I was having a discussion recently with some other web developers and it came to light that a lot of them still felt that search engine optimisation was…if you pardon my French….bullshit.
It was argued that if you simply wrote good, relevant content, then the traffic will come without needing to spend a lot of time and money on “optimising a website” and ultimately pandering to the needs of a particular search engine.
But is this still true – if you had two websites and all things being equal, would they both appear directly underneath each other in search results?
After all what do search engines know – most now use a very long and complex set of algorithms to offer what they feel are appropriate search results. Often geo-targetted (location-specific), or based on prior search results. So how can you really optimise your website to cover these variations – especially when the products or services you offer are totally location-agnostic for instance.
Its not gaming, its optimising
Sure there are a lot of SEO shysters out there who will happily fleece individuals and organisations for hundreds or even thousands of pounds and deliver no real tangible results. But is there really an ability to improve your website position without appearing to “game” the search engines – tricking them into ranking you better than you should be.
And if you do “game” the results, then how is that helping the end user make an informed choice?
If you’re not on page 1, forget it…
Coz lets face it, if you don’t appear on the first page of Google results then its been proven that people don’t click any further. So perhaps search engines are inadvertently filtering and limiting content just like TV adverts do for instance. Think of the number of products and services which we all use that DON’T advertise on TV (perhaps because they haven’t got the budget or they don’t see the need etc). And maybe this constant quest to appear on the first page of Google is actually pointless and very unhelpful. Some would say fruitless.
Clearly the way that Google ranks results is incredibly sophisticated and it uses many hundreds of variables. But surely its the sheer number of variables that can make SEO seem like a black art and still provoke such discussions amongst web developers. Because perhaps one of those “equal” websites has had its domain name registered for 10 years, whereas the other “equal” website has only been registered for 2 years. From my understanding from an SEO “expert”, this is a weighting that is considered and can affect the ranking as it supposedly shows a greater level of legitimacy and authenticity.
But is this actually, a fair, relevant and useful weighting to present to the end user?
Alright, just ignore me then
Take for instance my current website. Google Webmaster is resolutely refusing to acknowledge two of what I consider to be essential keywords to describe my business: “website” and “web”. Pretty hard to explain what I do without using either of those two terms, isn’t it? Understandably on their own, those two words are very generic, but with the words “design” and “designer”, they become integral to what I do.
And sure there’s a glut of web developers worldwide, most of which can probably do it better, cheaper and quicker than I can, but even so if I can’t get Google to recognise these keywords, then I’m on a hiding to nothing.
So unfortunately at the moment, I’m not even ranking in search results for “website design” or “WordPress web design”, whereas a competitor such as Juno Web Design, often appears top of such search results.
Maybe this is at least in part because their domain was first registered in 2008 and mine in 2011. They also use tricks like hiding content at the bottom of their page which is easy to ignore by a user but always gets picked up search engines – but is this gaming or purely optimising? And does this help the end user?
And why should it matter when a domain is first registered for instance?
And this is why I think that a lot of very experienced developers still consider SEO to be bullshit. Because there are so many variables in those algorithms which can ultimately and subtly affect the position of a website in search results. And often it appears there’s no rhyme nor reason to it.