SEO Is neither Dead nor Deceptive – here's why.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a number of blog posts and articles which describe the technique of SEO as underhanded, manipulative, and even “scammy.”
This all started while I was tweeting for Breezy Hill, and I came across an older piece by Forbes Contributor Ken Krogue entitled, “The Death Of SEO: The Rise Of Social, PR, And Real Content.” This article was ranked #1 across Forbes, and, understandably, sparked a huge amount of controversy.
For those new to the concept: SEO, or search engine optimization, means taking actions to improve a website’s search rankings. SEO has been a blanket term for everything from writing keyword-rich meta descriptions, to buying hundreds of backlinks on other sites.
SEO can help websites appear in the top results for relevant search terms. Over 90% of searchers click on a search result on the first page, and organic traffic, i.e. traffic that didn’t come from paid advertising or push advertising, can often yield the highest conversion rates.
In other words, websites with effective SEO generate more traffic, more leads, and more business. So why the negativity?
Actually, negativity makes perfect sense, considering the history of SEO.
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As I said before, SEO is an umbrella term which can include pretty much any action taken to improve a website’s search rankings.
So what might an SEO team do for a website?
- Choose focus keywords for each page and post on the site
- Correct common issues with the robots.txt and index files
- Provide keyword-rich meta descriptions for every page
- Ensure that most or all URLs contain their pages’ focus keywords
- Include lots of internal and external links
- Use photos with appropriate keyword-rich alt text
- Embed Google Analytics code in the website
- Write content that takes advantage of common or ideal search terms
- Include focus keywords in the content
- Create or purchase lots of backlinks, often from ill-reputed sites
Most of those examples are SEO best practices designed to ensure that your website can provide helpful content to the people searching for it. The last example, however, is one of the worst SEO blunders you can make.
Search engines keep track of how many other sites are linking to each of your pages. Theoretically, this is a metric for how useful other people find your content. However, SEO teams used to take advantage of this metric by creating lots of spammy, irrelevant links solely for SEO value.
Additionally, SEO teams used to write entire posts and pages solely to improve search rankings. They prioritized including as many keyword instances as possible over creating great content. As a result, a lot of content out there wasn’t written for people; instead, robots were the intended audiences.
These practices are now viewed as dishonorable gaming of the search engine system.
In the industry, these practices are collectively called black-hat SEO. White hat SEO, on the other hand, consists of all the strategies that precede the last one in my handy bulleted list.
In my recent reading, I’ve seen white hat SEO described as merely a more subtle form of black-hat SEO. The logic was that, although black-hat is more blatantly misleading, both sides are fundamentally taking advantage of search engine algorithms to artificially boost rankings.
My answer: The fundamental difference is that white-hat SEO isn’t artificially boosting rankings at all; it’s using the search engine system to effectively and accurately communicate with relevant searchers. These SEO techniques aren’t actually manipulative, because they help search engines do their job.
In other words, black-hat SEO consists of providing misinformation to corrupt the search engine system and improve rankings, while white-hat SEO improves rankings by providing accurate, useful information that helps the search engine system work better.
it’s no wonder that black-hat SEO techniques have fallen out of vogue.
And the best part? They aren’t effective. At least, not anymore.
It all changed in 2012, when Google’s Penguin update began punishing websites for SEO malpractice. Websites which previously had great search rankings, thanks to black-hat SEO, saw their rankings fall dramatically.
This update, combined with subsequent updates that effectively prioritized human-readable content over robot-optimized text, forced a shift – now, if companies want to rank highly, they’ve got to work with search engines to reach and provide valuable content to relevant searchers.
The future of SEO is helping search engines, not manipulating them.
I believe that this future is a very bright one indeed.
Effective SEO today means building your site for human readers, not search engines. The quality of your content is the single most important factor in your search rankings. If you create helpful, interesting content, your site will rank higher than any black-hat SEO site.
We recommend optimizing as you go, so that you maximize the SEO value of your content, while prioritizing your content itself.
What about backlinks? They still matter, but we don’t recommend creating them yourself. Remember, great content is everything. Generate content that your readers will want to share, and make it easy for them to share it with embedded social media buttons.
Black-hat SEO was a reflection of the infancy of search engine algorithms, and has been made irrelevant by their adolescence.
As the practice of SEO has developed into an honorable one, its critics should move forward, too. SEO is a broad field; bemoaning the entire concept because of its associated malpractices makes about as much sense as criticizing the concept of programming because of the existence of malware made irrelevant by antivirus software.
Organic searches can yield valuable customers; don’t neglect this crucial part of your pipeline. For effective digital marketing, and to maximize the utility of your website, honorable SEO is indispensable.
Ultimately, I have to acknowledge that I agree largely with what Ken Krogue asserted in his article, and those following it: Content is king, and manipulative SEO is no longer effective.
That said, in my opinion, honorable SEO and great content are two sides of the same coin; one does not work without the other. SEO is not dead, but only now entering its prime.
Do you agree that the field of SEO is entering a bright future, or has search engine algorithm complexity overcome the need for dedicated SEO? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Looking to learn more about the benefits of great SEO, the power of inbound marketing, or what you can do to improve your website? Contact us for a free 20-minute consultation!