Search Engine Optimization

Last modified on August 17th, 2009

I’ve been involved with a few projects lately where the company doing the hiring has brought on special SEO consultants for the purpose of optimizing the SEO of a particular site. I know for a fact that many web companies look at SEO like it’s the proverbial cash-cow, so I’m really curious to understand just what it is that SEO specialists are doing. And while doing a search for that, I came across this website, that I thought interesting.

First, I’m going to exclude black-hat SEO, because I don’t think it’s ethical, and it’s definitely something I never want to be involved in. At a personal level, I think proper SEO would involve client training (or retraining rather), instead of a one-time-fixes-all approach. Sure, you can temporarily increase the traffic to a site but dropping a pile of links on various sites or changing a few keywords, but that doesn’t help anyone long term. It’s like dropping off a pile of solar panels and batteries in Africa and hoping that will make some long term difference to the community there.

With regards to WordPress sites, most are SEO friendly out of the gate. You’ll need a few plugins, namely the All In One SEO pack (which allows per-post titles and keywords), and the Google XML Sitemaps plugin (which when combined with the Google webmaster’s toolkit), allows Google to better index your site.

Without a doubt, both of those plugins will help your WordPress site, the former because it generally switches the titles tags around, and the latter because it increases Google’s ability to index content that falls off your main page. But on top of that, I’m struggling to understand what SEO specialists do.

Going through a website and changing keywords around may help (and I’m not entirely convinced, as Google is pretty good at deciding which keywords are relevant), but only temporarily – if the people writing the content aren’t trained in this capacity, it’s not going to make much of a long term difference IMO.

The number one axiom in engineering is that you can’t improve upon anything you don’t measure. You may think you’re making improvements, but real engineering requires real data to support that notion. And if that data isn’t measured, I really have no idea how any company can claim to have made an improvement. If you’re a SEO company that isn’t setting a baseline before doing adjustments, I really have to wonder what metric you’re using to gauge improvements, other than cost.

I’m not trying to bash SEO consultants (I believe many SEO consultants actually think they are providing real value), but a quick Twitter I dropped earlier asking for some real-world data to support the claims (and justify the costs) of SEO consultants came back pretty empty. So I’m curious as to what benefit companies can expect to see on-top of WordPress (with the two plugins installed above) from SEO? And I’m not talking about starting from a clunky theme without any TITLE or ALT tags — I’m talking about a properly designed theme.

I’d be the first to admit that doing a proper (i.e. scientific) SEO study would be hard, if not impossible. It’s really hard to do the experiment in a controlled style, since any small adjustment will change the playing field for future adjustments. But that directly implies that the data is lacking about the benefits of SEO.

So by all means, if you’re into SEO, drop some arguments below. Like agent Mulder in the X-Files, I want to believe.