If Harry Potter Did SEO

SEO (define) has grown to be a bit like one of Harry Potter’s adventures. It’s a narrative rooted in reason, passion, magic, and a bit of humor. Though traditional wizards and witches are replaced with Web wizards, widgets, and wands, conjuring and concoctions with keystrokes and technological catenations, Harry Potter’s fictional world and SEO are not entirely dissimilar.

SEO tactics, much like the travails in the Harry Potter saga, have grown more complex over time. There’s a guise of secrecy imbued in constructing strategic SEO strategies, too, particularly for beginners just learning the tricks of the trade and the vast online entities that attempt to conceal their efforts. And just like Lord Voldemort’s soul, SEO has been severed into several distinct bits and pieces over the years.

Spiders Rule

Once upon a time, SEO was primarily achieved by understanding machine reading algorithms and initiating automatic submittals. Web wizards first began optimizing sites for search engines in the mid ’90s, as the first engines were crawling and indexing information found in the earliest Web content.

Initially, all a Web wizard needed to do was submit a Web page to the various engines. The engines would respond by sending a spider to crawl the page. By further extracting links to other pages, spiders would crawl the entire site. The information on the page would be indexed for further referencing and referrals (except in Yahoo, where contextual algorithmic judgments were actually completed by Muggles).

Search engine spiders — nearly as prodigious as Aragog‘s kin — would read the text on a page and follow mathematical machinations to determine where the information would be positioned in the SERPs (define). Well-schooled Web wizards noticed how search engines responded to specific words found on their site pages. This was truly a time when content was king and reigned alone over an expanding realm of SERPs.

The Flaw in the Plan

Unfortunately, this same period could also be called the Golden Age of Spam, as it was possible gain SERP high rankings by repeating keywords or keyword phrases multiple times, as well as misspelled words, anything with “playboy” in it, general gibberish, and a spattering of gobbledegook, the official language of goblins.

Furthermore, early search engines relied too heavily on keyword metatags as an insightful guide to each page’s content. By relying so heavily on factors exclusively within a Web wizard’s control, early search engines suffered from abuse and ranking manipulation. Consequently, user experience suffered, too.

These events set Web wizards against the early search engine spiders. A battle ensued, not exactly a great as between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, but it was a battle for relevancy all the same.

Spells and Charms

To provide more relevant results to their users, search engines had to adapt. Rather than serve unrelated pages or malware and pornography disguised as harmless bits of fluff, search engines responded by developing more complex ranking algorithms, taking into account additional factors beyond a Web page that were more difficult for Web wizards to contrive.

Prior to developing Google as graduate students at reality’s Hogwarts, Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a search engine that relied on a mathematical algorithm to rate Web pages’ citation analysis. The number calculated by the algorithm, PageRank, is a function of the quantity and contextual strength of inbound links.

To this day, PageRank estimates the likelihood a given page will be reached by a search engine user who randomly surfs the Web and follows links from one page to another. In effect, this means some links are stronger than others, just as some spells and charms are stronger than others.

As more sites reference other sites by way of inbound links, PageRank and search engine positioning is heightened. PageRank has charmed and intrigued the average search engine user for many years now, so naturally Yahoo and MSN Live Search have attempted to emulate Google’s spell. And link-building, link-baiting, and social media marketing are now employed as critical SEO tactics. To inhibit the impact of darkly influenced link schemers, search engines consider a diverse array of undisclosed factors for their ranking algorithms.

Happy Endings or Disenchantment?

SEO wizards who employ overtly aggressive tactics can get their clients’ Web sites banned from search results. This is highly disenchanting for potential clients and those pursuing the greater SEO good. Yet some search engines continue to reach out to the SEO industry and are frequent sponsors and guests at SEO conferences and seminars, where the dark arts mingle with the white.

In fact, with the advent of paid inclusion and PPC (define) revenues, some search engines now have a vested interest in the optimization community’s overall health. Toward this end, the major search engines now provide helpful information and general guidelines that even Squibs can’t ignore. While it’s not as binding as the International Statute of Secrecy, SEO has come a long way from its humble, darker days to provide happy engines for search engines and search engine users alike.

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