Sometimes I think SEOs have lost the plot. Not all SEOs, mind you, but many, especially the newbies. It’s like they don’t understand the reason for doing the SEO things that they know they need to do. I think many walk around with a checklist of SEO-type duties and set off to do them, yet they have no clue as to why.
“Title tags: check!” “Meta tags: check!” “Links: check!”
“All done! Yay, that was easy!”
But without knowing the ultimate reason for doing the things they do, they don’t get it done correctly. You don’t create titles for titles’ sake. You don’t get links for links’ sake. Everything that we teach people to do in SEO has a purpose, and that purpose is not to make the search engines think our site is better than it is. The purpose is to actually make the site better than it is.
The search engines place weight on certain factors in their ranking algorithm for a reason. They didn’t just pull these factors out of thin air. I can just see the Google engineers now: “So how about we make the last word on the page be the most important factor in determining the relevancy of the page. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
There’s no doubt that if they did make the last word a key factor in determining relevance, some smart reverse-engineer-algo-chaser would figure it out in no time. Because that’s what they do. They don’t look at the whys, they just look at the whats. Even more interesting would be watching as the algo-chaser told her algo-chasing friends, and the word spread to the SEO community as a whole.
Everyone would soon be placing keyword phrases as the last words on their page. Except they would be doing it only because somebody told them to. Even though it defied all reason as to why it should boost rankings. The average SEO wouldn’t have the wherewithal to test it to know for sure that it worked. They would simply do it because others said it worked. Certainly, if it actually were a factor then it would help to boost rankings, and more and more people would jump on the bandwagon, because they would assume that those words at the end of the page were the crowning glory.
Why the last word on the page isn’t an SEO factor
Of course, Google engineers would never have that conversation, nor would they ever make the last words on the page a huge factor in determining relevancy. Why? Because it doesn’t make any sense. Relevancy formulas are not based on whims (although it’s sometimes hard to tell when looking at Yahoo results!). Algorithms are determined by what the average person who knows nothing about SEO would naturally do on their website when putting it together.
That’s right, the “average person.” Not what an SEO would do. Not what some automated software would do. But what cousin Joe would do when slapping up his website for his local harmonica-cleaning business. Joe simply fires up his website design software and is prompted to type in a title for his home page. He thinks for a few minutes. “Well, let’s see, it’s going to be about my harmonica cleaning business here in Hicksville, West Virginia.” So that’s what I’ll put, “Harmonica Cleaning in Hicksville, West Virginia.” Sure, he might have thought, “Well it’s the home page, so I’ll just put ‘home page’ there.” But Joe used his brain based on what the word “title” generally means for other things in life. (One definition is “a general or descriptive heading for a section of a written work.”)
And Google used its brains too. Which is why they give title tags so much weight. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision on Google’s part. It just makes sense.
It’s the same with every other relevancy-determining factor in the algorithm.
Take links, for example. Google didn’t choose to give links a prominent place in their formula just for the heck of it. They give weight to links because they tell Google who likes what site. If cousin Joe does a great job cleaning the harmonicas in Hicksville, it starts to get around by word of mouth. Soon people come from far and wide to have Joe clean their harmonicas, and they tell others. With the Internet, and especially with the ease of creating websites and blogs, the fastest way of telling people what you like is by posting it somewhere online. And so they do.
Joe doesn’t have to know SEO to do a great job with his harmonica cleaning. Nor should he have to. In fact, if he did know SEO (or thought he did), he might go messing up a good thing. He might hear about this linking thing, and start trading links with everyone and anyone who was ready, willing, and able. Soon Joe would have a page on his website that linked to Betty’s Cat Farm in Oregon. And one to a casino in Reno. And hundreds of others that were of no use to the people looking to get their harmonicas cleaned. When he didn’t know about SEO, Joe was only linking to the local harmonica store website and his friend Jimmy who cleans tubas. Real links. Real votes. Real reason for Google to make sure that they count for something.
It’s not a bad thing to think about SEO when designing your site. In fact, it’s a great thing. But only if you use your brain and your common sense at the same time. Always think about the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing. When you do that, you’ll find it much easier to know exactly what to put on your site and where to put it.
Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.