Last week at SXSW, Matt Cutts, Google guru and SEO fiend, announced his company’s intentions to penalise aggressive SEO techniques and further promote sites based on good design and natural content. These imminent changes sound promising but then this isn’t the first time Google have preached their desire to kill off the use of less desirable aspects of SEO and not succeeded. Will this time be different? Are we seeing the dawn of true quality driven search and the death of artificial SEO? I’m skeptically hopefully.
There’s no doubt that Google’s dream of a superly intelligent GoogleBot that rates and ranks sites based on qualities such as design, layout, content, relevancy and popularity is commendable and admirable but, personally, I think it’s still a long way off. That doesn’t mean I won’t take to the streets in song and dance, rejoicing over it’s arrival though, ’cause I will, but I just don’t believe the technology exists yet to make it happen. Optimism for the industry aside, the harsh reality is that what Google proposes simply can’t be achieved right now.
Of course, I’m assuming that they haven’t invented some stupidly advanced, insanely clever and, if science fiction has taught us anything, malicious and maniacal A.I. system in between announcing Google+ and killing off Google Wave.
Cheap SEO techniques still work
The Panda update last year went a long way to reducing the issues surrounding blatant attempts to overly engineer and optimise sites to make them ‘SEO friendly’ but it still didn’t resolve matters nearly as much as was promised. In fact, I pretty much didn’t see any positive impact at all and we, as a company, still experienced a lot of issues with Google’s, occasionally warped, SERP algorithm.
Case in point, the Primate web site which, for months, lurked deep within search results recesses and only recently hit page one for the rather obvious and important term, ‘primate’. Depending on what browser you use, that is. And where you’re based. And what’s in your search history. And what your friends like.
“We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site.”
So whilst I’m pretty sure we’re finally ranking as and where we should (I tested it out with one of least used browsers in the world, Rockmelt, and would be curious to hear your findings for the search term ‘primate’ ’cause it seems almost impossible to find any consistent results from Google these days. But I digress), our crawl up the search results ladder wasn’t due to Google’s preaching of design and content over SEO trickery. Fact is, I’m fairly confident we’ve only managed to increase our rankings by doing exactly something Google is meant to be discouraging – keyword stuffing. And whilst I’ve been very conservative in my stuffing attempts, I didn’t enjoy having to sacrifice the quality of our copy to squeeze in the term ‘primate’ a bunch more times on pages one iota.
And sure, you could easily slate our ability to optimise our own site but then I defend our need to do so as surely, by embracing the philosophies that Google is trying to cultivate, these SEO techniques shouldn’t have been necessary. Plus, when we were sitting in the top position in every other search engine for the term ‘primate’ and Google was still promoting the site primate.com – a dead site showing a 404 error page – on page one, significantly placed above us, I can’t help but feel that something funky was going on.
Alas, problem solved now at least, even if the fact I had to compromise our beautifully written copy with some unwieldy and artificially stuffed keywords leaves a slightly bitter taste in mouth.
Google’s stance is good for the web design industry
Still, all my negativity over Google’s bizarre handling of our own site is completely washed away by the benefits of what their approach (if they manage to pull it off) will bring both to ourselves and also every other web agency and developer out there. Simply put, if good design and good content became a measurable quality in determining the search engine rankings of web sites then suddenly we’ll have a strong business case supporting the age old argument that quality creativity brings quality results. Finally, we’ll be able to prove the benefits – in terms that most people will easily understand – that paying good money for good web work can bring.
Indeed, I find it rather sad right now that still so much of SEO is accomplished by some pretty dodgy and low-brow techniques and that far too many overly engineered and overly optimised sites, to the point of being off-putting and unreadable, still rank very highly and overshadow genuine, well crafted competitors.
That aside though, there’s no doubt that if Google can actually turn their preaching into reality and truly make their search results more focused on fundamentally important human factors, such as design, readability and usability, then the weight placed on content by creators will rise and the quality of sites and content in general will increase massively as a result. And is this exactly the type of world wide web I want to be a part off.