The Contradictions of SEO
There is a credo adopted by the SEO community: Optimize for your users, and the engines will follow. Simply ignore the algorithms and just stick to creating a relevant, quality experience for your site visitors. But does the industry, SEOers and engines, alike, practice what they preach?
Not always. There are several instances where conflicting advice on SEO best practices can leave you utterly confused.
Contradiction #1 – Rankings & Revenue
You should focus on revenue, not rankings, but rankings correlate to relevancy, which in turn correlates to revenue.
During a talk at SMX Advanced, Google’s Matt Cutts stated that our focus should be on revenue – not rankings. Last week, Carrie Hill reminded us that, as an agency SEO, “…if I don’t care about my clients’ organic rankings, I’m out of a job.”
And she’s right. It’s important to know where our clients rank to understand if our efforts are landing them in the realm of relevancy. Plus, when we analyze conversion metrics, rankings can help clarify what is going right or wrong with a campaign. After all, isn’t Google’s algorithm meant to rank the most relevant sites at the forefront? If we can trust Google’s algorithm to be one that promotes relevancy, then ranking can correlate to revenue. Pure and simple.
Contradiction #2 – Schema.org
Schema.org is a web-wide markup movement to more accurately tag content to ultimately improve relevancy among all the engines. In other words, we’re aiding and abetting algorithms, which we’re told to ignore.
Following its recent release, many have espoused the numerous benefits of Schema.org. From their homepage, Schema.org states:
This site provides a collection of schemas, i.e., html tags, that webmasters can use to markup their pages in ways recognized by major search providers. Search engines including Bing, Google and Yahoo! rely on this markup to improve the display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right web pages.
With Schema.org, SEOers are being told to create that user-centric, relevant, quality experience by a specific standard approved and supported by the major engines. And aren’t we supposed to pretend algorithms don’t exist?
Understandably, there are gaps in algorithms. We all know this. No engine delivers the best results all the time and that’s just the nature of the beast. But when online marketers are told to ignore the algorithms, optimize for the user, the absolute last thing we want to hear is of a new schema that we’re supposed to take time to implement to please the engine’s standards and make their results more relevant. While Schema.org is being touted as a coup for SEO, why does it feel like I’m an un-paid employee of Google and Bing?
Contradiction #3 – Link Popularity & Social Media Marketing
Search engines are declaring a war on irrelevancy, and social media will suffer the greatest casualties.
Algorithms, not people, rank websites. Once upon a time, search engines turned to link popularity to add more of a human edge to ranking and to improve the relevancy of search results. Then linking got the crap spammed out of it.
Now social media mentions are stepping in to save the day, along with the “un-social” +1 Button. It is unclear exactly how or how well social media marketing will impact SEO, but it’s the glimmering great hope on the horizon. There is the risk, however, that three to five years from now, the social media landscape will be inundated with useless information, there but for the sake of online marketing. Like link building before it, true relevancy in social media mentions may arrive at a premium, rendering them nearly useless for the typical user.
After hearing the conflicting information…optimize for the user, but use these tactics to make your site more SEO-friendly, but pretend algorithms don’t exist, but here, use this engine-approved schema to markup your content for the engines to rank your site better…what’s to be done when it’s time to sit and optimize my client’s site?
Our answer is, do our best to make everyone happy. Optimize for the most relevant phrases; gain rankings for those relevant phrases so that conversions will improve; build an off-page campaign; track all of it at the macro and micro levels; and through it all, never spam and never take a short cut.