the grass is greener on the internet

SEO:: shout or a whisper?
October 14, 2008, 9:22 pm
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“…branding branding branding branding branding…

…oh, I’m sorry. I was just practising my branding tactics for getting a higher ranking on Google, otherwise known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Or is it an advertising tactic? 

a shout or a whisper?

Sites are ranked on their ‘authority’, based on a number of factors they can get by trawling your site as well as monitoring what traffic you get.

To have a look at the industry leader, Google has basically looked at what kinds of attributes an ‘authoritative’ site would have and produced algorithms accordingly. It’s a bit like Maslow’s hierarchy, where he selected examples of people he thought had fulfilled lives and saw which characteristics they had in common. Google wants to be exactly like your own personal researcher, except more efficient, free and delivering results in a tenth of a second.

Now none of the lovely people at the search engine are going to tell you exactly what they rank your site on because the unique algorithms are the secret to their success.

However, they do give you some examples for improving SEO::

  • get other authoritative sites to link to yours (the more authoritative the better)
  • have page titles which match page content
  • be consistent in dropping the key words that you want to be recognised for (or your brand values)
  • put these brandwords in prominent places (think font face, size and location)
  • use brandwords in meta tags (these are in your header section, but don’t affect Google)
  • try to get traffic from a consistent demographic (hey, you can try.)
  • cover breaking news first

And while search engines often de-list sites which appear to be using SEO tactics unfairly – like repeating brandwords in places which aren’t visible – when used in a justifiable way all of these tactics are fair game.

I have a few bones to pick with these.

SEO is about being consistently recognised on your key values – so it’s a branding tactic?
But SEO is also about shouting at people what you stand for – so is it an advertising tactic?

A new site which may be offering amazing content cannot gain what might be its rightful authority, even with links, until it has been operating for a while.

A shift in URLs with the same content as previously similarly loses out.

And then there’s the methodology. The factors which make other sites seem relevant may not apply to all relevant sites.

Most of all…

SEO gives no prizes for creativity.

If you want to be considered ‘authoritative’ you need to be emphasising your site’s brand values through keywords, or what I call ‘brandwords’. But there are lots of ways to say the same thing. Many ways of skinning a cat. Expressing the same values in different wordings to your ‘brandwords’ does nothing for your SEO (unless this is part of the algorithm they haven’t told us).

Image-rich sites also lose out, content created in Flash in particular. Unless you have very detailed captions and alt tags, your content cannot be trawled by search engines as they are today.

This annoys me because some of the best sites are those which are presenting a variety of content with different keywords all the time, or those which are heavily reliant on graphics. (Where would we be without webcomics, graphic designers and flash games? Bored, I tell you!)

Will the pursuit of SEO reduce the creativity and variety that we currently experience on the web? Probably not, but if everyone was doing it we’d have a problem. Do search engines need to keep innovating in order to keep up with the best websites? Probably.

In answer to my original question…

On the balance, since SEO is not in fact paid for, I suspect it is technically branding.

Or maybe I’m saying that it’s branding just because I want to include the word ‘branding’ more. I’m all about the branding.

Although I’ve probably already screwed it up because the title of this page will not include the word ‘branding’ at all just because I had to go for the wanky creative title. Sigh…

[While I am bitching, I wish you could turn off the feature that automatically includes similar words in  searches. Sometimes really useful, but sometimes includes a whole lot of stuff I didn’t want to search for. Yes, search engine, I’m talking to you. I know you’re crawling all over the place.]


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