SEO – Brain surgery? Perhaps not, but its not so far off!

Reading this blog here from oilman got me thinking about SEO and how people value their worth in terms of what they charge for their services and how some of what he is saying about others and their denigrating what we do can impact upon us negatively.

Putting to one side all those idiots who say they will submit your site to the search engines for a one off fee of $100 solicited by way of some awful looking spam email or adsense ad somewhere. Those tosspots really don’t help the situation as they help paint a perception that there really is nothing to what people like me do, when the obverse is so blindingly obviously true!

Some people have great difficulty in charging their clients the right price for what they do. Ive certainly been guilty of it in the past as have lots of others no doubt. If you are one of these people who works alone, then you may well fall into some isolationist camp whereby you dont *really* appreciate what it is you actually know. Add to that mix people like shoemoney saying that 95% of SEO is super simple or worse still, others who say stuff like , SEO is Bullshit ( a headline people will grab hold of and use to sneer at you with) and you may find others beginning to question the value of what it is you do. Ok, Ive been a little unfair to Mr Shoe when I say that as he did actually go on to clarify a few of his points, but still I think its fair to say that throw away comments like that, don’t entirely help in any SEO is a winning strategy, worthy of high dollar investment in quaility people perception game! Detractors seize on such statements and use them to dis the entire concept.

See, I know this guy who happens to be a brain surgeon. I knew him at school as a kid, he even credits me as part inspiration for his interest in the human brain, but that’s a story for another day. He is a clever fecker and studied all sorts of medical stuff for years. He now opens up peoples heads and performs surgery on their brains. Cool huh? Yet talk to him and he’ll tell you that its all pretty simple stuff really. He won’t brag or sound off like he’s some super know all mega-brain, oh no, he’ll just tell you that what he knows is simply the product of years of reading, observation, long hours of study and practice. But, you just know that to get where is he and be allowed to cut through your head and muck about with your brain holding a sclapel and all, that he’s pretty pretty clued up on how it all works and what needs to be done to keep you alive and functioning in a non cabbage doll way!

WTF does this have to do with SEO? Please, allow me to continue. I think it might help if I clarify a few of the issues and outline some of the complexitities of whats actually involved in doing the day to day work of SEO. I’m gonna brainstorm a little and see where I go and see if I can touch on just a few of things involved and state what I think is required in order to do it properly. I might miss a trick or two, so feel free to say your bit at then end. 😀

SEO and Search engines

The aim of an SEO will be to get a website into the search engine results pages for their clients target keywords and phrases. The SEO therefore, has to have quite an in-depth understanding of how search engines work, an understanding of Page Rank, search bots, crawl rates, indexing, tag weighting, robots.txt files, algorithms. He will also need to keep ahead of the curve by continually monitoring and watching for clues as to changes in how things may be evaluated in the future. He’ll need to know what players are important, what user-agents they use and how to identify them, he’ll need an understanding of concepts like trustrank and authority scores, he’ll need to know how these are attained, sustained and lost. He won’t need to go and read guidelines on a daily basis, he’ll just have a good feel for what they are.

SEO’s as Client Side Scripters

Then there’s the website or page. He needs to know all about Title tags and H tags and keyword placement, tables and DIV tags why some meta tags are important and others aren’t, what is a <script> tag when to use noscript, how to use flash, what is a frame, why are they problematic? IOW, he’ll need to know a bit about HTML. Before he builds his page though he’ll need to know why KW research is important, he’ll need to know where to look and how to evaluate using search operators. Oops I forgot to mention CSS, oh and client side scripting too, what is AJAX? What is XML? What are the pluses and minuses of RSS.

SEO’s as Server Side Scripters

Whilst he is at it he may as well have some knowledge of server side scripting languages like PHP and ASP or CFM what is an include? Why are string manipulators so cool. How do you walk an array? Why is script security so important to your continual rankings etc etc etc.

SEO’s as Database Administrators

Then there are databases; you know, the things used to power most of the web. They use things like Structured Query Language to output data onto these things called webpages, you know, those things that hold all these keywords and all. If he really wants to help his client, he’ll need to know how to output his clients stuff, he’ll need to know about database design and structure, he’ll need to know how his queries will affect his site. He’ll need to know about query caching, database management and optimisation.

