There have been a few blog posts recently suggesting that SEO is simply cheating the system, and that anybody who partakes in SEO activities is a criminal. (Check out Lisa Barone’s take on Google and SEO criminals.) While I can certainly see how you could reach that conclusion, there is more to SEO than just gaming a system and none of it is criminal.
Remember, the search engine giants (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) are in business to do one thing – help us find stuff. And not just any old stuff, but good stuff. We give them words or phrases, and they use their secret methods for deciding which web pages best match our intent. As searchers, we want highly relevant results – pages that really have to do with our topic. So how would you define “highly relevant pages” anyway?
I’d suggest highly relevant pages have the following qualities:
- Content that talks about our topic – If the page actually discusses the topic in question, then the odds are pretty good of it being relevant.
- Pictures that relate to our topic – Especially in the case of a visually oriented topic, like a DIY handyman project or biology dissection, pictures and charts can be critical tools in fully explaining or describing a topic.
- Pages that are about our topic – Many webmasters recognize that they may not do the greatest job at describing what their page is about, so they rely on standard web page metadata to help in that description. This supplementary information helps the search engine ensure that it has a complete view of the intent for that page.
So how would an SEO advocate address these qualities?
- Content that talks about our topic – Metrics like content keyword density, and elements such as bold tags and header tags all contribute to building a strong case for the web page topic. Unless you have a bad case of written diarrhea, chances are good that a 3-5% keyword density and keyword headers indicate that the page is about that keyword.
- Pictures that relate to our topic – No search engine yet can put a picture in context, so they have to rely on data about the picture. In SEO terms that’s the alt tag, image file name, and caption. While relatively easy to fake, the search engines don’t rely solely on this so it really only helps when you’re playing the entire page fairly.
- Pages that say they’re about our topic – Web page metadata is prominent in most SEO efforts, including the page title, <H1> tag, and meta description. However strongly the search engine regards the page title, however, the support of the other elements solidifies the idea of what the web page is all about.
As you can see, many of the basic elements of SEO best practices align with the spirit of what makes a web page relevant. In other words, SEO makes sure that your web pages have all the elements the search engines are expecting to find on your web site.
Naturally, some people abuse those elements or employ them in a way contrary to page relevance. Still, that doesn’t make the elements themselves bad – it just means the abusers are bad.
So you see, we aren’t all criminals, and we’d appreciate it if you didn’t paint us all with the same brush.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re totally guilt free… In my next SEO post I’ll talk about how SEO is evil after all.