Is SEO simply another Y2K? (Or how Shakespeare would have looked a right idiot if he were around today)

A slightly contentious blog this week, but hey, it's all about opinions. This is mine about SEO....

Hands up who remembers the Y2K ‘problem’, or the Millennium bug, as it was sometimes known? I do, as I had several clients who made a lot of money out of placing contractors into the City to ward off the Y2 evil that was set to haunt companies that didn’t prepare for midnight on 31/12/.99. Without corrective action, it was suggested, long-working systems would break down when the 97, 98, 99, 00 ascending numbering assumption suddenly became invalid. Thousands of companies worldwide panicked and upgraded their computer systems.

And what happened that fateful day just over ten years ago? Not one globally significant computer failure occurred when the clocks ticked into 2000. Some say the fact there were no major incidents is vindication of the Y2K preparation organisations invested in. Others questioned whether the absence of computer failures was the result of the investment in upgrades or whether those with a finger in the Y2K panic pie had overplayed the reality of the problem.

And now there’s SEO to panic about.

It may have been around ten years, but I continue to miss the point where SEO is concerned. In my book, copy, if well written, automatically contains keywords aplenty. Plus, all the talk about SEO assumes that organisations do nothing but put their website up and keep their fingers crossed rather than driving traffic to their site through other means such as advertising and marketing campaigns.

As it stands, taken at face value, to me who still doesn’t get the entire furore about SEO, the gurus would have us believe that unless you play by the SEO rules you’re heading for a life of terminal online misery. That the organisation that gets SEO right will prosper, even if they are not actually the best at what they do as a business. That it’s about being on the first search results page or you’re toast, out of here, history (even though in any industry there will always be hundreds, possibly thousands of companies competing for a top ten spot).

To me though SEO is a bit like Y2K – lots of expert advice from those involved in it, with the threat that if you don’t invest in it you’re screwed. Put simply, ignore it at your peril. Yet, as I outlined above, what real impact did the Y2K problem have? What actually happened that fateful night back in 1999? Lots of people made lots of money in the run up to it, sure, but the catastrophe didn’t actually transpire. So if businesses ignore SEO are they destined to fail, no matter how good their product and advertising/marketing strategy? Hmmmm.

In my humble opinion, if the web has one downside it is SEO and the need for it. I was writing content for a client the other day who told me that his technical people can put a lot of the search terms underneath the surface of the site so I need not worry about trying to cram a certain word into a sentence or paragraph numerous times in order to get him up the charts. I really hope that this is something that will become the norm and that us writers can focus on telling the best story rather than having sleepless nights worrying about whether we have included enough keywords. And again, let's not forget that only a fool would rely solely on Google search results to market their business.

As I have commented elsewhere in the past, imagine if the greatest writers in history were inhibited by the need to get enough ‘verily’ , ‘foresooths’ or ‘thees’ in a sentence or paragraph. "Will mate, if you don't play SEO ball, you won't be putting on plays, you'll be selling ocelots noses and badgers spleens to the audience in the interval".

In short, thank God the web and SEO wasn't around back then. That Shakespeare would have looked a right twat! (PS - Bacon wrote them anyway!)

Views: 186

Comment by Stephen ODonnell on March 29, 2010 at 5:29am
In an ideal world, every website would get the traffic it deserved, based on the merit of its content. Google was initially established with the vision of delivering this, by indexing the entire internet, ranking every page on every site, and using the results to route those searching to the most suitable destination.
SEO was born out of the human instinct for competition. If I have a website that is only as good as my competitors (or maybe not even as good), then I want more traffic than my site deserves. I want to find a way of optimising my website, to make it appear more important, popular and relevant than it really is. That way, I'll have a competitive advantage, and get more potential customers coming to my site.
From the very beginning a distinction was made between the correct way to do this (White Hat) and the sneaky way to do this (Black Hat). Black Hat was viewed as cheating and underhand, pretending your site was something that it is not. Conversely, White Hat was, and is, viewed as merely ensuring that Google, and other search engines, are fully aware of every single piece of content on your site, and arranging your site in a way that made it easily indexable and searchable. This way you're not tricking people, you are simply making the very most of what you have, and putting your website in the very best light.
OK, so now everyone is SEO-ing their site, to a greater or lesser extent. Does this now mean that every site in the first page of Google is there on merit, or have some really clever guys tricked Google into indexing there site as better than it truly is? Can we really then trust Google to get it right?
Of course you can bypass this lottery, and buy your way onto Google's first page os search results, by buying Adwords, for the search terms you'd like to be found under. Of course there's no guarantee here either. Google displays these ads according to which one generates the most revenue, whether you've bid the most per click or not. So an ad costing half your bid, but three times as popular (by number of clicks) will appear higher than yours. Aren't Google clever.
In the recruitment sector, it is nigh on impossible to compete with the big job boards, and have my site appear high in the search results. Which leads me to secondary search engines. As the name suggests, these are services which are one step down the food chain, and conduits through which you can generate traffic by borrowing some of their SEO. was the first, and remains the leading Job Search Engine in the UK. Indexing over 350,000 vacancy ads from most of the UK's major job boards ensures that 1Job has a huge database of continually changing relevant content, which Google loves, and ensures that it is well featured for almost every search for jobs in the UK. There is no need for the lottery of bidding either. Every vacancy has as much prominence as each other, meaning that each job should get as many click throughs as ones from Monster, for example.
This is no panacea, but it does simplify the online recruitment sector for both candidates and advertisers, by providing a dedicated search engine for jobs.
SEO must never be ignored, and every new website should follow the basic rules. However, in the recruitment space, there is no need to get hung up on your website's daily ranking, if you can generate targeted candidate traffic in a much more effective and efficient manner.
Comment by Rob van Elburg on March 29, 2010 at 10:44am
Called SEO a Hoax once. Compleet Dutch marketing almost killed me. I believe in Recruitment via Google. I believe in SEO in recruitment. But more in platforms like

