::You can SEO "Coke" as much as you want with your fancy SEO skills but you'll never outrank Coke on Google and thank God for that.::
Very true. Although if you search a company name on Google and it doesn't come up first I would be worried. I think SEO only comes into play when you are looking for "cola drink in Melbourne" (bad example obviously).
For the record, Coke is second on the list when you Google that.
Justin, I think you're confusing "SEO" and "dodgy SEO practices". Go back and read my very brief summary of elements that I believe make "good" SEO practices. Which of those don't contribute to why your sites rank well?
"SEO" both as a term and a practice has been abused, overused and twisted around by so many dodgy practitioners and sales people that it is sometimes not clear what it is and what it isn't. But as with building a site, there's a well planned, well structured way to build a site, and ways that use images in place of text, or embedded tables within embedded tables code ...etc. One will deliver one type of result, the other something completely different.
"SEO" is still a legitimate area that is important to be focused on, it's simply equally important to separate what it actually is and what provides benefits (good code, quality content, valued content that generates organic backlinks) from that which does not (spam backlinks).
I'm with you Dave. All of that was just my opinion and I'm saying I do not bother or care about most if not all of it.
In the 90's I was a pro at nesting tables within tables to make my photoshop designed web sites work in HTML. Perhaps I value that my web sites looked sick to me, and the word of mouth I got from making them look great acted as a different kind of way of getting out there rather than compromising how my web sites looked for better SEO.
Regarding SEO Experts. I'm just as confused about people in "I.T.". From what I gather they sit around and do jack shit until something goes wrong (lol).
For the record. I have started to use tags this year, on images on 500px and I can see how it helps to get people to discover your images. But the tags show up and people can see I am tagging "sexy" "babe" "girl" "Asian". I feel like an absolute douche for using those tags.
And despite my images getting a LOT more views, the people finding them and following me now tend to be the wrong audience I was trying to attract in the first place.
Do you not ensure your code is clean, well structured ...etc?
Do you not aim to have your website copy well written and relevant for the site/subject matter?
And do you not aim to create content that is valued by others so they discuss and share that content?
Well it's great that I seem to be doing SEO not knowingly then?! Since you're directing these questions at me Dave I'll answer:
NO I do not ensure my code is clean, well structured etc. I simply use Wordpress for all my sites, VBulletin for all my forums and haven't had any issues since using both these "off the shelf" products since 2005.
In regards to copy, tough one. I write how I speak. I swear a lot. Not sure that's great for SEO? I'm not about to change how I write in an aim to rank higher in Google search. Relevant for the site? I suppose so, they're my sites and I promote what I like, if other people like what I write, and feature, and get inspired then that makes me happy. That kinda answers your 3rd question too.
I fail to see how SEO can venture as far as changing a site's content. It's still confusing to me. Say a web site has shit content, surely an SEO company can't just hey presto everything and shazam great content?! What I'm getting at is that there's just too much scope here, it's so vague. Some sites are shit, and meant to stay shit and disappear forever, never to be found on a google search, then there are sites which obviously rock up at the top of a Google search that are completely utterly useless, and these crap sites must be paying to rank up the top, somehow, maybe they're using every SEO trick in the book? Either way, it's a mess out there, with many grey lines it seems.
Ultimately I will say this:
You can create the best SEO web site in the world, but if you can't drive traffic to it, then what's the point?
A client can have the crappiest web site, with no SEO whatsoever, and as soon as I plug that site on my network of a gazillion facebook pages, many which have a lot of fans and reach, as well as my forum network of 40+ forums, that crappy site will rank on the first page of Google within days.
If your sites weren't ranking high then there would be a good chance the code on your themes sucked. If they are ranking high there's a good chance that you're choosing well coded themes, whether you're aware of it or not. I would almost guarantee that the exact content with the all other factors being equal, improving markup will have a positive effect on SEO.
Content, once again, it's not about whether you deliberately set out to or not, but if you're ranking well for certain terms/phrases then your content will be using those terms/phrases in a well balanced way, whatever tone it carries. It is almost impossible to rank well for any phrase in Google if you are not using that phrase in your content. You can write with that in mind, or simply write about the subject itself and the rest will flow naturally.
And as you say, for whatever reason people like what you write and share = backlinks.
And a site certainly can be improved SEO-wise with a revision of its content. That's actually one of the simplest things to do, and it's exactly what Google want on a site: well written, relevant content.