SEO’s as Server Admins

He’ll need to know a little about server loads and web server architecture, its processes and limitations, how a mod_rewrite can eliminate query strings in URI’s, how to block bad bots, bad IP’s, and why this is important to his clients aims, he’ll need to know about logfiles; error_logs and access_logs.

SEO’s and Metrics

He’ll need to have a good take on metrics – he’ll have a good take on what software’s are out there and why some maybe better than others. He’ll need to know why his visitor demographic is important and how he can best leverage that information to tweak and fine tune his efforts.

SEO’s and Market Pulse

Then there are all the external influences. Things like social metrics, bookmarking, link data, creating buzz and getting links, why is a reciprocal not as good as a one way, what is the difference between a good link and a bad link, what are the sites worth getting into, why are they so?

SEO’s and PPC

He’ll need to know how to help his client through quiet periods and algo changes, he’ll need a knowledge of PPC and what it is and what it does, how to set up campaigns, what is CPM and CPC? What is click-fraud, how is it detected? He’ll need a knowledge of MFA’s and other contextual abuses of his ad-spend, he might have a client who could benefit from Arbitrage or at least the knowledge of how it could affect their bottom line.

SEO’s and Spam

Then there is that huge topic of webspam and all that entails. What is webspam, what is cloaking , what is hijacking, what is a 301 and a 302 what is a 404 and why do they matter, what is hidden text, how do you file a reinclusion request what is a nofollow, why did it arise? What’s a splog? Whats a duplicate content filter, Whats the difference between a filter and a penalty?

SEO and Creativity

He’ll need to be able to adapt quickly and think creatively on his feet. He’ll be able to tell the diffference between an opportunity and a yoke and use whatever is before him to best maximise his clients chance of success.

SEO’s and People Networks

And finally, there are the places to look and learn a little more, who are the people worth listening to and who aren’t and so it could go, on and on and on.

There’s quite a bit involved in it all, wouldn’t you say? Is all that lot easy? I don’t think so. It takes years of reading and trial and error and experience to get anywhere near to that level of knowledge and expertise, feckin years. It never stops either, never stands still, blink and you’ll miss a shedload.

See, if you are hiring an SEO company or individual then IMO they will need to have all of the above, and beyond. Any SEO looking to compete in the search space working for different clients in different market sectors will need to have those tools and knowledge in their armoury. If they don’t, then sooner or later a competitor will come along who has and just wipe them off of the landscape. SEO is a knowledge based economy.

You see, flying a plane, splitting an atom, building a house, riding a bike, baking a cake, learning your times tables are all one trick ponies. Once you know them, thats it, you get on with it. Some tasks or roles are different though, some continually shift and change as new technologies and ways of doing things are thrown at them. SEO fits right into this category.
I too liked what Danny Sullivan had to say in his defence of SEO blog at

Yes, you can invest time to learn these “simple” things. But if you know nothing about them, they can seem like rocket science. Over the years, I’ve talked with plenty of people who weren’t even aware of the basic tip that every page should have a unique, descriptive title tag. They think “title” means the biggest text on the page, not the HTML title tag. Talk of HTML title tags — that IS rocket science to them.

Damn right too, lwe all tend to take what we know for granted, but when we sit down and compare it against the general publics knowledge of it all then we begin to get a little more perspective.

So, if anyone tells you that SEO is easy, if anyone tells you its just a simple case of putting a meta tag in here there and anywhere, then I suggest you tell them to go and get ranked for something worth ranking for and then come back in 6 months and let you know how they did. get them to start from scratch mind, none of these pre loaded authority blogs or similar subdomains 😉

Have something to say on this?  Comment here 


Watch your CMS – it could be getting you into trouble

Graywolf blogged about some Disney Blog getting  de-indexed for hidden text.

Seems that some blogging platforms/cms’s have issues that could get your site removed  for web spamming by inserting text  that is hidden.

One commenter there had this to say:

Some freely available WordPress templates (specifically from hidden links from the designer linking to certain cancer websites. I am sure most people do not see that as it is kind of sneaky.

I do wonder why they don’t just ignore  such aspects for ranking purposes. If its identified as hidden algorithmically then it can be ignored as a ranking factor too…no? Or am I missing some bigger picture here.

