Search Engine Optimization professionals spend their days trying to take advantage of algorithms that are meant to rank websites correctly the first time around. Sometimes I wonder whether we’re helping or hurting the situation. When I sink into these moments of doubt, I always try to remind myself that we’re there to ensure relevance and efficiency. Search engines can only do so much, and whether you prefer to call it a helpful fact or an ugly truth about SEO, the pros manipulate content.
The good guys
There are different kinds of SEO pros, of course. White-hat-practicing SEOs are people who use legitimate means to get their clients’ sites ranked for their relevant keywords. This is SEO speak for “getting clients’ product in front of eyes that were already looking for it.”
The bad guys
Then you have your legions of conniving black-hat-practicing SEOs. Google algorithms and updates have made it harder for these guys to exploit the inner workings of Google’s search logic. They once did things like keyword stuffing, hiding keywords on pages and creating thousands of identical web pages that link to targeted content. SEO still has its mad hatters and tiptoeing cons, but with each new cuddly algorithm update that Google announces, their days become ever more limited.
Another ugly truth about SEO is that it closely follows our democratic principles of a free society. Yeah, I know, this sounds really awesome actually. But some political theoreticians say that democracy is the best choice among bad choices, and when it comes down to it, SEO isn’t so different. The top content on SERPs (search engine results pages) is the most popular content. The most popular content are those pages with the most backlinks, or inbound links. Right now, this is the best system we have, but when it comes down to it, can popularity really be said to be the best factor in deciding quality content? Perhaps!
Google is popularly known as one of the coolest companies around, and not only because it’d be sweet to work there, but because they get involved in a host of intriguing industries. However, let’s bring it back to the question of SEO. SEO professionals try to please Google. But as websites grow in popularity, it will only get exponentially more difficult for others to rank on Google’s first page, especially since there are only so many coveted spots. If Google is king, then his court is filled with the groveling .0001%. What’s more, Google has unilateral powers of decision. It’s not very democratic, after all! What is this, a Catch-22?
Like I said, though: Google is the best we’ve got, and they’re really doing a fine job keeping spam at bay. But in such a competitive atmosphere (that of the court), it’s tempting to walk the edge of what’s appropriate in the SEO world. We as SEO pros need to be aware of that edge, and though we take the risk of approaching it, we need to protect ourselves and our clients from the dark abyss of the blacklist below.