The View from England

Is search engine optimization worth the effort?

Is search engine optimization a dying trade? Just because there are a large number of firms offering to do the work, is there really a need for it? Whilst there is clearly a need for decent on-page optimization, I am less sure about off-site work.

In the U.S. and in Europe, the search engine giant remains Google. So, in the main, any optimization is done to improve rankings on Google. Google, in its constant effort to improve search results, downgrades any site that artificially boosts its position. In the distant past this was done by techniques like keyword stuffing, and serving up a different page to a search spider verses a real visitor. Then the manipulation moved on to artificial link building and link exchanges.

Manipulating Search Results a Bad Idea

These deceptive practices worked for a while and sites got their prime position on the results page. But Google’s algorithm became a bit cleverer; these sites vanished from the results. As the cheaters get more sophisticated, so does the search algorithm that roots them out. It is a constant battle and it is all to easy to get caught up in it and try the latest fad and keep investing in firms that use ever-more-clever techniques in an attempt to boost a site’s rankings.

In the end, these will all fail. None of these techniques are secret. To promote their ever-more-clever methods and thus sell their services, the SEO companies will inevitably tell people what they will do to manipulate Google.

But Google is not stupid. Once it hears about a new and improved method, it will start updating the algorithm to beat it. Then, depending on Google’s opinion about the new technique, any offending site may get severely penalized.

Is the Site Authoritative?

It has often been said that content is king. These days, more than ever, this is true. A site with good and well-presented content will inevitably be the kind of site that Google wants to show high up in its results. Google can spot traffic going to that site and will start to believe that this site is authoritative and thus push it up the rankings when people search for that topic.

Google collects vast amounts of data. Indeed it collects so much data that there are moves on both sides of the Atlantic to try and limit this.

As Google gets more sophisticated, I can see it serving up search results almost completely personalized to you and your history of interests. I can also envision Google building up a search profile that matches your typical phrases and terms you use in searches with the typical sites that you visit.

After all, at the most basic level, Google wants to be everyone’s search engine of choice. One of the best ways to do this is to serve up the most relevant results for the person doing the search — to basically read her mind and know exactly what site she wants to see.

SEO vs. Advertising Revenue

In addition, Google presumably wants to maximize its advertising revenue, either from the pay-per-click adverts that appear above the search results, or from the adverts that appear on other websites. So every dollar a company spends on search engine optimization is one dollar less to spend on advertising on Google. This is another reason why Google would try and eliminate any offsite optimization that affects the search results.

If Google manages to eliminate search engine optimization, then the only easy route these companies now have to promote themselves on Google is to advertise.

So, the next time an SEO company tries to sell you its services, consider that it might actually be both cheaper and better to advertise on Google, instead.

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