Say no to splogging and yes to blogging

Say yes to Blogging

So, Ive blogged now for a little over a week. Ok, so Ive blogged in the past on other topics, but not as consitently or comprehensively; at least in the sense of making posts longer than 20 or 30 words and posting everyday writing unique and semi compelling stuff!

Why am I so surprised that I’m actually enjoying writing about things I find interesting, amusing and entertaining? I haven’t got any huge audience or anything like that, and to be frank I’m not too bothered. I’m just enjoying the process. Its cathartic even, its good to talk.

As Ive said previously. I have blogged before. Some of the stuff I blogged on was kinda personal. I blogged about my divorce for example, it was an excellent vehicle that helped deal with a shitty time in my life. Ive blogged about my everyday life – its ups and its downs, mostly just sporadic moans and rants.

Ive also tried to blog on random stuff too. In my silliness, I once said, I know, I’ll blog on anything and everything, cobblers to focus, who needs that! So was born my first splog.

Say no to Splogging

So I built this site, it was a combination of a blogging module and a mishmash of other stuff I’d coded and plugged in. I didn’t see it that way at the time, but in retrospect I had created a splog. Not just any old splog mind. It was a well crafted juicy splog that when viewed 1st hand, looked nothing like a splog. The whole thing was really just an exercise in intellectual curiosity.

I had a domain name that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with, I’d been fannying with Drupal, I’d seen a few community blog type sites grow pretty quickly and wanted to have a little play about to explore some of the issues and get a feel for what it could and couldn’t do. I justed wanted to stick the modules up and play about with it and stick things on to the front and the back and the side, like some Blue Peter toy made out of cardboard tubes and coloured paper almost. I wanted to see how quick I could get it spidered, how deeply it would be crawled, how often, by whom, how well it would rank, how quickly, how people reacted to ad placement and all manner of other things that simply unavailable through any other route. You can’t read about this stuff, you have to go through the curve and experience it.

The home page had real posts from real people. Heck I even had people sign up and post their pics and write stuff about their lives and all that. I also had a database with 20 odd thousand keywords. I plugged these words into a template and let the spiders do the rest. I fed in RSS search feeds to supplement the ‘content’, I used the tagging systems pumped out by things like and Flickr to give each page a unique look and feel. I mixed things up and varied the layouts and KW densities based on the length of the url or sector it pertained to or some other random variable, I did everything I could to push the envelop as far as I could and to see where it would go, hell I even took the piss on the domain name, using a well known spamming term. At the time, the way I saw it there was no harm done. Search engine spiders lapped it all up, I got visitors and some signed up and participated. Those who didn’t sign up to the program, clicked on ads relative to the keywords – win win, they got what they wanted , I got paid a few cents for their efforts and advertisers got on target searchers in kw focused search mode.

Eventually, as was inevitable. The site got pulled from the SE db’s. What had taken me a little over a week to code and set up, at its peak had 50k pages in the SE databases and received around 1500 visitors per day at its peak, with most of them coming from MSN and Y!, Google at least was considerably smarter, but still gave me long tail referals.

Was there a point, why even?

Was it worth it? Yes, as an exercise in education and observation, absolutely.

If I’m honest there have been times when Ive said to myself I could have put in a little more effort at the outset and actually made something worth having long term even; ok thats an understatement I could have put in a whole lot more effort, but that would have required real work and effort outside of playing about with a bit of PHP and SQL, I’d have had to involved other humans :-0 built a little community thing even, generated a little buzz and excitement, made something useful.

Easy to game search engines?

It does kinda beg the question of how it was that easy to get 100k visitors in such a short period of time for something of such little use and value, taking next to no time to develop which was nothing other really than an ugly keyword splog!

See the way I see it, my big pile of poo shouldn’t really have been able to rank for anything, cos really it was saying nothing at all. It offered very little that was original. It basically rehashed and spewed out that which already exists out there already. I still have the scripts and the database, so could always stick it all up on another database and see…but I won’t, I can’t be bothered, it served its purpose, to do so would feel unkarmic.

