If you’ve read any of my articles on SEO over the years, you know my pet peeve. It’s the wasted time and money spent to perform useless SEO parlor tricks that have little-to-no effect on the bottom line.
With the latest brouhaha over PageRank sculpting, the boondoggle nature of many techniques that pass for SEO has become clearer than ever. A “boondoggle” is defined at Wordnet as “work of little or no value done merely to look busy.” If that doesn’t sum up PageRank sculpting via nofollow links for the past year, then nothing does!
And I’m not only talking about PageRank sculpting. That’s just the most recent and most obvious example, since Google Spam Czar Matt Cutts’ claim that they pulled the rug out from under nofollow links ages ago. I’m talking about all the useless SEO tactics that have been bandied about over the years.
Two of the oldest are the “fixing” of the Meta keywords tag, and the submitting of URLs to search engines. Gimme a break. When’s the last time a Meta keyword tag “fix” or a search engine submission ever brought additional website visitors? Yet these types of offerings are the backbone of many SEO firms’ services.
It’s no wonder that many outside of the industry think SEO equals “voodoo” or “black magic” or worse, spam.
A lot of SEO is just that
Some of the reports and proposals I’ve seen provided to clients by SEOs are often laughable. I saw one the other day that claimed the search engines couldn’t follow image links and the client would have to redo their website to use text links instead. (Search engines can, of course, follow image links perfectly fine and always have been able to…sure hope that client didn’t pay for that advice!)
Even the creation of XML sitemaps are for the most part, a boondoggle. For large ecommerce sites, these might provide some value, but they are certainly not a necessity for most sites, despite what some SEOs would like you to believe. Sitemaps are popular among SEO companies because they sound all cutting-edge techie and super-duper Googley, yet they’re easy to generate. In other words, the SEO can baffle the client with bullcrap and charge money for something that is likely to be unnecessary, and unlikely to have any effect on targeted traffic and sales.
And don’t get me started on H1 tags. Old school SEOs swear by them, and often suggest if you don’t have keywords in them, your page is doomed. Yet, take them off a page and you’ll be hard pressed to see rankings or traffic changes from Google. Try it yourself. Remove the H1′s from your page, and use a different HTML tag for your headlines. Leave it that way for a few months and check if you see anything other than the normal fluctuations you’d see anyway. Put the H1s back in and watch what happens…that’s right, nothing!
Unfortunately, our industry is beset with people who are making unnecessary changes to client websites based on unfounded theories that at best produce the teeniest boost to the site, and at worst – “fix” problems that never existed in the first place.
Here’s another example. A few years ago, SEOs started recommending rewriting perfectly good URLs just because they didn’t have keywords in them. While in theory, this is good practice if you’re redeveloping your site and the URLs have to change anyway. Keyword-rich URLs do look nicer and appear to be more relevant in the search engine results pages. But years ago, it could take anywhere from a few months to half a year to obtain good rankings on the new URLs. Google was placing a lot of emphasis on URL age and authority at the time, and were also more suspect of redirects than they are today. So starting over with brand new URLs (even with 301′s in place) was often causing more harm than good.
Today, Google does a better job of indexing the new URLs and also in passing the popularity of the old URL on to the new one so it’s not as traumatic as it once was; however, it’s still not something I’d recommend doing just for the keyword factor. Yet it’s often one of the first things mentioned by SEO companies as necessary to the SEO process.
Not all SEO is a boondoggle
This is not to say that all SEO is a waste of time. Far from it. Compare the value of boondoggle SEO techniques with simply making smart Title tag changes. Now there’s something that can indeed lead to long-term measurable results in the search engines. Other techniques that make a difference when done correctly are the flattening of the site architecture (for real, not through nofollow attributes), the descriptive naming of internal anchor text, as well as the rewriting of content to better speak to the target audience. And of course, having a link-worthy site and getting the word out about it to the proper channels will always be worthwhile.
Client involvement is key
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an SEO is dead article. SEO is alive and well if you focus on the things that matter. Part of the problem is that the things that matter are often a lot of hard work that need client involvement, whereas the boondoggles can often be done strictly through the SEO company. Most clients are too busy to get involved, which is why they’re outsourcing their SEO in the first place. But a professional SEO company cannot get long-lasting, needle-moving results for a client that isn’t willing to help.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.