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?

Comments (7)

  1. Amelia Vargo wrote::

    Its important if your competitors are doing it!

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 3:41 pm #
  2. Chris M wrote::

    Exactly what @Amelia said, if your project is in a competitive space, then SEO practices are necessary, but in a less competitive space you’re spot on Matthew.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 8:57 am #
  3. Sarveshen wrote::

    I think seo is necessary in a competitive sense to an extent. We spend much of our time researching keywords and looking at what competitors are doing and either copying them or trying to improve on their efforts but i am firm believer that content is king, if you have good content, content that is useful (especially considering the economic climate) then people will find you. We should be forgetting about attracting the 5 million online users in SA and focus on creating content that attracts a loyal base that consistently looks to you for advice, support, etc. SEO should be apart of the strategy that helps your content to get found.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 9:22 am #
  4. Christine wrote::

    Hi Matthew,
    Architecture is a vital part to any good online presence as its the foundation to any online campaign.

    I also agree that if you are for example running a blog, where you are updating your content consistently – showing search engines that it is a ‘working product’ with continuous updated content etc you would not necessarily need to embark on an outright SEO campaign – pending your industry and reasons (intentions / goals) for blogging of course.

    If you have a website (not a blog focus) you have to consistently update your content to ‘keep proving’ that your site is indeed the most relevant over and above the hundreds of thousands of other like-themed websites competing for that same space.

    But architecture remains vital, as no matter how good your online presence, if your site is not user-friendly and easy to navigate & understand you’re not going to get very far either. SEO has evolved so much more than purely seeking a sought after Top 10 position. Yes, in the long run it is the most sustainable and cost effective kind of traffic, but if your website does not convert you may as well not market yourself online.

    The best kind of online campaign is a multi-channel campaign utilising the best channels for your specific demographic. Even better, the best overall marketing campaigns are those that tie traditional marketing channels (TV, radio, print) together with their online campaigns.

    There is so much more to it than just being ranked well – which is what makes it really exciting to be a part of this industry 🙂

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 9:57 am #
  5. James Mann wrote::

    I totally agree with Sarvechen. Content is key and like everything, if you have good content that reads well and has all your keywords present both in the body text, footers, and the index titles, then you should not have a problem. The problem only occurs, however, if you go overboard with your keywords and google will see this as spam and blacklist your site.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 11:40 am #
  6. Heard on IRC today regarding this post:

    13:29 I love how all the SEO whores^D^D^D^D^D^D^D Practitioners had to comment on that post… just adding their 2c, which is basically the de facto explanation for what SEO is.
    13:30 “YES, I agree completely! Now let once again repeat what everyone already knows about SEO so that my name appears under this blog post and a link to my website about how awesome I am at SEO”

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm #
  7. Well said, Matthew.

    And, of course you’re going to get a hundred comments from SEO ‘gurus’ saying “No, ja, no, I agree, but SEO is still important, I promise”.

    It’s comforting to know that there are still sensible people out there.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm #