Late evening SEO email

“I was asked if you can tell what and how much SEO has been done to your own website. Is there a record? A friend being charged for work on SEO but they can’t ‘prove’ anything.”

A friend of mine asked this recently and my frustration led to the following late night email rant on a topic that I think we’ve spent more fruitless time talking about than any other:

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SEO is so amazingly warped it’s crazy. It stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Which means the practice of optimising a website for search engines. Optimising means tweaking and doing things to improve. Search engines are things that help people find the most likely best result, amongst everything on the internet, for the words they searched for.

Our tact for years has been to translate this to mean: Designing and building websites that follow the standards that search engines applaud and encourage. Standards such as semantic mark up, clear and descriptive labels, non-repeating or stuffed content, and basically W3C standards

We then encourage businesses to create content that people want to read. Everything and anything relevant about their company that their audience or target market wants to / needs to know.

People are out there and wanting information. Literally searching for it, asking third party services to help them find the thing they want. If a business has that thing being searched for, then they should simply and clearly write about it online. Make it accessible and easy to navigate to. Just spend your time providing the service that people are searching for. 

Don’t ‘do SEO’. Do a service. Do content. Do value. And TO HUMANS, not robots and spiders that crawl the web looking for value for their human overlords.

Rant aside (though thanks for this excuse to put these thoughts into writing again as I’ve not done so for a few months now), if anyone has charged for SEO work, then they must be able to provide a list of exactly what they did. What code or methods they identified as wrong, and the code they wrote or methods they put in place to remedy the wrongs, toward better standards compliance.

If the page titles of the website were blank or non-descriptive for example, then maybe they made them descriptive and say what the page was about. Or if all hyperlinks on the site were just linking off ‘click here’ then maybe they made the links contain relevant words. Better / more basic yet, maybe they actually added external links to a site that had none. 

Slightly more trixy, they may have added footer navigation with direct keyword links to improve internal page findability, or have rewritten content to make it contain desired keywords (you won’t believe the number of business that hate and avoid the common words in their sectors, but expect to show up when people search for them. “Oh we dislike the words ‘flowers’ and ‘buy’ so use ‘floral delights’ and ‘purchase’ instead…. Why are’t we on page one for searches for ‘buy flowers’?”).

These examples are basic but I just mean to show that the ‘SEO guru’ can only do work that is changing something. To optimise is to do. So ask them for a list of what they did. Changed X to Y. And for fun, ask them why they did it and see if they actually know or can justify it (lots still suggest meta keywords which practically every search engine ignores now, but lazy SEO types have old cheat sheets so keep suggesting them).

Proving that SEO work has been carried out should not be the job of the client: it’s the second duty of the SEO expert after actually optimising the things that needed optimising. 

Hope that helps a bit! Sorry to go on but it’s an amazing scourge of the industry. An honest enough practice if looked at from the perspective of the search engine. In fact, they even offer directions and support:

Google Support Search Engine Optimization

Google webmaster SEO starter guide

But, dishonestly practiced, SEO is homeopathy at best and steroids at worst, with relative punishments if you get caught. I wrote a bit on SEO and other evils recently, linking to an articles like how Halifax got caught for bad SEO practices. 

Tell me how they get on. Fingers crossed they sort it out. 


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I shared this with Jenifer at WA to ensure it made sense considering how late I wrote it, and she made a valuable additional note: 

One thing that’s worth adding is how difficult it is to quantify the ‘success’ of SEO – and how difficult to prove and maintain over the long term (as Google’s algorithms change etc), which is why we don’t use any tricks, because they don’t pay in the long run. 

And then there’s the expense when they get caught – the Halifax and Expedia stuff looks like it could’ve been very costly indeed.

Just be nice and make nice content nicely. Or as one of the best posters and messages ever made says: Work hard and be nice to people:


SEO consultancy is generally not hard work, nor nice.