Yelling 'SEO isn't a thing' at the internet

August 11, 2020

This may be...ah...a controversial topic.

A lot of people make a lot of money selling SEO services.

Some of those people are very clever and ethical and deserve all the success in the world.

Some of them (at least based on the bills and results I've seen) are downright dodgy. Too many businesses have been burnt by backlink factories, churn and burn blog writers and out of date information.

Speaking of out of date...

Let's go back in time.

To 2008.

There was a lot less stuff on the internet in 2008. And it was already huge.

I was the Australian Community Manager for an online business networking platform. We wanted to cause a stir against this new company that was making inroads in the Australian market, LinkedIn. Ever heard of it? Guess who won. Not us.

Every week, I'd write a series of blogs to attract new users. Our blogs were about 300 words each (the ideal blog 2007). The headlines were packed full of words that our people might use. It was a good content strategy.

For 2008.

Today, articles that sit in the number 1 spot on Google? They're around 2000 words.

I'm not sharing this so that you write more (we all know that more is rarely the answer) but to point out just how much things have changed.

In 2020, most businesses are content production businesses, even if that's not their number 1 job. And, individuals are prolific content creators as well (example: your Boomer relatives on Facebook).

The internet grows exponentially every day.

As a result, the clever people at Google haven't sat around with the same algorithm they had in 2008. They couldn't. We'd never find what we were looking for.

Every day, they work to build a smart search robot* that thinks like a human, so they can serve us the exact answer to our questions.

The problem with how most people view SEO is that they create content and sites for a robot that's trying to be a human, instead of just writing for the human that the robot's trying to be.

Make it make sense to me.

*Highly technical Sarah terms for what actually happens at Google outside of playing ping pong and chilling on bean bags.

Good search results come from good content and a technically sound website.

Let me say that louder for the people in the back:

Good search results come from good content and a technically sound website.

When I say 'SEO isn't a thing' what I mean is this:

Optimising for search is a bi-product of doing everything else online in a user focused way.

  • You answer audience questions
  • You use the words and phrases your audience uses
  • You give people multiple paths to information (like listing your address and opening hours on Google My Business)
  • You add alt tags - not to jam in more keywords - but to give an equal experience to people who can't access those images
  • You give image and video files meaningful names, so if screen reader pick them up, they make sense to the listener
  • You create content that people want to share
  • You focus on quality, taking the time to create content that people want to click on, and spend time with
  • You make sure your site loads quickly, and works across different devices*

Ok, I'll concede that Search Engine Optimisation might be a thing. But not in the shorthand way we've come to talk about it.

It's about more than Google. Instagram, Pinterest, and even TikTok have complex search/discovery algorithms. But, when we talk about SEO, we usually mean 'get me to rank on Google'. I've done it in this email. Did you notice?

And speaking of algorithms, unless you control the algorithm, the other ways you're driving visitors to your site, and every other potential publisher on the internet, you can't guarantee SEO results. You can influence them. But I don't think you can guarantee them.

It's [insert tech bro's company here]'s sandpit and we're just playing in it. They can switch things up at any given moment.

Thoughts? Something I missed? I'd love to learn from you.

*I want to acknowledge that there is a lot to this. Not having 'heavy' code, good image processing, CMS choice, CDNs, frameworks and a range of other words I know but only just understand. Get yo'self a good developer. Don't use Wix (I can't even). Watch your image size. You'll be sweet.

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