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When can we stop calling SEO SEO?

Having worked in the digital media business for well over a decade, I’ve heard and read a lot

about Search Engine Optimisation.


It has been regarded by many as the Holy Grail of successful website implementation,

because what’s the point of having a website if it doesn’t rank highly in searches, right?


Mind you I have always wondered if there’s any point having a website that ranks highly

in searches but really isn’t very good.


In my opinion it should be well understood by now that all aspects of website

design, development, content creation, day-to-day operation, promotion and

marketing not only contribute to effective SEO but are actually vital components.


Meanwhile, are there really people who want to create or operate a site that isn’t optimised

for search engines? I mean isn’t that a given by now, almost as integral as having your

contact details on your site?


Of course how much time and money you spend on improving that aspect is a huge variable, but then isn’t that also the case with your finite resources for initially designing and building a site, creating and updating its content and managing its day-to-day operation?


I have always been a bit sceptical about businesses that tout SEO services as if they are some sort of mystical discipline that only an expert can offer, because in many cases those are the sort of businesses that use borderline tactics and downright trickery in an attempt to make search engines give more weight to a site than it truly deserves.


To me, even thinking of SEO as something separate to creating a quality website with valuable and interesting content suggests that you’re taking your eye off the ball.


I prefer to think of SEO as a component of SCO, Site and Content Optimisation, because if your site is “good” (including its content) it will be appealing to and work well for human users and therefore also be well regarded by search engines (Aigars Armanovs has suggested Off-Site Marketing, or OSM, as a replacement term).


Once you have an “optimised” site, you are in a great position to meaningfully engage with your target audience, promote your site and market your products or services. Search engines won’t do that for you.


I am certainly not suggesting that the practice of search engine optimisation is not valuable or does not require knowledge and expertise, rather that the terminology itself seems, if not exactly redundant, less appropriate than it once was.


Having said that, the SEO industry is so vast that I know the term is here to stay. According to State of Digital, every second more than 100 people search for the term “SEO” (predominantly “SEO services” or “SEO company”) on Google, there are over 60,000 profiles on Twitter which mention “SEO” and Amazon stocks more than 2,500 books on the subject!


My point is that if you create and run a well-constructed and engaging website, including the necessary SE-influencing elements, it will resonate with users and, at the same time, be recognised as a highly-effective one by search engine algorithms.


I am advocating doing all you can to optimise while designing, building, posting content to and otherwise updating your site, rather than doing those things and optimising separately, so your SCO does the SEO as it goes.


Now perhaps I trust Google (the company as a whole, not just its search engine) more than some, but I believe that Google has the best interests of all web users at heart. It wants to make products and offer services that work really, really well, because being a lot better than the next guy is what’s made Google successful.


I am convinced that Google’s regular recalibrations and tweaks to its search-engine algorithms are consistently improving that service, trying to ensure that it works optimally for as many users as possible – both searchers and the owners of the sites being indexed.


It is clear that this is Google’s modus operandi not just because its guidelines spell out the things it doesn’t condone and not only because some big sites have been penalised for breaching those guidelines* but because Google explains how each update of the algorithm is intended to reduce the effectiveness of “contrived” SEO practices.


So much so that late last year, one of the first major personalities in the SEO business, Jill Whalen, stepped away after nearly 20 years as an industry leader, noting: “Finally Google put their money where their mouth was with their Panda and Penguin updates. At last the only real way to do SEO was what I had been espousing all along. And it’s a beautiful thing!”


In her leaving post Whalen reiterated her long-held belief “that the real secret to SEO (is) not about tricks but about making your site the best it (can) be for your users while keeping the search engines in mind”.


However as she notes, the business of SEO is not about to disappear anytime soon and skilled, reputable SEO practitioners should thrive in an environment where they are part of a broader team ensuring sites and their content are fully optimised.


But fortunately any remaining “shonky” SEO practitioners are fast going the way of the dinosaur.


It’s important that everyone associated with digital media understands that SEO won’t paper over the cracks of a poorly conceived and managed site, so the end game has to be that all aspects of a site are done well – and managed on an ongoing basis. Online assets are certainly not set-and-forget.


I believe that we are approaching the day when SEO won’t be seen as a separate, complex, difficult-to-explain-let-alone-quantify option but rather as one element of every digital media practitioner’s quest to optimise every site.


Because why would you optimise a site for search engines but not users?


*(If you don’t think Google is serious about its guidelines and penalising breaches, you must have missed that time a couple of years back when Google penalised itself!)


All blog posts by Murray Brust

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