On SEO Scepticism

I think I’m going to form a new society. It’s called the “SEO Sceptics Society“, but it’s not about being sceptical of optimising sites for search engines, but sceptical about the industry that has grown up around it.

To explain.

Google is by far the world’s most popular search engine with around 80% market share which, as an aside, makes you wonder why competition monitors haven’t had a crack at it yet.

The fact that its very name has become a verb meaning “to search” must suggest that it gives searchers the best, most relevant sites in response to their search, ranking results by relevance to the search term. So how does it do this?

Firstly, it encourages sites to think about the key words or messages which they want each page to convey and to use these messages in the text, the headers and the page titles. This makes it easy for Google to index the pages, preferring them to be clean, well-written and fast-loading.

Great, so far nothing to be sceptical about. But, Google’s real selling point is the concept of a site’s authority.

Let’s imagine that I wrote the best article ever on the 2008 banking crisis. An article so good, so definitive, that Robert Peston and the Bank of England themselves linked their sites to it before giving up their day jobs. Google would already know that their sites are authorities in their fields (because of the sites that link to them) so for them to link to me would be a massive vote and my site’s authority, or Page Rank, would shoot up. Thus, the next time you Googled about the banking crisis, my site would be at the top of the results page. Still no reason for the scepticism. Assuming that my motives for writing the article were academic or informative, then I would have earned links and, therefore, authority.

But what if I wasn’t trying to earn links, but to bait them? What if I wrote articles on my site or blog just to attract links? What if I sought to procure links to my site simply to bolster my Page Rank and, consequently, traffic and possible sales?

Less optimisation, more manipulation.

Although Google frowns on the widespread practice of paying for links, even seemingly innocuous techniques like blogging, commenting on forums and other link-building campaigns have spawned a lucrative industry. By paying specialists to create or bait these links, it is possible, common even, for low quality sites which offer little real authority or value to rank top of Google.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you should not create content or blogs to inform or communicate and therefore earn links. My issue is with the idea of creating content solely to attract, justify or embed links.

Inadvertently, Google has created a monster. An industry that it cannot control and yet which is totally dependent on it.

Illegal? Not at all. Unethical? Not really. Immoral? Nah. Wrong? Just possibly.

Now see why I’m sceptical?