Organic search results’ credibility and trustworthiness have always been widely debated. When SEO (define) first became a hot tactic in online marketing, search engines results became littered with spam — doorway pages, link farms, you name it. Now that the search engines have become smarter and their algorithms increasingly complex, they are much better at weeding out spam.
But how do you define spam? Is it sites that provide no inherent value (e.g., a page full of links or ads) or content that’s potentially invalid, unproved, or biased?
The answer to that question probably depends a lot on who you ask.
A colleague in another area of marketing said to me the other day, “I’ve noticed the organic search results are getting worse.” When probed about what she meant, she said that she found results are more cluttered with blogs and user-generated content (UGC) that aren’t always credible or authoritative information sources. I explained that blogs are likely coming to the top of the rankings because they naturally achieve an abundance of inbound links, due to other sites referencing their content or using those posts to support their points of view.
But my colleague raises a good point. Are blogs really the most useful and relevant information for a user? Do they deserve to get the kind of rankings they often do?
If you consider the search engine algorithm’s approach to evaluating sites, blogs certainly seem to fit the bill of a site with high ranking potential. Blogs tend to have:
- A high number of inbound links (with keyword-rich anchor text)
- A lot of keyword-rich textual content, with typically a distinct lack of Flash and other non-textual content
- An inherent structure that enables the spider to both find and understand site content (e.g., posts are descriptively titled, organized by topical areas, and linked to in a logical manner)
- A high propensity for being found through popular blog directories or search engines, such as Technorati
Even if it’s true that most blogs are more inherently rankable than the average site, you could easily debate the merits of one blog over the other. For example, a blog by the online marketing director at Amazon.com would likely be considered more credible than a blog by a random e-marketer of a little-known product. But can the engines accurately distinguish between what would generally be considered as more authoritative blog content and what wouldn’t? If the number of links are the same and the content is similar, maybe not.
How, then, can we really be confident that the top-ranked content served up by the search engines is really top-notch? We can’t. The search engines can do their best to serve up the most relevant, authoritative content as defined by their computer-based algorithms, but there will always be the need for some human decision making or, if you will, filtering.
UGC is growing and will likely continue to dominate much of the search engine results. What does that mean for us?
As search engine users, we must learn how to objectively evaluate the content that’s presented. Just because a page ranks highly doesn’t mean we can assume the information is infallible. It’s our job to do a second weed-through of what the engines present, so we can uncover information that’s trustworthy and optimally relevant.
As search engine marketers, we must overcome the challenge of an increasingly cluttered environment and an ever-changing competitive landscape. We must think about how to appropriately apply SEO best practices to ensure our UGC, be it a blog or not, is visible in the search listings. More important, we must consider how to differentiate our content from other similar sites, so as to convince users that our site is indeed exactly what they’re looking for.
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