Search Engine Optimization and the Race to the Bottom

In the Radar back-channel, Wesabe’s Marc Hedlund points us to a provocative post by Merlin Mann likening today’s obsession with Google search rankings to cargo cults. Indeed, the desire for high rankings on a Google search page and the implied financial returns from that is making us do crazy things: making headlines boring, giving incorrect information up top in an article to steal attention, even — and this pains me as a former copy editor — abandoning the active voice. (On a related note, Ian Kallen of Technorati has a trenchant but hilarious talk that he delivered at a recent San Francisco Ignite, in which he likened comment spam, an extreme of SEO, as a battle between good and evil.)

One of my favorite pieces we’ve run this year in Release 2.0 — and one I believe is relevant to the search engine optimization (SEO) issue — is Nat Torkington’s warning of the dangers inherent in building a business on someone else’s API, an expanded version of his Six Basic Truths of Free APIs post for Radar. He argues, conclusively, that API owners can change their platforms any way they want any time they want, and building anything atop such APIs without explicit written assurances from the owner of the API is a sure way to fail. (As a generation of young Facebook developers will soon find out for themselves, it’s very easy for platform owners to compete and win against independents. It’s no accident that the most successful software built atop Microsoft Windows is Microsoft’s own Office suite.)

In a sense, Google’s PageRank system works like an API. Google has complete control over PageRank’s underlying algorithms and changes them regularly to refine their system and foil the black-hat SEOs. But aren’t black-hat and white-hat SEOs doing almost the same thing? SEO started as an activity done by people for various nefarious purposes. But, it turns out, the practice works, so the good guys have picked up the same methods. It’s a race to the bottom. But there’s no guarantee that the way a publisher contorts content to be rewarded by Google’s PageRank will work down the line. Publishers are rewriting and redesigning to meet criteria that could change at any time for any reason. And when those changes come, as they always do, publishers will change again and again and force site visitors to behave in different ways each time. No reader deserves that treatment.

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  • The bottom line is that Google SEO dramatically increases revenue – and even Search Engine Marketing – if done right – can be significant.

    Before the Web and Search Engines, people depended on Yellow pages, junk mail, radio and local TV ads if they could afford it. Your brick and mortar businesses were almost totally dependent on the proximity of their customers. Look at how the Web has enabled outsourcing and nationwide trade.

    To fully take advantage of this new dimension, entrepreneurs are forced to exploit online marketing.

    They can still continue to engage in more traditional advertising and continue to exploit that potential, but this adds an extra layer of options that can put a company in the black and even allow new business to get started in a cost effective manner.

    Since Google admittedly uses over 200 variables when deciding on rankings – a site that gets in the top 30 for quality keywords has been ‘validated’ by a variety of external sites in a process called democratic voting (backlinks). Redesigning and reworking the content will not play the major role it has had in the past

  • Democratic voting (backlinks)

    Sounds good, but for sure this is the reason that Google hates link purchasing so much. Junk links that serve no purpose, and purchased links, cloud the picture and is why some sites that are “validated” in the SERPS are spam driven junk.

    Seems like a big ebb and flow and a constant never ending battle when analyzing the serps. They seem to get better, then worse.

    Public PageRank is quasi useless anyway. Directories that were penalized severely for their practices recently retained toolbar PageRank.

    The Six Basic Truth’s of Free API’s above couldn’t be more on target.

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  • Marketing is an ongoing process of planning and executing the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place, Promotion often referred to as the 4 Ps) for products, services or ideas to create exchange between individuals and organizations.

  • optimize for Google and no one else.For the moment, and the foreseeable future, Google is God. For purposes of analyzing trends, Yahoo! has been in a declining mode, and MSN and Ask have seen slight gains. But in the end, the 200 pound Gorilla is Google and that isn’t likely to change anytime in the near future, notwithstanding a possible acquisition of Yahoo by Microsoft.