The SEO and the Blacksmith

  |  October 17, 2005   |  Comments

A top search engine rank has so little to do with code or technology; it's hardly worth losing sleep over.

Earlier this month, my buddy and leading "Netrepreneur," Ken Evoy, firmly put his stake in the ground by posting that SEO (define) is dead.

Naturally, it prompted an almost hostile reaction from certain quarters. Ken and I have exchanged email a few times regarding the subject during the course of the year. Generally speaking, I believe SEO is not quite nailed in the coffin yet. But Ken's not far wrong in that "classic SEO," as I often refer to it, is very much a dying art.

I can actually hear a division bell ringing in the distance between search marketers and the technical SEO types hanging on to the old systems and processes they've mastered over the years.

All the more, I personally find technology-speak to be less and less pertinent to SEM (define) efforts insofar as ranking is concerned. Ultimately, the goal is to position your Web pages in the top 20 results at major search engines, or you're simply sitting in a search engine dungeon with a lot of other no-hopers.

As I emphasized in my previous column, getting indexed at search engines is not the challenge it was just a few years back. There are fewer technical barriers. And search engines such as Google and Yahoo are introducing newer methods, such as site maps, for indexing purposes. They're going to make it even easier.

Here at my firm in North Carolina, for instance, we combine some of our proprietary technology with Google Sitemaps to make indexing easy-peasy. We use our spider to crawl our clients' Web sites and retrieve every suitable URL for indexing. The URLs are then sucked into an XML format and uploaded to Google. It takes about 15 minutes, on average.

Recently, we took a client with only 8,000 URLs in Google's index and almost effortlessly upped the total to 150,000 with this simple process. Of course, Google Sitemaps is still in beta, and this is a new process. But it certainly paves the way for less focus on indexing efforts and more on ranking. That's where good marketing practices count for so much more than technology tricks.

It's simple as this: it's not in the code. The solution to getting that top rank has so little to do with code it's hardly worth losing sleep over. Think link, think user behavior. Going forward, this is primarily what a ranking algorithm scores you on.

How does a search engine create what's actually known as an inverted index? It works like the index at the back of a book. A word points to a page, like looking at the back of a medical textbook for "hemoglobin." The textbook tells you "hemoglobin" appears on page 19. The search engine does the same thing. It keeps only one occurrence of each word. It would be a complete waste of space to index billions of occurrences of "the."

Then, what's known as a term weight pair can be created. A page has a weighted list of words, and a word has a weighted list of pages. The text from your Web page is parsed out of the code. Important words scope to important pages as determined by each search engine's own weighting factors. The index is in tiers of priority, and, often, though your URLs are indexed, they may not have those important weighted words scoped at them.

That's the indexing process. Now you need a ranking mechanism. And gaining a top rank within that mechanism has more to do with external variables such as links (and link anchor text) and, even more, user behavior data.

Not only that, a top ranking position is becoming more important as search engines test new methods of presentation, and organic (or natural) results are forced further down the page, below the fold.

Today, I searched for the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" album at Google, which is now testing images folded into the top results. As my colleague Greg Ives points out, with three paid results at the top of the pile at Google (try a search for "halloween costumes") and often with some Froogle results thrown in at the top (and maybe even some news results), that all important top 10 hit is rapidly becoming an all important top 5 hit just to be seen.

Once again, content is king. If you create great content, if you earn the respect of your peers so they acknowledge you as an authority and link to you, if users find your content sticky enough, you're probably doing the right things to get that top ranking position.

What I've covered above depends so very little on code and technology. It's more about quality marketing.

Years ago, many blacksmiths had to learn to do something else. Their specific skills were required less and less. I guess that's what will happen to SEO experts in the future. I don't think SEO is dead, yet. But as with blacksmiths, you'll probably not find one on every corner the way you used to.

Maybe they'll open PPC (define) shops?

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Mike Grehan

Mike Grehan is Publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ and Producer of the SES international conference series. He is the current president of global trade association SEMPO, having been elected to the board of directors in 2010.

Formerly, Mike worked as a search marketing consultant with a number of international agencies, handling such global clients as SAP and Motorola. Recognized as a leading search marketing expert, Mike came online in 1995 and is author of numerous books and white papers on the subject. He is currently in the process of writing his new book "From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer" to be published by Wiley in 2013.

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