Two pieces I’ve recently highlighted deal with a dominant topic in marketing and communications: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. On this blog, I linked to an excellent SEO article by my colleague Matt Dalton. On my Facebook page, I linked to a column by New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan entitled “Google’s War on Nonsense.” Both Mr. Dalton and Dr. Heffernan help illustrate the fundamental truth of SEO: at heart, it’s an old discipline that predates the Internet, personal computers and electronic media. It’s all about the relevance of the written word.
In an online lecture I give to graduate students at the University of Denver, “SEO for Communicators,” I show the balance between content and tech when optimizing a website for search engine rankings. As a lifelong writer, it was an “Oh!” moment when I discovered the same skill set I once used to crank pages out of the Smith Corona would propel the web pages in my charge today. Matt Dalton concurs when he says “The real formula for success is having outstanding content.”
Virginia Heffernan lauds Google’s algorithm change that demotes the search rankings of content farms, sites whose articles and pages are loaded with popular keywords that lure visitors only to provide mediocre or worse content smothered in advertising (ad views are farms’ raison d’être). Content farms flirt with or firmly reside within “black hat SEO,” manipulative optimization techniques that game search engines by using an overabundance of keywords and/or inbound links to improve rankings. Such search violations are not solely the province of fly-by-night web publishers. The New York Times ran an exposé on J.C. Penney’s issues with black hat SEO.
Keyword presence is supposed to validate a site’s relevance to the search terms that place it within search results. Inbound links are supposed to be unsolicited “votes of approval” by other website publishers who have found value in a site and thereby connected to it. When these rules are broken through keyword stuffing, link farming or other forms of black hat SEO, Google punishes the offending sites. Smart marketing and effective communication create the true foundation of web presence. Google and other search engines are merely reacting to web publishers efforts, both on and off sites.
SEO is not a passive activity. You will not automatically receive digital laurels for a splendid site full of great writing and abundant visuals. SEO takes work requiring technical and analytic know-how along with sound marketing research and creative inputs. Read Matt Dalton’s tips for SEO. Heed Virginia Heffernan’s cautionary tale of sites that put ploys over people.