::If not everyone searching for the same words receives the same results (I have a feeling this is true), then surely, that's just going to add to the mess?::
Not at all. Google's extremely complex algorithm takes into account hundreds of factors, such as the obvious (geo location, language) and the not so obvious (previous searches you've made, sites you've visited, things you've talked about on social media). There will be some commonality (as you say, Coke's website will be somewhere near the top) but there's as much variety in the results as there are in people's preferences and information they're seeking. Where it will become more and more similar is as you start being more specific with your search phrases. Eg: "Coke employment opportunities in New York City"
Plus, think about it: Every second someone is likely searching for the same or a similar phrase as you somewhere in the world. What they click on from their results also impacts on that huge algorithm Google have created. If hundreds of people click on a particular link, that link will likely rise higher in the results for someone searching a little later. And those not clicked on as much will likely drop down. Hence results will be constantly changing just on that factor.
SEO isn't rocket science (unlike what the so called SEO "experts" will try to sell you). The fact that you have well ranking sites without doing anything overtly that you believe is "SEO" is proof of this. Good code, good content, make it appealing for others to talk about & share. That's it.
So whether you "believe" in SEO or not Justin, you are doing it. ;)
And things do change all the time with regards to ranking well. For example, exact match domains (EMDs) used to be THE guarantee to a first page ranking. So, for example, you wanted to get into Google's first page for "best dog for an apartment", you would purchased the domain "bestdogforanapartment.com", or maybe ""bestdogforanapartment.net" ...etc.
But obviously this got abused by every man and his, umm, dog, so Google have drastically downgraded the weighting on this factor for SEO purposes.
The same has happened with backlinks, due to the many backlink "farms" that rose in the mid-2000s that once again did have a measurable impact on SEO results.
I know, I've done a lot of experimenting in these areas and keywords since the mid/late 2000s. I have a small but steady income that comes in from sites that exist purely to rank well in search engines, people go there and click on my Google ads. With a little keyword research it isn't hard to get a site onto page 1 of Google. No, not for the highly competitive ones, but that's not who you're competing with (and if you are, then there's Adwords for that). But good keyword research and you can always uncover opportunities for most businesses.
Example: Do a Google search for "hawthorne hot yoga"
A site I just launched for a client was on page 1 (now it's number 1, yay!) for that phrase within a couple of weeks. It's not as competitive as "melbourne hot yoga" for obvious reasons, but that and a number of other phrases were identified as ones that were relatively easy to target for SEO purposes and had an amount of traffic that made it worthwhile. So my client has a list of these keyword phrases, and as they add blog posts, and review their content, they utilise these within their copy.
Over time, as more people click on the link in this result and also visit other pages within the site (Google's cookie tracking all this), it will help to build up the "authority" of the site and the domain, which will help the other areas of the site.
These are things that do work. I know, I've seen them work. But read through the above again: Is there anything there that's hard to understand or difficult to do? No, not at all, it just takes a little time, as anything of quality does.
Really really good stuff Dave. Your posts really demystify a lot of the confusion out there.
I'm sure there are more than a few things I could do to rank even better with all my web sites but I'm not going to bother. I've been there before, adding meta tags, writing a shitload of keywords in white on a white background in the footer, etc, man we buzzed over this shit back in the 90's. The landscape is just changing so much, and every time I look back at all the effort put in to try to rank higher in the past just seems like a waste of time, as over time Google have gone and penalised people for these "tricks".
Recently we had an ex-Google guy come in to Zen for a massive meeting about AdWords. Damn that interface, the system, it's so stiff and techy, it's rubbish to be honest. SO confusing. We spent some money on a few things, it just felt so stupid to me. In the end I don't even know if we got results, all I do know is we lost a bunch of money.
I wish the old explorative and artistic design sites of the past would come back. Using html to break layouts (I think you would consider this bad code these days). Scrolling right a billion pixels, using crazy keyboard characters in site titles, web designers literally trying to break the internet. The Design Posse, K10K, man we had a blast. Was such an amazing movement where no-one cared so much about trying to rank and get in peoples faces, there was no left nav, or top nav, sites looked so different to each other whereas most sites just look and function the same these days (sounding my age... lol).
That's all still happening mate, take a look at parallax scrolling for example (just one more recent example). People are pushing the limits, but doing so in ways that will work across all types of devices/screens.
But much as with any kind of "interface" (think of a car, something you love) while each obviously aims to create something "unique" for their brand, as something matures there are certain user expectations on how something will look and work, which was probably less of the case back in the early days of automobiles. That's not necessarily a "bad" thing, just different. So the experimentation is happening on other areas, one of the big ones now is revolving around the whole responsive area, still so much to evolve and experiment with there.
Film went from experimenting when it was all brand new technology to Hollywood movies. Doesn't mean the experimenting has stopped, it's just moved to the fringes, or to other areas still being developed - some would argue interactive gaming is a direct ancestor of film. Plenty of space for everyone in the digital void.