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Are You An SEO Criminal? Danny Sullivan Defends Search Engine Optimization  

:: Thursday, April 28, 2005 ::

Danny Sullivan has dashed off a thoughtful, defensive rant piece called Worthless Shady Criminals: A Defense Of SEO today.

It's one of those pieces that you wish would be pasted on every search engine company employee's refrigerator with kitchen magnets, or glued to the head of every client who says, "Get me to the top of search engines by 10:00 am tomorrow. I don't care how you do it, just do it."

Danny mentions something from a presentation by Matt Bailey of The Karcher Group that I saw him do in the NYC SES Conference. After sitting in on sessions like "What is Spam" and "Searcher Behavior", where it was clear to me that companies had sent their SEO employees out on missions to learn how to manipulate search engines, there was finally the most chilling example of where SEO and user centered design come together.

Matt brought a screen reader to show the class. For his show and tell, he illustrated for everyone what a poorly optimized web page *sounds* like to the end user, who relies on a screen reader to access the site. (Note: The number of disabled Internet users is staggering and yet they're the most neglected market.)

The screen reader computer voice read the web site to us. What it said left the room speechless.

Where the images were, and where alt attributes should have been placed to describe what the image is, where instead a run of keywords and key phrases. Where title attributes were used, was instead packed with a stream of stuffed keywords. Any possible way to hide words in the code, such as between Div tags, is where more keywords and key phrases were stuffed. Content was mixed with sections of keyword stuffing, so that none of us could stand to listen to what the computer voice was saying. For a disabled person, the page was useless, frustrating and unfair.

For search engines, all this extra hidden code is a bonanza of crap intended to push rank, *regardless of the consequences to the end-user*. God forbid anyone should want to purchase from the site in the number one spot that got there due to sloppy SEO.

No wonder SEO's have a bad reputation. Is it any wonder search engine companies frown on SEO techniques? If a search engine had the means to apply a screen reader to every web site page before permitting it to be indexed, the SEO/SEM industry would crumble.

Basic organic SEO, however, would survive. Many organic SEO practitioners have brought in usability people and together, they've combined forces to create web pages that deliver quality to both humans and computers. Yet, these folks are often the most beat up because their techniques simply aren't enough for casino, pharmaceutical and adult sites.

Paying Big Bucks for Rank, Not Revenue

I've often wondered at the logic of hiring what is known as "black hat" SEO for help by these highly competitive markets. How many times have you visited an adult site that reached the top of search results, only to find it pathetically unusable? They expect to generate revenue, and yet the moment you arrive to the site you're shown a zillion links to other sites, a hundred new windows pop up, it's impossible to find the way into the main site and there's animated thingy’s everywhere, making your eyeballs go bonkers.

Not that I ever visit them of course. (cough) After seeing this disastrous user interface nightmare, compounded by what I know is every possible conceivable device known to "black hat" SEO, I wonder...who would pay money for this kind of SEO? Do they expect anyone to actually USE these sites?

Also hilarious are Viagra sites that make the end user feel worse after visiting the site.

In a perfect world, persuasive and user friendly design and SEO work together.

Danny writes:

"SEOs who work with designers need to remember that there's a life outside of search engines. Standards are being pursued in design for good reason. Pushing some things purely meant to help with search engines can have unintended consequences, nor necessarily help with search engines at all."

It's Not Just Designers and SEO's.

Some programmers have too much time on their hands.

Every day, at Cre8asiteForums, we're hit by a steady stream of porn site signups which are automated. They're not real people. There's nobody on the other end intending to join in the community for anything productive. Rather, they are misguided human-folk with Idiot-Submit programs who think putting their porn URL in a profile will get them a link nod by search engines.

They never bother to read our policy, which clearly states our forums are programmed to send every URL, including those in any profile, sig line or thread, to Peter Pan Land. In other words, there is no link benefit to joining the forums. Nevertheless, we take the time to disable every one of them and block their IPs. This, we fear, means blocking IP’s of innocent people as well.

Criminals? Nobody is going to arrest anyone for spamming search engines. But, sooner or later, search engines, blogs and forums and anything else presently free, or fairly cheap to interact with, will need to protect and defend themselves from the endless ruthless onslaught of those with the "me first" and "Get rich quick" brain cells.

The cost to all of us could end our careers.

:: posted by Kim Krause Berg on 4/28/2005 02:00:00 PM

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