By now, you’ve probably already read “Critical, cynical Verge article blames SEOs for ruining the internet” on Search Engine Land.
The Verge article in question provides a critical mention of notable figures in the SEO industry. I haven’t had personal or professional interactions with them, so I can’t provide detailed insights regarding the criticism.
However, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of these individuals at SEO conferences, such as SMX, which I attended three times in 2011, 2013, and 2015. The fact that I traveled from India to New York to attend these SEO conferences underscores the high level of dedication I have for my work.
The Verge article has rightly mentioned that “SEO is now baked into everything.” Today, we not only optimize for search engines but also optimize the overall web presence of a business. We are moving on from SEO to search optimization.
Some points of concern and care are mentioned below. Additionally, I’ve emphasized how SEO is effectively contributing to the sustainability of the web ecosystem.
How SEOs have always helped the search engines
As someone who has been involved in SEO since 2001, I can attest to the significant evolution of this field over the years.
In the early days, optimizing websites for search engines like AltaVista and Yahoo mainly involved adding keywords to the keyword tag and the content. Unfortunately, this simplistic approach led to a proliferation of spam and clutter on the world wide web.
However, with the rise of Google as the dominant search engine, fresh air swept through the industry. SEO professionals like myself recognized the need for more sophisticated algorithms that could combat spam effectively.
Google’s increasing popularity and the coined term “SEO” brought hope to those striving to help small businesses establish a strong online presence.
Nonetheless, every industry has its dark side. The search engine industry is no exception.
The search engine algorithms are not built in a vacuum or as a result of somebody’s imagination but by working on the best practices based on past experiences, research and detailed study of human behavior and indexing issues so that quality results can be churned out for the users.
SEO professionals play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of websites, whether through on-page or off-page optimization.
Every aspect of SEO aligns with the broader purpose of improving the web ecosystem, not merely for rankings.
SEO professionals perform actions that benefit both the web ecosystem and search engines, including:
- Focus on quality content: Regularly removing outdated and irrelevant content from websites and search engine indexes helps reduce clutter and maintain search result quality.
- Error-free HTML code: While search engines don’t mandate W3C compliance, maintaining error-free HTML can help the web maintain a cleaner codebase and assist search engines indirectly.
- Setting proper 301 redirects and canonical tags: Efficiently using 301 redirects and canonical tags not only benefits SEO but also reduces duplication in search engine indexing, improving search result quality.
- Follow search engine guidelines: Adhering to search engine guidelines and tools assists webmasters in indexing and ranking websites, further improving the quality of search results.
- Guest blog if you find it difficult to maintain your own blog: Writing guest posts for well-maintained blogs with a strong readership can help share knowledge and improve SEO while preventing the proliferation of abandoned blogs on the web.
- Educate the client about what SEO is: SEO companies need to educate their clients about SEO’s impact on their digital assets, making them aware of the value it adds. Hence, it is necessary to have discussions with the client time and again to inform him about the SEO changes made and also about how SEO is making his digital asset (i.e., the website) more valuable day by day.
Certainly, it’s crucial to consider the ethical aspects of SEO in the context of client relationships.
When a client invests a significant amount in improving their website’s rankings and online visibility, it’s not only about achieving short-term results but also about long-term brand building and effective marketing.
SEO professionals need to maintain transparency and open communication with their clients.
Often, clients may not be interested in the technical intricacies of SEO, such as algorithms, meta tags, or backlink strategies. Instead, they are primarily concerned with the outcomes and the impact on their brand.
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The right SEO approach
The search and web ecosystem revolves around the people who publish content, people who index content and people who search for content.
Everyone who uses the web falls in at least one of the categories. In our own little way, we can contribute to improving the web rather than only putting the blame on the search engines for not giving us quality search results.
As the internet is a network of networks, we need to harness all the viral and linkable content efficiently.
We need to understand the intent behind every SEO factor implemented on the site and contribute to the web cosmos as an SEO.
SEOs have to think from a wider perspective because, when we speak about the convergence of the earned, owned and paid media, we are referring to the web as a whole and not only to the search engines.
Search engines are not the world wide web, but a subset of the WWW superset
In today’s SEO landscape, genuine SEO professionals do not confine themselves solely to Google’s algorithms. They look beyond and consider how a website can conform to web standards that are not only currently integrated by search engine algorithms but also focus on standards that hold the potential to be incorporated by search algorithms in the future.
This not only ensures the long-term good health of the website but also makes it prepared to face any algo updates without getting adversely affected.
Instead of running after the algorithmic updates and changes, if we focus on what makes the web a better place and implement the quality factors on the websites as per web standards, then we can be prepared before the search engines use them in their algorithms.
W3C laid the foundations of today’s web with standards such as HTML (in 1997) and XML (in 1998). Many forward-looking W3C recommendations emerged from these earlier technologies and show the organization’s current focus on device-independent data and the promise of a “semantic web.”
By giving importance only to Google algorithms, we are paving the way for Google algorithms to become the standard and helping it to monopolize the web.
Since the term SEO was coined, SEOs have been executing repair functions on websites to make them search engine-friendly, but it’s high time we move on from thinking only about search engines.
SEOs should start thinking about the quality standards that are friendly to the web ecosystem and build and structure online presence (earned and owned) as per the web standards before they get accepted by the search engines.
Instead of understanding what Google wants, we need to understand the standard norms of web design and development, which will make the web a better place and websites robust technically.
Prioritizing web standards
Search engines are a subset of the world wide web. They aim to provide quality search results by extracting signals from the web.
Instead of fixating on algorithmic updates, SEO professionals should concentrate on what makes the web a better place.
Proactive implementation of standards
For instance, microformats, a standard since the early 2000s, gained widespread attention only when Google introduced the Knowledge Graph in 2012.
SEOs should implement such standards proactively rather than waiting for search engines to enforce them.
Empowering SEOs and website owners
By prioritizing only Google’s algorithms, we risk making those algorithms the de facto standard, potentially leading to a web monopoly.
SEOs must embrace standards that enhance the web ecosystem and prepare websites to withstand algorithm updates.
A wider perspective: Beyond search engines
Ensuring credibility and trust
Just as an engineer applies scientific and practical knowledge to design structures, a good SEO professional must apply technical specifications that align with web standards.
This approach strengthens the web presence and fosters trust and credibility.
Embracing the semantics of the web
In the modern digital landscape, user-generated content and word-of-mouth play a vital role in decision-making.
Users rely on recommendations from their networks more than website claims, emphasizing the importance of maintaining consistency between website content and social media platforms.
Optimizing beyond search engines: Focus on users and standards
SEO’s role is not limited to search engines but extends to the broader web standards applicable now and in the future.
This approach ensures a website’s long-term health and resilience to algorithm updates.
A holistic approach to SEO and the web ecosystem
SEO professionals should shift their focus from search engines to the quality standards that benefit the entire web ecosystem.
By adhering to these standards and collaborating with website owners, SEOs can make the web a better place for all its users.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.