Today, I doubt the same approach woulld work. The SE’s are whole lot smarter. They are learning from all of these other social media metrics. They are looking at what is getting buzz, who is talking about what in which space and why, they are actually applying these factors to their algos. They realise that its simply not good enough to rely on factors that given a little effort, are so relatively easy to manipulate. They are looking at how people vote with their fingers and mice, studying the demographic and seeing where they go. Google reader, feedburner, delicious, toolbars, youtube, myspace, blogging platforms and all manner of other popular services enable them to glean so much more than they once did.

Sympathy for the devil

It must be damn hard to be a SE engineer these days, constantly firefighting, tweaking, playing. In fairness to them, they are doing a pretty good job, but still have a way to go of course, its the nature of the beast they’ll always be playing catchup of one form or another. Web Spammers or people just looking to rank well for their topics and interests will go to exceptional lengths to get to where they or their clients need to be. Most of us are natural born problem solvers, its what we relish. Search engine algos are just another problem to be figured out and solved. It is certainly a whole lot harder to rank for something worth ranking for. Domains do get filtered/penalised every day, just go and have a read up over on any SEO forum to see examples of people screaming and wailing. It really is getting to be about content content content.

Can you still spam your way to the top using splogs or other well known spamming practices and methods? Well, you’d like to think not or yes even, dependant upon your view. If the SE’s know a method exists then they’ll look at ways of minimising its efficacy, thats for sure. The trick really is to just work hard on something of value and the rest will follow naturally. I’m seriously of the opinion that heavy duty old style spamming just isn’t worth the effort. You may as well plough those very same efforts into something worth building and growing.

IMHO of course 🙂

Comment on Say no to splogging yes to blogging here

Web PRO News Videos from Search Conferences

Web Pro News have put together some really good videos together over at their site.

This link here entitled the do’s and dont’s of Digg is a great discussion on doing well in Digg as well as things to avoid. Its also a good general discussion around social media, tips for choosing an SEO, PPC and arbitrage, the future of search, trends in the industry and a few other related topics.

If you are interested in search and blogging and site monetisation and social media and all the other stuff that makes up this thing called the internet such an interesting space to play in, then go check them out, they are definitely worth a look!

Good stuff, well done Mike,Neil and Todd . 🙂

Warning: Make sure you have some time on your hand as I spent like um…2 hours watching all sorts of interesting stuff over there!

How to Build a Database driven website part 1

Building a simple database driven website.

This is part one of a multi part yet to be determined ‘how to’ aimed at showing you how to build a database driven website.

Ok for this recipe you will need.

  • An idea of what you want to do
  • Basic knowledge of HTML
  • PHP enabled webspace
  • A Mysql Database
  • PhpMyAdmin
  • A dataset
  • Will and determination to get it done

Continued here

Affiliate thoughts for 2007 – keeping ahead of the chop

Easy come easy go… 

It’s no news to say that the days of easy rankings with easy commissions are long gone. With some search engines, it just no longer works. Anyone, and lots are, can whack up a DB or add a feed from some central source. It’s child play, and from a search engine viewpoint its just not welcome. They’d be happy to kick yo ass as soon as look at ya, and who could reasonably blame them? You can have the most well linked, beautifully constructed site in the world full of some mythical kw density perfection, css’ed to the nth with elements positioned to the max, but if you aren’t saying anything new, then the chances are that things could get pretty serious pretty quickly. Search engine death could well become you. Sure, you’ll get spidered, but expect to go supplemental pretty quickly, and if that don’t happen then you might get extra lucky and get lumbered with a nice fat -31 ranking penalty.

Fat or thin?

Over the years, there’s been quite a bit of discussion on what constitutes a thin or a fat affiliate. Lets look at travel. Fat boys like tripadvisor for example, are flying with lots of top spots on a range of travel related kw’s whereas others are floundering.

