Is the Death Knell for SEO Going to Sound?

February 9, 2008

Not long ago, a small company wondered why its Web site was the Avis to its competitor’s Hertz. The company’s president checked Google each day, running a query to find out if the rankings had changed.

I had an opportunity to talk with several of the people at this small company. The firm’s sales did not come from the Web site. Referrals had become the most important source of new business. The Web site was — in a sense — ego-ware.

I shared some basic information about Google’s Web master guidelines, a site map, and error-free code. These suggestions were met with what I would describe as “grim acceptance.” The mechanics of getting a Web site squared away was work but not unwelcome. Mycomments articulated what the Web team already knew.

The second part of the meeting focused on the “real” subject. The Web team wanted the Web site to be number one. I thanked the Web team and said, “I will send you the names of some experts who can assist you.” SEO work is not my cup of tea.
Then, yesterday, as Yogi Berra allegedly said, “It was déjà vu all over again.” Another local company found my name and arranged a meeting. Same script, different actors.

“We need to improve our Google ranking,” the Web master said. I probed and learned that the company’s business came within a 25 mile radius of the company’s office. Google and other search engines listed the firm’s Web site deep in the results lists.

I replayed the MP3 in my head about clean code, sitemaps, etc. I politely told the local Web team that I would email them the names of some SEO experts. SEO is definitely an issue. Is the worsening economy the reason?
Here’s a summary of my thinking about these two opportunities for me to bill some time, make some money:

  1. Firms want to be number one of Google and somehow have concluded that SEO tactics can do the trick.
  2. There is little resistance to mechanical fixes, but there is little enthusiasm for adding substantive content to a Web site
  3. In the last year, interest in getting a Web site to the top of or has declined, based on my observations.

Content, the backbone of a Web site, is important to site visitors. When I do a Web search, I want links to sites that have information germane to my query. Term stuffing, ripped off content, and other “tricks” don”t endear certain sites to me.

I went in search of sources and inspiration for ranking short cuts. Let me share with you some of my more interesting findings:

You get the idea. There are some amazing assertions about getting a particular Web site to the top of the Google results list. Several observations may not be warranted, but here goes:

First, writing, even planning, high-impact, useful content is difficult. I’m not sure if it is a desire for a short cut, a lack of confidence, laziness, or inadequate training. There’s a content block in some organizations, so SEO is the way to solve the problem.

Second, Web sites can fulfill any need its owner may have. The problem is that certain types of businesses will have a heck of a time appearing at the top of a results list for a general topic. Successful, confident people expect a Web indexing system to fall prey to their charms as their clients do. Chasing a “number one on Google” can be expensive and a waste of time. There are many “experts” eager to help make a Web site number one. But I don’t think the results will be worth the cost.

Third, there are several stress points in Web indexing. The emergence of dynamic sites that basic crawlers cannot index is a growing trend. Some organizations may not be aware that their content management system (CMS) generates pages that are difficult, if not impossible, for a Web spider to copy and crunch Google’s programmable search engine is one response, and it has the potential to alter the relevance landscape if Google deploys the technology. The gold mine that SEO mavens have discovered guarantees that baloney sites will continue to plague me. Ads are sufficiently annoying. Now more and more sites in my results list are essentially valueless in terms of substantive content.

The editorial policy for most of the Web sites I visit is non-existent. The Web master wants a high ranking. The staff is eager to do mechanical fixes. Recycling content is easier than creating solid information.

The quick road to a high ranking falls off a cliff when a search system begins to slice and dice content, assigns “quality” scores to the informaton, and builds high-impact content pages. Doubt me. Take a look at this Google patent application, US20070198481 and let me know what you think.

Stephen Arnold, February 9, 2008


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