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June 7, 2007

Why It Is Wrong to Concentrate on Particular Rankings

For years and years SEO has been perceived as an art of acquiring rankings in the search engines for certain keywords. Well, it’s true, of course, but only up to a point. I believe it’s also a big simplification that can lead (or should I say “has led”?) the industry into big trouble.

A typical SEO campaign usually starts like this: we carry out a keyword research, create a big sheet of keywords we need to target and then start writing pages of content around those keywords. The client expects us to bring their site to the top of the three major engines (or, at least, just Google), so we try hard.

Sure, an ethical SEO will also try hard to make sure the content makes sense, doesn’t ruin the overall concept of the site, fits in the navigation and provides useful information to one or another category of the potential visitors. But the longer the SEO campaign lasts and the more key phrases we include, the harder it becomes to comply with the rules above. Sooner or later it becomes the “site for keywords” situation; that is, we become slaves to our keywords and start messing with the initial philosophy of the site.

C‘mon! It’s the logic of the development of the website that should dictate the choice of keywords, not the other way around!

The engines’ best interest

The engines are interested in delivering quality search results to their customers – the searchers. They have no reason to encourage aggressive optimisers who fight with each other for rankings and forget about the quality of the resource they are building. Actually, the engines have all the reasons to weaken (and, if possible, destroy) the existing business model dominating in the SEO industry, in which the clients want nothing but rankings from their SEO consultants, demand guarantees that the rankings will be delivered and often pay for the actually acquired rankings rather than the work done by the SEO.

That’s why the engines work hard to make the results of the SEOs’ work unpredictable and the search result manipulation as hard as possible. It is extremely easy to create an anti-SEO filter (an optimised page is very detectable), but such filters make the SERPs worthless, so the engines are trying to find balance. I’m sure that all the latest updates, starting from Florida in 2003, reflect the work done by Google to reduce all the abuse done by SEOs. Other engines are moving in the same direction. For example, the most popular Russian search engine, Yandex, which used to be very easy to manipulate, is following Big Brother Google’s example and applying new changes to the ranking algorithm to make the SEOs’ life harder.

Other measures Google is taking right now are messing with the number of indexed pages (which goes up and down almost at random), the Supplemental Result status all of sudden assigned to innocent and content-rich pages and other “practical jokes” that make it impossible to predict how an optimised page will behave in the engine’s results.

The new philosophy of SEO

So, what should be the new approach to SEO as business? What should the clients expect from their SEO consultant?

Well, the SEOs should still do their best to maximise the chances of the client’s website at ranking well for thoroughly chosen keywords. They should still apply basic SEO to every content page and dedicate a lot of time to research and self-education to keep up with the latest trends in the industry. But I said “maximise the chances”, not “deliver rankings”. We all – SEO practitioners and our clients – should once and for all accept that it’s the engines’ prerogative to decide which sites to put at the top, and we should never again get annoyed with it.

The SEOs should be able to provide detailed advice on how to design websites that are friendly to the engines and how to find balance between the development of the website and the keywords without turning the site into a mess. The SEOs should be able to guide and guard, making sure the site won’t get into trouble after certain SEO-related measures are taken.

SEO is a long, slow process, similar to raising a child and having nothing in common with waving a magic wand. The role of the SEO consultant in this process is the role of a teacher or a doctor. We are here to make sure the child (a website) will grow up healthy and learn the right ways to live and develop.

Of course, if an SEO is paid for acquired rankings, it becomes very hard to follow this philosophy. We all have to agree that this business model is outdated.

The rankings can be earned

The only right way to earn rankings is to develop our websites as logic, common sense and our visitors’ interest dictate, and then apply basic SEO to the pages built on this basis. It will take years, and there is nothing wrong with it. It always takes time to build something worth a reward, something that stands out and deserves special attention.

Sites that use this kind of SEO strategy may not show impressive results at first, but grow steadily and demonstrate an amazing ability to withstand the Google Hurricanes (a.k.a. Major Algorithm Updates), in which sites built to chase rankings often fall from the first pages and out of the Top 1000. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that some sample sites that aim to earn rankings rather than chase them are used by the search engines’ research teams to fine-tune their algorithms and make sure that good rankings will go to those who genuinely deserve them. Try coming up with such a “sample” website, and watch the engines getting kinder to you with every new update.

Author:  Irina Ponomareva joined Magic Web Solutions ltd. (UK) on March 2003. She has been acting as a web master, a developer, and an SEO specialist ever since. After practising search engine optimisation for a year, Irina then launched Spider Friendly – the autonomous SEO branch of Magic Web Solutions (UK) offering SEO/SEM services – in co-operation with her colleague Dmitry Antonoff.