Search Engine Optimization (SEO) … fact or fiction?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists have been posting comments, promising an “increase in traffic” should I use this plug-in or that software solution. Following the links, you inevitably run into a page demanding “only $$!” for a chance to boost your blog’s rating – and of course your bank balance.

Promises of how my listing on Google (and other) search engines can be improved and “ranked higher” have been slipping into my comments moderation panel more and more. Ignoring such promises don’t seem to do the trick. Perhaps, these are the very visitors who’ll remove this blog from their RSS feed after this post. But … it prompted this question “Search Engine Optimization … fact or fiction?”

Hardly surprisingly, a “SEO” keyword search brings up nearly a million results, each one following the same pattern. First you get an explanation of what SEO is and how it works, and then they hit you … “Click here to sign up for our services” – of how you could increase your search engine ranking, your traffic and eventually earn your fortunes.

Two sides

Like most things in this reality, where there’s a good, there’s also a bad. Apparently, balance is one of the key elements of the universe – thus also of the internet. It turns out that there are two types of SEO “specialists” on the web – those who’ve taken on the dark side and those who live in the light. Sorry, that’s “Hollywood speak” for an ability (or skill) used to make this world either a better or more sinister one. An extensive article on Wikipedia points to “white” and “black hat” practitioners of the art of SEO. What “hat” has to do with the issue beats me …. but it basically means there are good guys (girls) and bad guys (girls) … err … sorry Hollywood, again.

White hat SEOs are the good guys who’ll explain what they are doing, why they are doing it and how you might (or not) reap the benefits of “thinking” like search engine algorithms (clever coding able to do some nifty things). Basically, the white hatters tell you what you should (not must) do to make your site more “attractive” and “friendly” to search engine software trawling the web, looking to “tag” (record) the content of your pages. If you don’t have the know-how or the time, you’ll pay them to do it for you. Nice, clean and “white”.

The “Black hatters”, being the “bad guys”, are those who will try all sorts of means to persuade you that without their expert knowledge and expertise, search engines don’t even know that your site exists. Claims such as “being listed under the top five” and “guaranteed” are sure signs that you are in rattle county (Hollywood!).

In the beginning …

In the early days of the web, when search engines were magical (Hollywood, again!) there were mostly text pages but as the number of pages on the web grew, so the tools to keep track of what’s where became smarter, making it easier to find relevant information faster. In fact, that was the original idea. Then came the commercialization of the web, spawning a new industry, web marketing … and Search Engine Optimization experts.

In my universe the jury is still out as to whether the magic wands SEO hats wield catapult you up the ladder of search rankings. In fact, some search engines have developed “potions” to protect themselves against “evildoers” – websites cluttered with keywords and phrases just so that their listing is high.

Another issue which prompted this post were comments made although the information is “good and interesting” yet Google does not list it as “up there”. Whether such comments came from SEO experts or not underscores the point that search engines have become more of a moneymaking tool than one meant to help you find what you’re looking for.