It’s always sad when someone you look up to and admire rebuffs your affection. Like when the prettiest girl at school wouldn’t talk to you because you were a nerd (oh, sorry – was that just me? OK).
So I’m slightly disappointed that over the past couple of days The Guardian’s Technology section (which I have as my homepage) has published two pieces which cast aspersions on the merits of SEO.
First, in a piece on how Google now commands close to 90% of the UK search engine market, Jack Schofield said:
If your business depends on getting 30% to 60% of its traffic from Google searches, you certainly know which side your bread is buttered…. though that’s not going to stop some people trying to game the system with linkfarms, splogs and other SEO (search engine optimization) scams.
As I and another commenter observed, not all SEO is about scams but that certainly seemed to be the impression that Jack was trying to give. Then, in this week’s Technology section, Victor Keegan wrote a piece on why he felt Google was now becoming less useful when trying to find content. The reason? It’s all down to those pesky SEOs.
Search engines are becoming dominated by advertisers. This is especially true of Google, which is generally accepted as being “clean” in terms of separating paid advertisements from sponsored ones. The contextual ads on the right of the screen and immediately above the results are paid for. That’s fine. But so, in an indirect way, are the “clean” results because they are often the consequence of “search engine optimisation”, a multi-billion-pound industry paid to get corporate sites to the top of search results. If you type in something like “quiet family hotel in Venice” you will mainly be led to hotel groups or travel search firms rather than a bespoke hotel.
Well that’s it then; the work I do on a daily basis is making it hard for Victor to find that perfect bijou lodging house in Italy. Time to turn off the PC and go & do something less boring instead. Because obviously only huge corporates can afford SEO. Oh, hang on.
Except of course that this is utter codswallop. Indeed I’d suggest that someone at The Guardian obviously doesn’t think that SEO is such a bad thing as The Guardian site appears to have benefitted from at least a quick once over from someone who understands what makes sites more search friendly.
Whilst the site is far from perfect, their URLs are at least static, when they link from news articles it tends to be internally, and the headlines (whilst not written particularly well from an SEO perspective, despite the fact that their very own Peter Preston has identified how important this is) appear as the title tags – always a good move when looking to gain search traffic.
What’s even more riduclous about this seeming dislike for the dark arts (sic) of SEO is that they’re more than happy to do puff pieces on every new Web 2.0 start-up, with not a shred of a business plan: at least SEOs make money for their clients. Take today’s interview with digg founder Kevin Rose.
But if, like Facebook, Digg will offer targeted advertising, based on users’ interests, and since content will soon be suggested based on the previous stories and links that Digg users made favourites of or dug, and combined with the plan to create social connections between users based on shared Diggs – surely this will provide a way to make money.
Because Facebook is raking it in – that $15bn valuation is looking really tight right now.
Or how about this?
Why is so popular? “People want to have a voice and a say in what is news,” Rose anwers. “We’ve levelled the playing field by accepting all other forms of content, whether it’s sources from CNN, the Guardian … it’s about seeing what the masses want to surface, which articles they are finding the most interesting, and oftentimes they unearth and promote stories to the front page that you wouldn’t find anywhere else; that would be buried on a traditional news site.”
Yeah, what the people really want are stories about Ron Paul, Apple & kittens falling off TVs. And buckling to your community when they break the law is a really clever way to build a business.
So, if Victor Keegan thinks that Google is broken, what does he think the answer is? Oh, of course – Jimmy Wales’ Wikia: the people powered search engine.
If – and it is a big if – Wikia gets a critical mass of people, it could develop into something really useful.
Didn’t we just show, with the digg example, that the wisdom of crowds isn’t actually infallible? And no-one ever edits Wikipedia to promote nasty corporates, do they? Oh.
Still, at least their is one voice of reason at The Guardian (and to be fair, I hope that in the coming weeks Keegan & Schofield show some understandings of the complexities of SEO, and the different methods it encompasses – maybe they should read Danny’s brilliant piece defining what SEO is & isn’t): earlier in the week Jemima Kiss wrote a very simple piece outlining what SEO really is.
The irony? As one friend commented on Twitter about the article:
the Guardian article seems well optimised for “search engine optimisation”, will be interesting to see how well it ranks in Google!
It all makes me wonder too…
‘No lie..’ image by Keith Bacongco on flickr