Repairing SEO’s Tarnished Reputation

Three recent blog posts on the same theme have me nodding my head in agreement. The consensus is that the kind of sleazy, lazy SEO that some folks use to artificially optimize website rankings has got to stop. Content written expressly for rankings and ads is of zero use to the user, and actually makes search engines worse at search.

Nathaniel Mott at Appstorm thinks SEO is breaking the web:

“People have gotten so good at SEO that they can make a result appear for something that doesn’t even exist.

This has taken search from naturally powerful and thorough to a complete crapshoot. Now you’re going to have to click through several results that seem perfect before you can find an item that actually has what you’re looking for. When this happens once it’s a pain – when it happens a dozen times, it’s a flaw with the system.”

With tongue firmly in cheek, Sonia Simone at Copyblogger says there’s a “new” SEO secret weapon: stop catering to search engines, and start focusing on site quality – revolutionary, eh? ; ) We are advised, “Don’t take shortcuts, they take too long.”

And what is the true cost of “perfect law firm SEO“? Jeremy Hessing-Lewis at Skunkworks says that in highly competitive legal niches, “unfortunately, the trend is to sacrifice everything for the sake of SEO.” He drafts some “perfect seo” website content for a fictional firm, which would be hilarious in its effect if I hadn’t seen a hundred actual sites just like it.

It’s nice to see these sentiments put so frankly. Maybe it’s time to stop using the term “search engine optimization”, if this is what the term has come to mean. Maybe we should call it “content visibility optimization” or “quality and utility optimization” or some other mouthful. I’m only half-serious here, but whether we use the term SEO or not, collectively, we need to repair its tarnished reputation.

Properly and ethically done, SEO is about making content and websites as easily found and as useful to the reader as possible. To sum up, Sonia puts it nicely:

“…if you aren’t building a site that’s worth reading (and that’s therefore worth sharing in social media, and worth linking to), the most brilliant shortcut in the world will take you away from where you want to go.”

I’m curious – what do you think? Can SEO be reclaimed? Ideas for a better term to replace “search engine optimization”?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

  1. N.V. said:

    Tricky but good question Emma!

    Is there an off-line equivalent to the things that take place in the world of SEO result manipulation?

    The search provider wants people to be happy with the results they get. They will tweak their methods if necessary to ensure the quality/sufficiency of these results. (which can be a big blow to SEO tactics)

    The content provider (typically people needing other people for something) wants people to find them and not to be distracted by something else that may ‘seem’ to be more suited to the searcher’s whims. Content visibility is the best descriptor for that.

    The searcher wants to do as little as possible to get to the resource they have in mind.

    @ 3:59 pm
  2. N.V. said:

    Steven Levy, writer for Wired Magazine, had this to say on Google+ after the Oscars last night:

    “Steven Levy – 6:54 AM – Public
    I think that Harvey Weinstein played the Oscar voting process the way that a slick SEO provider tries to game the Google search engine.”

    Do you think he’s working off of an assumption of significant tarnish on the SEO field?

    @ 11:04 am
  3. @N.V. — Folks are quick to differentiate between white hat and black hat SEO techniques. White hat, you’re a good guy. Black hat, you’re ballsy, lazy, or flat-out unethical. Grey hat, you walk the line between. Unfortunately, I think black hat *is* the assumption when most people (well, those outside the industry, anyway) think “SEO”. Or maybe adding “slick” to the acronym automatically denotes a certain shadiness.

    I can’t think of an offline equivalent of tarnished reputation SEO, except for maybe advertorial content in magazines and newspapers… or certain types of product placement (sorry, embedded marketing)?

    @ 7:22 am

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