The changing face of SEO

By Eric Enge

Search engine optimization (SEO) used to be simple. You figured out what keywords you wanted to rank on, you put them in your title, you stuffed them in the keyword metatags, and you loaded them on the page, and you were done. Better still, if you were a spammer, it did not really matter if the keywords you loaded on your page related to what you were trying to sell.

Then the search engines took this form of spamming away. They began to use incoming links to your site to measure the importance of the site as a major factor in deciding how you could rank for terms.

Some of this was driven to the emergence of Google with their dependence on the Page Rank Algorithm. Once the number one concern of every SEO, Page Rank has become a minor factor in Google's ranking algorithm. Read about it in Page Rank Demystified.

With the advent of page rank, and the focus on incoming links. a new form of spamming took hold. People began buying links from other sites, or swapping links in huge quantities. If you are a webmaster, you have gotten the emails - "Link popularity is key to your search engine rankings, let's swap links ".

Trouble is that the search engines wanted links to represent a legitimate endorsement of your site. Buying links clearly did not qualify, and reciprocal links were simply barter. So the search engines moved on and put more and more restrictions on the nature of the links.

Search engines began to evaluate the relevance of the links. Did you receive a link from a site about the same topic as yours? If so, good. Otherwise, not as good. In fact, a link swap with an irrelevant site - no value at all, perhaps even harmful.

Was the link you purchased something an algorithm could detect? Or even a human reviewer? Or even one that a competitor could report? Any of these will make a purchased link have no value. Worse still, if you buy many links you can get banned by the search engine.

The Big Daddy update by Google was a major advance in making this all reality. Sites that relied heavily on swapped links were hammered. As for purchased links, Google is investing more and more in methods to detect these and discount them entirely, or punish those who do it excessively. Read these articles to get a Linking Overview or to learn some good Linking Strategies.

Now Google is investing in more and more algorithms to better assess what your site (and page) is about. Relevance is king. The perfect link is from a highly respected (authority) site on your topic, from a page on your topic, using anchor text that related to an important keyword, to a directly related page on your site.

In addition, it helps if all of your site is about related topics, and the page is laser focused on the topic. In fact, Google will soon be increasing or decreasing your rankings based on how you rank on related keywords.

It's all about relevance. If your site is about 20 different unrelated topics, this will hurt its rankings on all topics. If your site is about 20 different highly related topics, this will improve your rankings on all topics.

So what do search engines want you to do? The answer can be expressed in two bullet points:

  1. Design your site as if search engines did not exist
  2. Market your site as if search engines did not exist

OK, so this is a little bit extreme. You do need to be search engine smart. There are a few things you need to do:

  1. Don't build a site with Flash or Javascript as the primary tools, as search engines can't crawl them.
  2. Understand what terms your users are searching on, and use them richly (but not overly so) in the text on your pages (but wouldn't you do that if search engines did not exist?)
  3. Build simple hierarchical sites that are easy to navigate (but wouldn't you do that if search engines did not exist?)
  4. Market your site to highly related sites where you are likely to get the best incoming traffic (but wouldn't you do that if search engines did not exist?)

You can see a summary of things to not do (such as use too much Flash and Javascript) in our article titled Top 10 Bad SEO Ideas.

More and more, smart SEO is about smart marketing. Instead of treating SEO as a separate science that is at war with marketing departments and web designers, start thinking about "SEO Enabled Internet Marketing".

SEO is evolving into a business where the winners understand how to be search engine smart, and how to effectively market web sites. How can a blog help my web site promotion? RSS? Should I publish articles in ezines or in Digg and Reddit? Should I make use of del.icio.us and furl? Is Google Co-op key for promoting my site? Are there other social web (Web 2.0) things happening that I need to care about?

The rules of the game are changing faster than ever, and this will remain true for many years to come. So now, we can re-define our rules of what to do to succeed in web marketing:

  1. Design your site as if search engines did not exist
  2. Be search engine smart in your design
  3. Market your site as if search engines did not exist
  4. Be search engine smart in your marketing efforts

What's the point? Yes search engines matter. They matter a lot. Stop trying to trick them. Do what they want you to do. And, do it very well. Decide what your users need first. Then make sure you have been search engine smart.

if you know what you are doing in your site design and web marketing strategy, you will be doing the things that will cause you to win in search engines.

Without the risk inherent in trying to trick them. As the old margarine commercial used to say "It's not nice to fool mother nature" (or the search engines).

The bottom line is that if you design your site and marketing strategy to trick the search engines into giving you traffic that you have not earned, your revenue stream is at risk. You can win by building good content, and by marketing to other sites that are in business directly related to yours. In fact, it's the only way to win for the long term.

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: https://www.stonetemple.com.

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Interviews, Studies, and Posts

2007 Interviews and Podcasts

2006 & 2007 Interview Archive page.

This Old Web Site Case Studies

SEO and Web Marketing

Social Media Optimization

Other Major Search Topics

Analytics Articles



 Subscribe to STC articles by reader
 Subscribe to STC Articles by Email