I’ve heard the question so many times, I want to shout at something: “Isn’t SEO just gaming the system?”
Andrew Hanelly wrote a great post for SocialMediaExplorer.com about why search engine optimization would be important even if the search engines stopped running.
And he makes a solid argument for why we should practice SEO techniques, even if we’re not actually trying to win search.
But I want to respond to the people who think SEO is somehow distasteful, or even cheating. Those critics and nay-sayers who think SEO is “just gaming the system.”
No, it’s not. It’s participating in the system that’s already in place.
First of all, this is the system. You go to a search engine, you search for something like “Italian wedding soup recipes” or “how to repair a bicycle tire.” The search engine tries to deliver what you want, because it knows what it should deliver. It looks for certain clues, like the title of a website — “1,001 Italian Wedding Soup Recipes” — or keywords in the body copy, and gives you the results that it thinks will most effectively meet your requirements. That’s the system. If you want to succeed in the system, you have to do the things that tell the search engines you can provide exactly what the users are looking for.
Second, the search engines can tell if a site isn’t very useful. It gets rid of sites that are pretty much useless. So even if someone wanted to game the system, if they’re not providing useful or valuable content, the site will soon be dropped when no one visits it, so the system weeds out anyone who isn’t giving users the things they’re looking for.
Third, using black hat SEO tricks is gaming the system. It’s cheating, because it uses tricks that have been banned by the search engines. Using tiny text or invisible text to cram keywords onto a single page is cheating. Building link farms with thousands of links on a single page is cheating. People who do that are immediately banished from the index, and will never show up on the search engine results. So the system eliminates cheaters and Internet ne’er-do-wells.
Search engine optimization is just the way Internet marketing is done. It’s no more gaming the system than buying a targeted direct mail list, or translating a website into Spanish to reach Hispanic customers. There’s nothing wrong with it, and people are going to continue to use it, because it works.
Even the people who think “gaming the system” is somehow wrong use their own life optimization techniques without batting an eye.
Would you turn in a half-finished crappy resume, because writing a good resume is “gaming the system?” Would you submit an RFP that didn’t meet all the requirements, because turning in what you’re asked for is “gaming the system?” Is practicing for a sales presentation gaming the system?
Of course not. So why is search engine optimization — a common business practice — somehow gaming the system, when that’s the only system that’s available?
Until you find a viable alternative, this is the only system we’ve got.
Photo credit: VizzzualDotCom (Flickr)