I'm sure I'm not the only one that has read article after article and blog post after blog post announcing the death of traditional search engine optimization. I've even written a few myself that talk about the need to shift our focus from things like keyword density, PageRank and even rankings themselves. On that very topic, Mike Grehan has an excellent article over at ClickZ that asks some important questions and makes some crucial points.

From the article:

There's no point in doing textbook stuff unless you have enough great content and the reputation within your community to be a challenger.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article called "Search Engine Algorithms - Understanding the Pinocchio Effect." The point of the article, which was missed by many in the industry, was not only do we need to continue educating people about the "how" of search engine optimization...we also need to educate them about the "why."

Now there's no doubt that most businesses are quickly grasping the "why" in the sense that they know search engine optimization will bring them more customers. What they don't get about the "why" is the common sense logic that can be applied to help them figure out where the search engines may be headed in the future.

If we truly want to see this industry progress, we have to move beyond the point where legions of web site owners wait on "the word" from a few recognized experts in order to know what comes next.

Right now, the search engine optimization world sits at a point where 95% of practitioners and site owners operate like this...

1.) Word starts to spread that links help your site.

2.) Site owners and marketers rush out to get any and every link that they can.

3.) Word spreads that reciprocal links are pretty easy to get.

4.) Site owners and marketers start spamming the world with link exchange requests.

5.) Word spreads that one-way links "count more."

6.) Site owners and marketers start buying links in a rush to gain those one-ways.

7.) Word spreads that you can "earn" links with great content.

8.) Site owners and marketers start to grumble about how much work this SEO thing is.

Anyone else noticing a pattern?

What tends to happen in this industry is the development of the leaders and the lemmings. The leaders are the those that are out there in the trenches, testing and working and researching to figure out what has an impact. They then share their findings with the lemmings who rush out to implement those findings with no thought as to "why" they are making those changes. The simple fact that the change may help their site is enough of a reason for them.

But that's not good enough.

To see this industry progress, we need to focus on teaching people why the search engines place more value on earned one way links or why content needs to be relevant and engaging rather than mathematically formulated to have the proper number of keywords.

Site owners and marketers need to learn more about how people judge the value of a web site so that they can understand and even anticipate where algorithms may go in the future.

A little common sense applied two or three years ago would have easily made it clear that earned, unsolicited links showed a more honest representation of value than links that were traded or paid for. With that in mind, site owners could have had a hefty head start by spending their time building great content rather than chasing down the next link.

As we move into the future, issues like latent semantic indexing and personalized search will play a powerful role in how search engines put together and deliver results. By taking the time to teach site owners about these concepts and how they might be applied, the SEO industry will be able to teach people how to anticipate what search engines will be looking for, rather than letting those same people play a non-stop game of "catch-up."

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

May 4, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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