The phrase ‘search engine optimisation’ and ‘SEO’ has attracted a lot of bad publicity over the years. And for good reason.
The web is littered with sites that have been ravaged by a single-minded bid to beat the search engines, and often have cast all sense and sensilbility aside.
Techniques used originally used to get sites to rank well in search engines are not only outdated, but sites are being actively penalised for not following the rules, some with negative adjustments to their position and others with a full-on smack in the face.
Google has always maintained that good content equals good search engine position, but people in the SEO business, who became known simply as ‘SEOs’, have always been able to find ways to ‘optimise’ sites so that they are ranked above their natural position.
Google, and other search engines, don’t like this. They believe that a site’s merit should be based on its content and context. And that any given business has the power to rank naturally for the business activities it is being searched for.
So ‘optimisation’ in the past has consisted of editing content to include an unnatural amount of references to keywords.
Websites are also ranked by the number and quality of sites that link to it. And so that became another way in which optimisers could unnaturally advance the position of a website, by creating links into the site on behalf of their clients. In their day, these ‘techniques’ were not underhand, they were the accepted way of doing things for the SEO practitioner.
At the unscrupulous end of the spectrum, SEOs would find ways to trick search engines into believing a site was worthy of a high ranking when it couldn’t compete naturally.
Natural versus unnatural
Now, either I’m repeating myself, or a there is a common concensus running through this post, because I’ve used the word ‘natural’ or ‘naturally’ four times already. That’s not keyword-stuffing, that’s a wake-up call.
That is the watchword for all modern search engines. Ignore it at your peril.
By creating natural content, you will not only be meeting search engine guidelines, but more importantly, you will be creating content that your readers find natural to read.
Now, I may be stating the obvious here, but good copy is better than bad copy. It’s easier to read, and put simply, it’s much more likely to make people buy from you. The following type of sentence is not uncommon where poor quality SEO has completely obscured the need to appeal to buyers.
“If you’re looking around shoe shops for shoes, Shona’s shoe shop is the best shoe shop from which to buy shoes.”
That’s pretty awful, but quite honestly, I’ve seen it hundreds of times and I’ve got loads of great examples.
I’ve avoided quoting a real one to avoid embarrassment, but this is contrived rubbish.
Why did this happen?
It happened because it worked. SEOs could measure their performance by where a client ranked in the search engines, and the increase in visits to a website.
Isn’t that a good thing?
Not on its own. It’s very unlikely that optimising a site like that would increase sales as a percentage.
In fact it is more likely to produce a lower conversion rate, because buyers are not being fed any good content vibes.
Sites need to be optimised for the buying experience, or for whatever they were designed to be converting, not solely for product searches.
Paying to be penalised?
The other, crucial, problem, is that as search engines work harder to penalise this type of optimisation, the business owner is paying a high price to be re-optimised every time the algorithm changes.
It’s a Catch 22 situation because he or she must continually pay for optimisation, but the nature of the SEO makes these changes more likely.
On the other hand, good content improves position naturally. Aiming to write good quality, natural content is the best solution for your website in the long term because it costs less to maintain, it will outperform badly optimised sites eventually, and be more attractive to your customers, and if search engines add more weight your site because of your legacy of writing relevant content, you’ll be way ahead of anyone that didn’t.
And so, as the title suggests, good SEO is not actually SEO at all, and while there will always be technical settings to get right and tweaks to do, a good position in the search engines lies in the hand of the content creator writing good copy… for humans.