Learn Shortcuts, Not Content Excellence

July 8, 2008

Google controls the majority of Web search traffic in North America. The GOOG is good, but so far slippery fish like Yandex and Baidu remind venture capitalists and entrepreneur, the GOOG is not flawless. But in the fat-bellied U S of A, Google reigns supreme. A Web site that is not in the Google index does not exist. A Web site that does not appear in the top five or six hits on the first page of a search results’ page takes a kick to the liver.

SEO or search engine optimization is a real live discipline. There are hundreds of companies offering a wide range of services. Some are focused on getting a Web site to comply with Google’s Web master guidelines. Other offer exotic techniques to take a plain Bill Web site and dress him up to look like George Clooney. The idea is that George Clooney Web sites get more eyeballs than just plain Bill Web sites.

Disclaimer: I avoid SEO like I avoid dark alleys, my grade school playground at 3 am, and a yard full of mistreated pit bulls.

If you want your just plain Bill Web site to appear higher in a Google results list, there is now a full day course “Optimizing for Universal Search” for you. You can read the full description of the training class here. The instructors are search engine optimization experts, Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR and Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit.

My experience in SEO is non existent, but I did grind through some of the information on this arcane practice for a section in my 2005 The Google Legacy. I tracked down about a 100 factors that appear to have had bearing on how a Web site gets to the top of a Google results list. I received more inquiries about this table from crazed people who had to get site traffic than any other topic in the monograph. Like the angry goose which is my logo, I deleted any discussion of SEO in my subsequent Google writings and presentations. I am not interested in helping 20-somethings make a Web site “popular”. I learned enough in my review of SEO to make formulate these views:

  • Most Web sites have little substantive content. I am delighted that these Web sites do not appear high in my queries’ search results.
  • Google spends quite a bit of energy trying to stay one step ahead of SEO wizards who fool PageRank. If I were smart enough to be a Google engineer and unlucky enough to be assigned to the team trying to deal with SEO spoofers’ tricks, I would probably honk loudly in annoyance. What a waste of mental work. Honk, honk.
  • SEO firms charge big bucks to help Bill become George Clooney, a former Mayfair, Kentucky resident I must add. Some of the customers are having a hard time differentiating the services, figuring out of the fixes actually work, and trying to retrofit Web sites to deal with crazy urls pumped out by equally crazy content management systems.

What my research revealed is that content really helps a Web site get a high Google ranking. The theory is proven by my own tests. Put up content that people find interesting, and those people–fueled by their own motives–link to the good, interesting, or useful information. Over time, content wins. Metatag strategies, weird indexing, and child pages stuff with recycled text lose out tosubstantive content.


Navigate to Google.com. Enter the word pair beyond search. Beyond Search–this Web log–is the top result. The exercise demonstrates what I learned reading about SEO. In a nutshell, content without SEO can do okay.

My hunch is that the SEO experts will mention the fact that a Web site needs information. In the context of a full day, other techniques will be discussed. But at the end of the day, content is difficult. Creating content that people will read is even more difficult.

Agree? Disagree? Help me understand why trickery, shortcuts, and making work for Google engineers is a good thing.

Stephen Arnold, July 7, 2008


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