SEO Voodoo

Wendy CoulterTechnology

magic deer

It’s an old joke in the SEO world that the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of a Google search. Sure, the jokes a bit funny, but it also illustrates why there’s such a scramble to get near the top of that first page. Improving website rankings is in such demand that it has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

To most of us, SEO seems like a bunch of voodoo magic with panacea promises. And like any elixir we ought to be skeptical of what it’s really good for. For example, last July an article was published in Entrepreneur magazine with the title Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Expertise. The overall claim is just what you’d expect: SEO can be done by anyone. Of course, there have been many rebuttals by SEO experts hoping to defend their livelihood, and for good reasons. But the continuing debate helps to highlight two approaches to SEO: the short term, and the long term.

SEO short-term

The short term plan is advocated by SEO professionals. The basic argument is that if you want to be on the top of a Google page anytime in the near future, you’ll need to use industry loopholes and shortcuts. This approach can be rapidly successful as is documented by many SEO firms. But this approach can also backfire (particularly if taken too far). For example, in 2013 Rap Genius (an annotation website) tried to make a deal with a well-known blogger to exchange a tweet for a series of links to Rap Genius. This sort of behind-the-scenes trade is discouraged by Google because it can “unfairly” raise website rankings. And so Google penalized Rap Genius by manually lowering them in their Google rankings.

This case becomes a demonstrative example of the SEO problem. Google is not a stagnant, arbitrary ranking system. Instead it’s dynamic and espouses a clear goal. In the end, Google wants to help people find the content they’re looking for. We know much more about what Google wants to accomplish than how they go about it. The algorithm used by google remains undisclosed and is always in flux. The SEO experts operate with knowledge mostly gleaned from experimentation. So a shortcut approach that works now might not work a year from now.  But it can sure be effective now. So that’s the short-term perspective in a nut shell.

SEO long-term

It is true that thorough SEO voodoo people can manufacture higher rankings, but Google is constantly modifying its algorithm to avoid SEO tricks. Because google wants to find the best content, they are constantly finding ways to cut through the scams. So unless you feel like you can outwit google for long, you’re better off (in the long run) with a more honest approach.

A long-term approach ignores the particulars of SEO and instead focuses on the end goal—creating quality content that resonates with people and creates community. The long-term approach realizes that it’s not a Google algorithm it has to ultimately satisfy. Google isn’t even interested in being satisfied. Their algorithm is just a means to an end. They are ultimately interested in your customer’s experience. In the end, both you and Google are trying to please the same person. The long-term sees google as a teammate, not a rival to be duped (unless you’re yahoo, firefox, or bing of course).

Instead of SEO voodoo, the long-term tries to build an authentic network and community and lets Google worry about the particulars of connecting searchers to their desired content. It’s a sort of “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Instead of manufacturing erroneous links, like Rap Genius tried to do, a long-term strategy will build real friendships and participate and contribute to relevant communities.

Striking a balance

Of course, as with anything, if you only take a long-term approach, you might not last long enough to see your goals realized. So in the end you should probably consider short-term strategies, but only ones that support your long-term strategy. For example, building a network is good for you both short-term and long. But it must be done right. By this I don’t necessarily mean that it requires great technical skill. In fact, if you feel like you’re cheating it’s probably not a good long-term strategy. But that doesn’t mean the “old college try” will necessarily be enough.

It’s more than a little helpful to understand how rankings work and best practices for linking web addresses to texts and much more. Go ahead and hire an SEO expert. But these skills are really about understanding your customers—understanding how they search, what they expect, how they interact—more than it is about understanding Google. Adding a meta description is not meant to help Google but to help potential customers.

So if you want to improve your SEO, rather than thinking about it as voodoo, try these authentic approaches.

  • Sponsor a Meetup group.
  • Host a community event
  • Sponsor or donate to a local club or organization
  • Create and promote a local resource
  • Build relationships with local influencers
  • Use forums and chatrooms to discuss and circulate your content
  • Leverage Business relationships
  • Submit your site to directories (free and paid), but not before checking out the directory to make sure it is quality
  • Submit desirable material to leading websites for your industry or sector. A link from these sites can be very valuable, and can encourage more people to link to you.
  • Submit press releases or other articles to other websites.
  • Promote your blog’s RSS feed
  • Carve your own space to improve your chances of getting traffic through Google
  • Make your anchor texts natural in each link you build
  • Guest blog
  • Blog commenting
  • You can syndicate shorter versions or your blog article on article sites
  • Share content on document sharing sites
  • Infographics
  • Get Social