There’s a famous Jewish, Yiddish phrase:
Man plans and God laughs.
I think the same applies to SEO and Google nowadays.
Man SEOs and Google laughs.
I was always a bit suspicious of SEO, and let’s face it, the sea of snake-oil SEO salesmen doesn’t help to establish credibility here, does it?
But I think that I’m becoming even more cynical of it every day.
The problem with getting good advice for SEO is that there’s no money in telling you “Don’t do anything”, “It’s a waste of time”, or “Focus on valuable content for your audience”. But there’s tons of money in doing a site audit, in telling you about best strategies to extract link juice, or why
alt tags for images are important.
But it works
The hardest thing in my opinion, is that all those improvements, optimizations, techniques. They work. Well, but not in the way most people think.
If you take two sites, and all else being equal, one has better internal linking, H1 tags, alt tags, meta descriptions and whatnot. The other one doesn’t. Then, well, yeah, probably the optimized site would do a little better.
All else being equal.
Which is never.
It’s a bit like Olympic swimmers using some hi-tec nanofiber that makes them more hydrodynamic, and that shaves off maybe 200ms on a 50 meter competition. So, yeah. You can bet those guys are going to wear nanofibers.
But am I going to see a difference wearing it? It won’t make me an olympic swimmer. And I obviously won’t be able to compete with any swimmer, even if they wear a lion costume.
But it’s easier for me, and more instantly rewarding, to buy this nanofiber thingy, than to work hard on my back strokes.
(for the record, I’m a terrible swimmer. I also don’t even know if there’s such a thing as nanofiber, but I hope you get my point)
p.s. Here’s a good comment on Hacker News with the equivalent of an olympic swimmer in a lion costume, in the world of SEO.
The streetlight effect
I guess we always want to improve things we can easily measure. It’s a bit like the streetlight effect:
A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
We’ve been busy at work on our SEO for several months now. Actually, I think we did some good things. We opened-up our content more (parts of it were paywalled before), we created more valuable content, we de-indexed some pages that really didn’t have much value, and we even improved our speed and usability.
SEO didn’t budge. For months.
Then suddenly, we saw a little uptick.
When we realised that there was an algorithm core update recently, and also other sites saw a similar uptick. Some that we know didn’t change anything, even increased more. Go figure.
So my approach now is to stop caring, and focus on improvements that really help our users. Can this thing get our users happier? Can they encourage someone to link to us? Great.
If it’s something that only Google or the SEO gurus care about. I don’t think we should bother.