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Search Engine Optimization: Power and control written on top of the Google page
2010 . May . 10
Sherwin Arnott

Let me preface this article by saying that we’re not SEO experts. But additionally, I would like to express some skepticism about the SEO industry and those that will claim to be experts. The thing is that the web might be visualized as a giant collection of documents, much like a giant library.

And, like a card catalog, a search engine makes an index of the web. These indexes are important partly because it makes the searching fast. This is, of course, an amazing service. But there is a significant amount of trust that occurs between users and creators of indexes for other reasons.

Imagine, for example, a librarian that lacks integrity and happens to hate John Lennon. Now imagine that this librarian leaves the Lennon books on the shelf, but removes any mention of “John Lennon” from the card catalog. Key word searches are engineered to draw blanks for “Imagine” and “the Beatles” and even “Yoko Ono.” Author’s that wrote favourable biographies are expunged from the author index and author’s that wrote scathing criticisms of Lennon and his music are included in the index. You can imagine the impact that this kind of indexing might have on the community of library users. An index, after all, is a kind of map. And maps are powerful shapers of behaviour.

This is the power that the overlords of indexes, and maps, have always had. And this is why some people, if they have the money, prefer to keep their own index of the library. But for those of us who don’t have this kind of money, let’s at least remember the difference between the map and the terrain.

Well, with the advent of modern indexing and searching capacities, like the kind Google provides, there has been a shift to allowing users to have input into the way websites get indexed. This is a positive thing because it shares the responsibility of making a good index with the community of users. Now, of course, what constitutes “good” in the context of an index is a highly loaded issue. And while we depend less on the integrity and politics of a single librarian, we still depend on the politics and integrity of the users and the keepers of the index. But the traditional library wasn’t a locus for business and overt politics. I think. The point, is that being just findable in theory is not really enough these days.

The reason is illustrated by searching for the term “SEO”. You get almost one billion Google hits. We submitted a new sitemap to Google when we added this article to our website, and this article is no doubt one of those hits. But seriously, no one is going to find their way to our little article on SEO via a search. And, importantly, that’s not why we wrote it.

And this is getting to the heart of it. Some people spend a lot of time figuring out complex methods to try to boost their rankings and their SEO. You can call it “being strategic” or you can call it “gaming the system.” But a lot of these techniques lose their efficacy as Google and other indexers adapt to account for the strategies of their users that don’t reflect their values and interests.

Adhere to basic best practices, produce good content, get backlinks, and, promote your site

That’s it. We think that if you follow some basic best practices, produce content that is in the public interest, and let people know your site exists, then you’re going to do well.

We’ll eventually publish a more detailed list. In the mean time, here’s the key points:

  1. produce good content that is of interest to people; write what you know,
  2. develop backlinks from other websites in good standing (backlinks is yoda-speak for a link to your site)
  3. develop good habits around the use of the title and alt attributes for photo content, and using title attributes for the links you make,
  4. use descriptive titles for posts, and write descriptive excerpts
  5. use categories and tags (pretend you’re a scientist)
  6. develop traffic by making sure your web address is available on your marketing collateral as well as at your social network hubs.