When Google first appeared, part of its appeal was in the accuracy of the search results it generated. The Google algorithm, initially a thing of mystery that only a few people within the company understood, was supposed to be a neutral system of ranking pages according to their relevance and authority.
How things have changed. There’s an interesting piece by John C. Dvorak in Extreme Tech on how the dark art of SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is destroying the value of Google’s search results. I’m inclined to agree.
As the Google algorithm has evolved, people have been able to gain some idea of how it works. Google’s Webmaster Central offers tips on how to make sure your website ranks in the search engine’s index, and a healthy trade in SEO has flourished as everyone seeks to get their site into the first ten search results (typically the first page) and beat their competitors.
While there’s nothing wrong with making your website as visible as possible, there does seem to have been some poisoning of the well. Holding pages, for instance, will buy up a domain name and fill their page with irrelevant links. Pages containing links to or useless information on the actual topic searched for will apppear in a higher position than the topic or person’s website they refer to. And there is the unmitigated drudgery of it all.
Look at this blog. When we first had the idea for the blog, the received wisdom was that for SEO purposes, we shouldn’t start promoting it until we had at least 150,000 words of content to promote, and that we needed to have been pimping ourselves around the major social networks for months before our formal launch. So we started collecting little snippets here and there that we’d written, we started tracking down which websites we would read on a regular basis and tried to figure out which blogs we would comment on for the best position. So what happened?
Events took over. Things happened, that we felt we couldn’t ignore or wait for a convenient time to address, and the SEO strategy went out of the window [joining Stephanie’s no-smoking pledge! -Ed.]. This blog is not optimised for search engines, nor tricked out with all sorts of traffic-generating widgets, and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future.
Because we’re not a commercial site, this isn’t too much of a problem. If we were, we’d probably have to take on an employee rather than volunteering. Having read a number of blogs about blogging, SEO has now moved from mere website tweaking to being a full-time activity, and quite frankly, we’d rather be reading and writing.
So what is Google to do? Any changes it makes these days are closely watched by SEO professionals, and they adapat to any changes in the algorithm as quickly as possible. Those who do not have the time or resources to devote to topping the rankings will continue to find their websites pushed further down the table as competition intensifies. A new search paradigm is needed; at the moment, though, SEO remains the only game in town.
[Image by Max y Miliano]