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July 18, 2010 / Rick Martin

On SEO & internet pool-pissers

I’m not sure why I’ve let SEO seep into my consciousness today, or on any day for that matter. I generally subscribe to the school of thought that any common web platform (like WordPress, Drupal, Blogger, Movable Type, etc) combined with a minimal amount of attention to SEO (h/t @takaaki) is good enough for most online publishers. But for some reason or another I was watching this presentation earlier today which explains (among other things) how to use Google’s keyword tools to gauge search demand for given terms, and then if the demand is high enough to create a website with content to feed that demand. Through affiliate links, ad programs, or ‘info-products’ you then create ‘passive income’ too.

Puff cigar, count bills, twirl moustache.

Despite my distaste for this model, I don’t dispute that it’s a valid means of earning some money. For some organizations like Demand Media it’s the driving force behind a content empire — or content farm, depending on who you talk to. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen says that Demand Media, and by extension others like them, “flood the system with the minimum quality needed to obtain the search ranking”. Consider Paul Kedrosky, who can’t find a dishwasher on Google. He asserts the quality of search results gets increasingly worse because of the garbage out there tailored to keyword demand rather than real people.

Are SEO-focused content producers pissing in the public swimming pool that is the internet? Yes, quite a few of them are.

But what worries me even more after watching this presentation was contemplating how the “I-can-SEO-and-so-can-you!” evangelists are breeding even more pool-pissers. If and when the content doesn’t pay off as much as you’d hoped, you can always make cash by teaching others how to make cash. Then you can head out into the world to push your own seminars or ‘infoproducts’ on how to SEO, and so on all the way down the pyramid, erm, line.

I noticed that the presentation mentioned very little (if anything) on using Twitter and Facebook to bring people to your website, which is a very telling point about this content strategy. While a robot (read Google) would pass on low-quality content to a reader without hesitation, humans would rarely be fooled into recommending something just because it’s been stuffed with keywords.

This hurts Google ‘trustability’, so you can be sure that the search giant is actively seeking remedies. The company already shows you search results from within your network when you’re logged in, and surely they’ve started counting how often a link has been shared via Reader or Buzz. Google could change the game at any moment by releasing information about real-time user interests (picture a far more extensive version of trending topics), giving traditional publishers the means to compete with those who game the system. (July 21 Update: Google connects Buzz to Social Search) Oh yeah. And there’s that whole semantic web movement. Google’s backing that too.

Google is getting smarter every day and it’s bound to bring in more social/human elements to search as time goes by.  So given that things are moving in this direction — and make no mistake, they are — just play it safe and write for humans.

That’s is, after all, what Google aspires to be.


Leave a Comment
  1. Takaaki Kato / Jul 21 2010 10:21 pm

    You link the phrase “Semantic Web” to Microformats, but actually some think Microformats are not part of Semantic Web. Semantic Web is defined by W3C, the same organization that standardize HTML, CSS and other technologies. Please try finding and reading some resources on Semantic Web. “Semantic publishing” could be an interesting topic for you all.

    Some people think any extra work you do is for SEO, but it’s untrue. From the writing of Rick Martin, I can see his a tag doesn’t have title title attributes. The attribute and alt attribute in img tag are considered very basic “SEO” techniques. But they aren’t SEO for me. I add the attributes because I want my website to be an upright web citizen. Please read an article on the topic.

    Some people want to expand the audience by writing for more platforms (iPad, iPhone and Kindle) using newly accessible tools (Video and audio). But most seem to be caring less and less about people who have accessibility. I want the web to be a wonderful place for those who need special needs as well.

    I wouldn’t sympathize if such people or their families lose eyesight because of, let’s say, Type 2 diabetes.

  2. Joi Ito / Jul 25 2010 12:06 am

    I also don’t like the word SEO and what most SEO marketers do. However, there is some important stuff that people should know about how search engines work so that their pages are well indexed and get the benefit of the search engines. Vanessa Fox, for example, does some really good SEO workshops where she explains SEO from a very practical perspective.

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