted to offer our own definition of PageRank in a prior post: "The Difference Between Website Ranking and Website Optimization."

In that post, we also quoted Wikipedia to illustrate a seemingly elusive component of PageRank: "Google has not disclosed the specific method for determining a Toolbar PageRank value, which is to be considered only a rough indication of the value of a website."

Kay seems to have missed this last, crucial caveat: PageRank is "only a rough indication of the value of a website." And by misunderstanding the term itself, Kay's article commences with a faulty premise.

Specifically, when speaking about the so-called "charlatans," Kay seems to imply the whole goal of "gaming the system" is to increase PageRank. Specifically, in terms of SEO, he describes a keyword stuffing scenario we have condemned again and again here on the Organic SEO Blog:

"The idea is that certain words and phrases on a Web page will raise its ranking.  Stuff your page with them, and your visibility on the Internet will rise."

High-qualty SEO is not about stuffing your page with keywords. High quality SEO is about the appropriate use of keywords. This is not some form of trickery; it's a fundamental marketing principle: speak in your customer's language.

When defining keywords for a site, a website owner necessarily refines his/her vision. The simplest way to achieve this vision is to ask, "How would someone find me on Google?"

SEO specialists use keywords for this purpose: so that customers can more easily discover the exact product or service they are looking for. We wrote about this, too, in a prior post: "How SEO Can You Clarify Your Business Offering."

Now, thankfully Kay does not limit his opinion of SEO to keyword stuffing:

"Of course, there’s more to it than that. Aside from the cat-and-mouse game played between Google and the SEO mavens, there’s the dynamic aspect of it. Fresh content does better than stale content, and so the SEO devotee needs to keep changing what’s on the page."

Kay is right: the SEO specialist does need to continue changing "what's on a page." But he does not adequately explain why, exactly, this is gaming the system.

In fact, fresh content is a core principle of high-quality SEO. Relevance is key!We believe the Internet is a better place, and yes more "dynamic," when websites strive to offer new, relevant information as often as possible. After all, one of the most popular sites on the web is The New York Times. Of course, not all website are storied news publications--but why shouldn't a website refresh often to better meet the dynamic needs of its potential users/customers?

After seemingly dismissing SEO without understanding it, Kay finishes his article by praising "Inbound marketing":

"So, what does inbound marketing even mean?  It’s closely related to viral marketing, the idea that a really good idea takes off by itself as people pass it along to one another, eventually spreading it everywhere...inbound will only work if the product is good.  Effectively, the Internet is a fantastic channel to give an idea a chance to make it in the wild, but the virus only spreads if the content justifies the buzz."

In a sense, this is the central theme of The Organic SEO Blog: no SEO campaign will work without a sufficiently "good" platform. We advocate well-written content and dynamic changes--the type of inventive information that will create a buzz and attract users. As we wrote in a recent post, "A Crucial SEO Question: Quality or Quantity":

"The Internet is best served when website owners pay attention to the quality of writing. Happily, this is not merely our opinion: it's Google's opinion, too. Google favors well-written, informative content. And despite the example of Bleacher Report, good writing is still the best way for most websites to attract attention."

This is what Kay seems to miss about SEO--and perhaps what he misses about his own writing: quality trumps all.

This is not trickery. It's hard work. But as our sponsor, Stepmans PC writes in "SEO is not the Enemy":

"Remember, do not fight the algorithm, and do not attempt to trick the system in any way. If you perform optimization correctly–organically—your website will be richly rewarded."

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