I recall a time when for like, 4 or 5 years a particular little travel network absolutely kicked arse on all of the big 3, Google, Msn and Yahoo. Be it ‘hotel in town‘ or  ‘town hotels’ these guys had top spots usually in the top 5 positions. They were nothing other than a well constructed, well linked network of affiliate feeds that did little other than pump out content that their suppliers provided. It really was an education to look at what these people had done. Their strategy was for the time, basically fab. They hosted a variety of big sites across a variety of IP’s. They mixed pages up with a mishmash of approaches doing things like varying page element factors, curtailing product description content, differing kw and kp densities, different navigational placement, text types, god you name it they’d factored it in one way or another, and it paid them big dividends. I guess really it was a day when it was all about getting as many pages into the search engine db’s as you possibly could. Their duplicate content filters were so underdeveloped that provided you did enough variation in the places that mattered, ie page naming, title tags, H tags general kw peppering here and there in your content spread etc, then you’d be pretty ok. In fact you got massively rewarded and could do some great stuff with inward link creation too. You didn’t have to worry about going out and sourcing zillions of links from here there and everywhere, you’d just create your own and ensure that they were appropriately placed and hidden across a network of unidentifiables, albeit in the sense of what the spider saw and registered at least!

A different breed of engine

Today of course, these guys are nowhere to be seen, at least not in any recognisable guise. Their network was nuked and they don’t rank for jack no more. Things like the Google eval team have given people using that particular strategy a short sharp shock.

New generation networks, if they hope to have sustainable long term SERP viability have to be a whole lot smarter in 007. Content feeds and databases, particularly with regard to outputting their contents within a site needs special attention – noindex tags, robot exclusion protocols really are serious considerations, to not do so could really be a huge folly. Drastic?,Perhaps so, but what with duplication filters and all, the question is one of almost can you afford not to?

Sure, there will always be those who look to employ methods for circumvention, all that lovely content is just too good to pass up on after all, right? Not sure about you, but I’ve seen all manner of interesting adaptations; things like replacing keywords and phrases programmatically so that an aspect of a phrase like um…this hotel is decorated to a fine standard  is changed to read… this fine placename hotel is adorned to a splendid configuration instead, or variations upon that theme. I’ve seen sites that rank well by using contractions of product descriptions, eg chopping the first 40 characters from the phrase and outputting the remainding 180 chars. Ive seen others that just hide them all together, via a document.write or iframe method. Some go as far as employing people to write phantom reviews, and some even write programs that write reviews on the fly! It really is incredible to see the ingenuity and nous that people have with this stuff, it really is the most elegant of elegant of spamination. I think its fair to say that people do this because they realise that things may well be tenuous, they know that unless you are whitelisted then you need to tread very carefully as your income stream is very precarious.

As simple as adding value then…

Perhaps its simple though, isn’t it all about  thinking  in terms of adding value, going above and beyond what your competitors are doing, seriously asking yourself will you be able to pass some random manual inspection, which lets face it, if you are ranking in a competitive earning space, you are likely to receive sooner or later. You’d be an idiot for thinking that just because you managed to outwit the bot via some clever use of string functions, or tag placement or link generation that a human wouldn’t pick up and notice something amiss.It isn’t unreasonable to assume they’d ask whether your site handles all the look up processes – Does it check for availability – Are the payments handled insite, or do they go off elsewhere?-  They’d see through a hidden frame or  include or some obfuscated url redirect,  you just will not be able to get away with what you once did, and if you think you will then, i wish i could share your complacency, as any serious examination of what you do would look at exactly some of these things.

On the positive, some of the better providers and networks do offer more advanced solutions of course, this helps insulate both them and their partners and is basic good business sense, but lots don’t too and for those who are getting hit via various penalties resulting, its a bit of a shame at best and a damn tragic waste at worst.

Should these guys be helping their income generators in this way?

If you are a search rep then you’d prolly say no, it sucks and doesn’t help in the goal of delivering varied unique content, but OTOH why would any big supplier expose themselves to the vagueries of singular url streams of income that could be cut off at the whim of a policy shift. I know what I’d say of course, I go with the majority scatter and seed approach. Watch the darwinian process evolve and reward my best performers. I’d also help nurture and protect  newcomers too, my future top performers. Give them tools to get their users interacting, enable the creation of communities,  feedback tools, make it all that little bit different, employ advisors to help steer and encourage and generally add value all round, but I guess i’m me, and not some multi layered corp that moves real slow.

I’ve used travel as its any easy example to flesh out and one that I’m at least familiar with. I do wonder whether other sectors face similar challenges; I expect they do no doubt to both lesser and greater extents, especially in some of the mass product markets. It would be great to read some inputs, feel free to call me out!