SEO should not exist. But, it’s a necessary evil
In an ideal world, we would have no need for tanks, bombs and guns. There would be no disputed territory or fighting over resources. There would be no wars.
And if we could enjoy a similar utopia on the web, there would be no SEO. The industry that has grown up around the daily dogfight to appear on page one of Google’s search results would disappear.
But, in the real world SEO remains a necessary evil.
The job of a search engine like Google is to find the 10 pages that best match your query from the billions of possible alternatives. Despite the increasing sophistication of Google’s ranking algorithm, there is often still a gap between sites that are optimised for search and sites that provide the best user experience.
You will quite often see search results dominated by large, well known, but not particularly inspiring or user-friendly sites. As Google and other search engines try to keep your attention away from Facebook and other distractions, they often serve up the results you expect ahead of results you might want.
In my web utopia, Googlebot would have experienced every website on the internet just like a real user so it could show you the very best of the web in its search results. Not just the most popular sites. Until that’s possible, website owners will always be looking for ways to jump the queue.
Is SEO cheating?
To an extent, it is. You could argue that SEO is just about making life easier for Google. You have great content, you’re an excellent business, but you’re still dealing with an algorithm, so you need to give it a helping hand.
But a lot of SEO goes well beyond optimisation and instead focuses on finding those loopholes that will get a quick win in search rankings. The signals Google uses where manipulation is doable and difficult to detect.
Maybe you have a competitor with a better site, a bigger following or stronger brand awareness. It might be that SEO is the only place where the playing field feels even, where you can get people to start noticing your superior user experience.
This shouldn’t be necessary. If your site is better for the user, you shouldn’t need to optimise it for search and you certainly shouldn’t need to get involved in some of the tactics that bend or break the rules and ultimately only offer a temporary benefit.
What is sustainable SEO?
A few years ago, link building was the most popular SEO tactic and the quickest way to move the search results needle. Every SEO professional did it, and it was widely accepted in the industry as a legitimate strategy to increase rankings and traffic.
But did adding 1,000 links from sometimes relevant or frankly rubbish sites do anything to improve the user experience? Did that money and time invested really feel like building something for the long-term?
If it did then, it certainly doesn’t now. Google’s Penguin update is still rolling, still hitting sites that relied on a manipulated link profile for their rankings. Millions of dollars in revenue has been lost by companies that have been hit by Penguin’s various iterations. If they could turn back the clock, they would avoid link building like the plague.
Is SEO still important?
Unfortunately, yes. Unless you’re a huge brand, it’s a big mistake to think that SEO is beneath you. By taking the high road you are exposing yourself to a massive competitive disadvantage. SEO needs to be a big part of your online strategy. It needs to be woven through your content creation, your social media and across all aspects of your digital presence.
But you need to think about the shelf life of the tactics you employ. You should avoid not only the black hat SEO methods we all know about, but also the sorts of activity that is likely to become black hat in the future. Anything that is too quick and too easy, should give you pause for thought. And if you’re outsourcing your SEO, make sure you know what is being done in your name because you’ll carry the can for it.
Take Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as gospel. Work on each point outlined in the guide, make your site perfect, and accompany it with a great content marketing, social media, and branding strategy. This will not just show short-term results, but will ensure you are future-proofing your site.