05:10 AM

Friday Watch: Despite howls from the deathbed, SEO's days really are numbered; SVW fans out to cover the geek cons; more ...

by Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

We had another scorcher of a week on the Watcher with coverage of two competing geek conferences. Nick Aster hit the ground running in Austin with this report on the SXSWi conference. And in San Diego, Richard Koman produced a veritable bit torrent of great copy from the O’Reilly Emerging Tech conference.

While folks like Odeo's Evan Williams made the SF-Austin-SF-San Diego circuit, the two cons neatly bifurcate geekspace. SXSW is the hipster and chickster web/UI/interaction design space, while ETech boasts a interesting mix of alpha geeks, A-list press (not counting SVW ;)), and unbuttoned biz types. One borg victim (black-clad, earpiece installed in head) paced the hallway near the pressroom yelling into his cell, "You would not believe the movers that are at this conference." And of course it was true.

One alphageek was heard to say, "This is the conference for business people who want to feel like they're at a hacker conference." But at $1250 a pop, all the geeks had speaking gigs and free passes.

. . .

On Mondays I like to start the week off with something “meaty.” And this week it was “soy-based” as the famously vegetarian Steve Jobs pushed ahead with Apple’s legal prosecution and persecution of three news blog sites. They had reported leaked product info.

The court ruling neatly sidestepped what was thought to be the key issue in the case: are bloggers journalists and inheritors of legal protections afforded to journalists? The judge said nobody was exempt from the law including journalists. And he said it many times. Yet much of the coverage of the ruling continued to discuss the blogger-journalist issue.

In any case, look for EFF to file an appeal in the Appelate Court very soon.

. . .

On Thursday I managed to upset some of the search engine optimization (SEO) community-—the hard working folks that try to help web sites land a link on the first page of Google search pages.

The entry explored the idea that the purity of search results would likely become the key differentiator among search engines. And that’s because Google is daily battling a massive effort by the SEO industry to pollute its search directory for commercial gain.

The recently launched shopping search site Become.com claims to have spam-proof page ranking technology at its core and I made the prediction that this would become the dominant factor, or metric, for all search engines.

The SEO-istars raised a banshee howl when they read the following:

“My position on SEO is that the sooner it dies the better-—it will free up a large amount of what is now largely wasted human effort, IMHO.”

Let me clarify things a little. I’m not against basic SEO techniques that prepare a web site for more thorough indexing by visiting googlebots. The wasted effort I’m referring to is the attempts by SEO-istars to dupe the googlebots and raise the perceived importance of a web site in the Google index. And I appreciate the times when SEO is used to correct a poor choice by Google which can list a clearly poor quality web site ahead of well established and respected web sites.

It is the application of SEO techniques to inflate the importance of mediocre sites that is BS.

Is this a harsh position? Yes it is. But what else can I say? I'll gladly step you through it. But, I’m also open to persuasion that there might indeed be legitimate value created in helping to fake the importance of a web site, and how this improves the Internet experience for millions of users.

I know that my contacts in the SEO world have been moving out of SEO or even throwing it in for free, and moving into other more promising online businesses.

Here are some more reasons why I much of SEO activity has little or no effect/value or future:

  • The last time I checked nobody knew exactly how Google determines web site rankings. Therefore how can SEO-istars do what they claim they can do? Their SEO efforts can be little more than a blind stab in the dark--a scam masquerading as a promise to scam Google’s results.
  • Even if everything were known about Google’s algorithms and the factors it considers in determining a web site’s importance, the use of that knowledge would flag a corrupted web site. It would be relatively easy to spot blatant SEO efforts to dress up mediocre web sites. Just one reason why Google knows who has been naughty or nice.
    It is not rocket science for Google to be able to spot the blatant signs of SEO boosting.

  • Does the current state of SEO technology have the ability to deal with say, rotating algorithms, two or more that are run throughout the day? That would filter out the SEO spam nicely.

  • Become.com is not a direct target of SEO attempts to dupe its search results, however, it has indexed millions of web sites that have been dressed up with a variety of SEO techniques targeting Google.

    If Become.com is able to spot the SEO spam, then Google can spot it too. It's the algorithms that distinguish the two companies search results.

  • Google could simply trawl the SEO online forums and collect the discussions of the SEO-istars and harvest the addresses of the web sites they mention they are promoting and blacklist them. Better yet, it could analyze those optimized sites to determine a “signature” made up of factors that indicate attempts to dupe. Then it can look for similar signatures on other web sites.

  • The best way to optimize a web site is to de-optimize competitors that hold higher value page ranks. It should be relatively easy to assassinate a competitor’s page rank by creating cloaked duplicate pages, setting up numerous back links and other factors that Google looks for and punishes with a lower page rank. I’m not saying this is happening, but it could and therefore probably is.

A message for web site owners: Web sites should be optimized for the user not for a searchbot. Invest in making your web site more relevant to its intended users/customers. After all, your goal is to boost revenues and that is done by creating relevant and compelling web sites for customers.

In this emerging Internet 2.0 world transparency is what is valued. Talk the talk and walk the walk and you will be rewarded.

If you do that, the googlebot will award you with a better ranking, but more importantly, your customers will become your evangelists. Value is always recognized and shared on the Internet.