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The (partial) myth of SEO

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When I first started my journey back in mid-1996, I owned an Search Engine Optimisation business; one of the first in the UK.

I was entirely self-trained in the dark arts, learning very much through trial and error because of a sudden and unexpected requirement to sell soft toys and collectables for a family-owned craft centre.

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I learnt a lot during those early pre-Google days. Everything from architecture and development on the LAMP stack for increasing relevance on Search Engines through to e-commerce and the rest.

My SEO business worked with many web design and development agencies who at the time were just cottoning on to the potential of the web as a medium for ‘selling’. They loved what we could do for them. We got them results; and achieved them fast.

To speak frankly, half the time all we really had to do was boost the volume of quality links the site had; ensure that the metatags were optimised; and that the content of the page was as relevant and keyword rich as each search engine allowed. If that wasn’t possible, then we’d create a ‘gateway’ page for them to achieve the same result. We enjoyed great success, especially with AltaVista.

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Since those heady days though, many things have changed. The landscape has become crowded with the majority of SEO agencies pushing clients to spend big on ‘keyword research’, which whilst useful, is not exactly what I would call search engine optimisation, per se. The agencies utilise tools and subscribe to the latest and greatest SaaS platforms promising advantage. The end results for the vast majority of clients are always the same. Why, exactly is that?

The answer is simple, SEO has evolved into little more than analytics and research. It achieves little in the way of tangible results; lacks any real transparency; and is performed by the most junior members of the marketing team. It seems every marketing team, especially within the publishing sector now has a resident ‘SEO guru’. As for the agencies…

Staff read blogs on the subject and take the writings of these talented and professional journalists as gospel, seemingly unaware that the writer has no notable success, or indeed experience in the field. If a manager at Google said it; if a writer at xyz.com wrote it, then it simply must be true.

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White Hat SEO is good, we are told this by the experts’ who’s advice gets regurgitated throughout the internet economy by those game-fully employed in the industry. Black Hat is bad. Terrible. You’ll get banned.

Actually, you probably will get banned. It’s just a matter of time. When an entire industry is dependent upon one vehicle for its breakfast, lunch and dinner you best play fair and by the rules.

What if post development SEO was a complete waste of time and money and the White Hat SEO that the industry, Google and the rest push actually died about a decade ago.

Fact is, it is very difficult and exceptionally rare for a junior search engine optimiser to have much of an effect on the performance of a website, after the website has been developed. The web just doesn’t work that way anymore.

Having said all of that, the search engine optimiser can certainly still have an impact during the development of the property, to ensure that guidelines, redirects, SEF links, et alai are all done correctly.

Sad, but true.