A "safety basis", with high standard companies & services, based on less is more, easy clicking and short keywords. Hours of click pleasure in the major league. Just a few keywords away (Dutch Recruitment, Jobs Holland, Jobs Amsterdam etc). Brevity is the soul of wit right?
Comment by Martin H.Snyder on March 29, 2010 at 12:30pm
My firm has spent millions of dollars doing online marketing of our niche products, and SEO is a vital part of getting the best ROI. Organic results work hand-in-hand with paid results, and there is no question whatsoever that effective SEO can dramatically improve organic results.

The notion that if your creative simply includes the right keywords that good results will follow is totally ill-founded; each major web property has its own quirks and result vectors that must be carefully managed and balanced. Now it's easy to understand how SEO has a bad reputation; the industry is full of quacks and there is real snake-oil type stuff involved, which leads to all kinds of abuses.

But let me be perfectly clear: SEO is real, it's very important, and if you ignore it and your competitors do not, you will under perform badly.

PS- only a fool would not give Google the prime spot (as of 2010) in SEO planning*.

*there is always some tiny niche exception somewhere, but the odds if it being yours are tiny.
Comment by Tim Dineen on March 30, 2010 at 1:53pm
Lame - SEO has nothing to do with Y2k. (btw - Y2k didn't kill any companies because they fixed the problems beforehand.)

I'll give you another analogy: if someone throws a grenade at you and its a dud, you still live. But should you ignore the second grenade that heads your way? (This is just as irrelevant to the topic of SEO, of course... but I didn't want to go the ostrich-head-in-the-sand route either.)

I'll agree with you on one thing, correctly done website optimization is not about stuffing more keywords into your text. If that's what you think SEO is then you're already off on the wrong foot.

If you take your own advice, the only thing that'll happen is the companies which take SEO seriously will have one less competitor to worry about. But you shared this opinion with the world here, so I certainly hope that no company with an interest in competing sometime in this century takes your advice.

It'd be irresponsible to heed this advice. Beware ignorance, not SEO!
Comment by Nicole Bodem on May 31, 2010 at 4:12am
I know I am a bit late in the conversation but since recruitment SEO is an area I am passionate about and do for a living I wanted to add my two cents.

Well written copy in your mind may naturally include keywords but are they the words people are actively using to search? Keyword research is crucial for successful recruitment SEO as it’s the starting point for how the entire site architecture will be developed.

Your right about the search engines having rules (publicly available in their webmaster tools section) In order to enjoy long term search engine success you must abide by them. SEO’s that game the system are known as “black Hat SEO’s, to be honest, black hat techniques have enjoyed temporary gains in the past but it’s not worth the damage you could do to your brand or domain. Remember the whole BMW Google ban back in 2006? People are still talking it!

Organizations that include SEO as part of their recruitment marketing strategy will prosper.
Best to get in while the competition is minimal (for company career sites) you’ll have a competitive edge.

The value in recruitment SEO is not a first page ranking. As you know, rankings are no longer a good success metric, with personalized search, IP based results and normal fluctuation people are not seeing the same results these days. Increased search engine traffic is a much better way to determining SEO success.

I hope you tried to educate your client on why “putting a bunch of search terms underneath the surface” was not the best strategy and could indeed harm them? I get that a lot as well and it's frustrating, gives the rest of us a bad rap.

At the end of the day recruitment SEO is another channel to add to your current marketing mix. With over 30 million job related searches happening within the search engines each month, that’s a pretty powerful stat to ignore.

PS - It happens to be 3am here, so please ignore any misspellings or grammatical errors.


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