Okay, so I know it’s probably not best thing for a web developer to say, but it really needs to be said! Search engines are a pain in the proverbial back-side.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I use Google (still the UK search engine of choice) every day and I pride myself on being able to manipulate the results to find what I’m after.
And also, don’t get me wrong, website development itself can be a challenging and rewarding pastime, but its ugly sister, search engine optimisation is anything but. It is instead a frustrating and illogical nightmare.
Yep, that’s definitely the right word. Creating websites using programming languages and tools is done using a set of rules that on the whole make sense and generally behave as you’d expect (with some notable variations on how different browsers render HTML and CSS elements).
However, search engine optimisation (or SEO – the act of trying to increase a website’s position in Google et al), is based on a random set of rules and algorithms created by the search engine in question.
These change on a regular basis and are most certainly not based on logic, rather a desire to ensure that previously successful and therefore overused SEO techniques do not work.
So what are these crazy rules?
Well, suppose I do a website for a Blackpool based building contractor who amongst other things, specialises in property refurbishment.
When somebody types “Property Refurbishment Blackpool” into Google, we want their website to appear in the first 2-3 pages of the search results. After all, as we all know, beyond that and nobody will ever look at it.
How do we do this? Well, if there’s one thing Google has always liked, it is unique and regularly updated website content.
Unique? Hmm, he’s a builder and although there’s a lot you can say about building, the likelihood of a local builder coming up with anything revolutionary is highly unlikely. Regularly updated? Er, he’s a builder, NOT a journalist. He quite rightly spends his days building, rather than writing interesting building articles or keeping a diary about his ongoing building work.
Or take another example, what about an on-line store selling thermometers? Their website content is regularly updated with new products, promotions and reviews, but as with most companies, they’re in a competitive market.
What else can we do? Well, Google really likes (apparently) organic links to your website from social sites such as blogs and forums. Great, but let’s face it, when a customer buys a digital thermometer the first thing they think isn’t “I know, I’ll go and stick a link on a relevant forum about how much I like this thermometer”.
They may, at some point in the future; if they do use a forum; and the forum allows links; and they did like the thermometer; and someone happens to ask if anyone can recommend a thermometer; and they see that person’s post; and they can remember where they bought the thermometer; and they have the inclination; they MAY post a link to the website where they bought the thermometer and say “Here, try this one…”.
It all sounds unlikely…
It sounds unlikely and it is, because virtually none of this happens naturally. Sites achieve top ranking in many cases because their owners dedicate significant amounts of money and / or time to the aforementioned search engine optimisation (SEO).
Website content, reviews, links, comments, articles, etc. are nearly all created artificially to make Google et al believe that a website is important and should be prioritised above others within their search results. Virtually none of it is natural (or organic) which ironically, is what Google purports to like.
There’s a huge amount of content out there that exists solely to promote business websites and the internet is becoming clogged up with it! So much so that search results often show that content rather than the types of business it is intended to promote.
In the real world, builders create a website as a one-off exercise to advertise their business. They only want to change it when they start offering a new service, swap their mobile number, move premises or have a new project they’re particularly proud of, etc..
But that’s all good for you isn’t it?
Well it is and it isn’t. As stated, I don’t actually enjoy SEO work. Plus, you try going to talk to a local tradesman and say it’s going to cost more to promote your website than it is to create it.
And that you can only really guess how much money might be required. And that if Google decides to change its algorithms overnight, their precious good ranking could be lost and further money and effort may be required to re-instate it.
But the thing that really irks me is that it doesn’t make sense and I think Google can do better. Popularity and linking makes sense for social sites, hobby sites, special interest sites and the like, but not for businesses.
Internet users do not naturally link to boring and functional business sites, they rarely blog about them (unless they’ve been dissatisfied with their service) and they certainly don’t write articles about them!
For these reasons, it is stupid of Google et al to score business sites in the same way as other sites.
Could be a better solution on the horizon? Google already seems to be trying to build a better business directory via it’s maps function.
Sadly though, as long as business websites are ranked alongside others and Google uses algorithms rather than human judgement to rank sites, there’s going to be a continued need for SEO of some kind.
And eventually I’m just gonna have to charge more for doing it…