Geeks Are Still Relevant In Modern SEO

Holy optimization Batman! Are search geeks no longer relevant in the world of SEO? Nothing of the sort my caped companion in ranking. Search geeks are still highly relevant and likely will be as long as search engines exist. You might even say without them all your optimization efforts could fail entirely.

Last week James filled in with a great guest post on the evolution of the modern seo in which he argues that SEO is moving away from the world of the search geek and towards the world of the social networker.

I actually agree completely with the central theme of James post. 10 years ago you could stuff a bunch of keywords into your meta tags and call it a day.

If you found you had some competition you could look for a few other places to stuff those keywords and again move on to your next task.

Those days are over and SEO is certainly evolving and moving more and more in the direction of traditional offline marketing.

Still I wanted to defend my geeky brethren and point out why search geeks are just as relevant to SEO as they always have been and why coding is still an important seo skill.

SEO Evolution

Let me unfairly pull a quote without context from James’ post

the range of skills required to be an effective SEO has moved further and further away from page and code tweaking.

I disagree that SEO is moving away from coding. I see the evolution more like the following quote I pulled from a comment Mike Bradbury left on the post.

I don’t think SEO has moved away from coding and tweaking at all. It has just added social media. Designing an SEO friendly site is still a valuable skill that every SEO needs to hone.

The evolution SEO has been seeing in recent years is less about subtracting from where it was as it is about adding new skills for the future.

I absolutely agree that social media, networking, effective communication, and creativity are playing an ever increasing role in search engine optimization. However, I think coding still plays an important role too.

SEO Coding Evolution

Building a search friendly site will be an important part of SEO for a long time to come. For the last month Stoney deGeyter has been writing a series of posts on website architecture for Search Engine Guide. The posts evolved from a webinar titled Secrets to Creating a Search Engine Friendly Website.

Last time I checked search engine friendly still fell in the realm of geeky coders. SEO coding may no longer be about meta tags and stuffing alt attributes, but it still deals with:

Imagine an ordinary garden hose. You turn the water on and it flows through the hose. But it won’t flow out of the hose if the nozzle on the other end is closed. At it’s most basic level search engine friendly coding is making sure that nozzle is open.

If you ignore search engines when you develop a site you could end up with a nozzle that prevents traffic flowing into and through your site.

At a more advanced level seo coding not only makes sure the nozzle is open, but helps control where the water goes as it leaves the nozzle and enters your site.

Binary pillow
photo credit: LaMenta3

Algorithms Are Geeky

Say the word algorithm to your non-geeky friends and you’ll likely be met with rolling eyes and blank stares. Algorithms are geeky and algorithms are what evaluate all the data search spiders collect to determine where pages rank.

Those who better understand the algorithm put themselves in a position to have the pages and sites they create rank better.

No, you don’t need to spend all your days reverse engineering things. And let’s face it, no one really knows exactly what search algorithms look for, but testing and understanding some parts of it gives you a competitive advantage.

Algorithms are hardly alone in search geekdom. Analytics falls within the realm of geeks. What’s more geeky than studying an endless supply of statistics? Show me someone who’s profession revolves around numbers and I’ll show you a geek.

Words like charismatic aren’t often applied to accountants, engineers, and actuaries. If you spend all day dealing with numbers you’re much closer to the world of geeks than you are to the world of celebrity.

Old School SEO Still Works

What works and doesn’t work depends in large part on the competition. Make up a word or phrase that has no search results, add it to a web page, and that page should rank for the phrase as soon as it’s indexed. It’s the only page using the phrase after all. Add the phrase to another page and it now has competition. Something more is needed to ensure the top result.

With only one other page competing that something more isn’t a lot. Add the phrase a second time or better add it to your page title and that top spot is yours. At least until the other page does the same. The two pages might battle by adding the phrase in hx tags or making it bold on the page.

In time as more and more pages enter the competition it becomes harder to determine the best result based on on-page factors. Links into the pages and into the sites end up having a greater impact. But that doesn’t mean those on-page coding tweaks aren’t playing a part.

Take a look at Google’s results for the query seo india. The top results are filled with

  • keyword stuffed page titles
  • keyword stuffed body text
  • keyword stuffed hx tags
  • keyword stuffed internal anchor text links

I think you get the idea.

What does that say about the SEO industry in India? Aside from it being a sad representation of SEOs in general, it also seems to indicate that old school geeky SEO can still work well in the market.

In time the SEO industry in India will mature and the keyword stuffers will find their sites aren’t ranking as well, but for now code tweaking appears to be working well in that market.

There will always be new markets and until those markets acquire competition old school geeky code tweaking will be an effective first step in SEO.

Coding Neanderthals

Once again I do want to point out that I agree with the central theme of James’ post. And I’d like to thank him again for writing it and publishing it here. This post isn’t meant to disparage the other, even if I did poke a little fun here and there.

The skills James talks about, the social skills and the networking skills, the copywriting skills and the creative skills are already important tools in the SEO toolbox. They’re only going to become more important in the future. Ignore them at your own risk.

You should be adding these skills to your skillset if you want to effectively market your site in general and in search engines in particular.

But coding and other skills from the world of geeks should also be part of your SEO skillset. Search friendly code sits at the foundation of SEO. The social aspects of SEO sit on top of that foundation and become more and more important as competition increases, but remove the foundation from your home and it crumbles like a house of cards.

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28 comments

  1. I like the water hose analogy, but I prefer to look at it in terms of a garden. Your on-page SEO efforts are the same as weeding, mulching, pulling rocks, fencing, etc. — getting the ground as fertile and receptive as possible. That way, the slightest bit of germination (or link building) will yield powerful and lasting results.

    (Mmmm… garden veggies… can you tell that I’m vegetarian?)

    • I like the garden as seo metaphor. It’s a good way of looking at it.

      Another metaphor I’ve used to describe the search friendly part of seo is to use roads and highway systems. Unfriendly code is like roadblock along your route and the search friendly code aims to first remove those roadblocks and second to better connect the highway system and direct it to the place you want people to go.

  2. I tend to rely on the social media aspect of things. I can code and I can understand code, but my HTML skills are rudimentary at best. Still, I think you’re right, if you can’t understand how a page is put together and how search engine algorithms work, than your SEO probably won’t be very effective. You have to know the basics if you want to be successful.

    • Nothing wrong with leaning to the social side of things. It’s the more traditional marketing approach that has worked well for a long time and will continue to work for a long time to come.

      With all the buzz around social media I think some forget that there’s still a foundation that sets the range of success or failure for everything else.

      You can certainly get by without a search friendly site, but why not maximize your social marketing.

  3. Last time I guest post for you Steven… :)

    Of course, you are right. Without the fundamentals there is no chance of pulling rank. Perhaps I should have referred to the social evolution as the ‘sexy’ side of SEO. And coding as the unsexy, but still relevant geeky side.

    • Funny James. I hope you will guest post again. You’re post was great. I figured I would throw some love to the geeks though.

      I’ve been noticing quite a few people are actually talking about similar stuff in some of the posts about advanced SEO and whether or not it exists.

      I think it all works together. No one part is necessary, but the more parts you can get right the better your chances for success.

      And again I do agree with you. I spent half my day at Plurk and Twitter.

  4. Hey, Thanks for the shout out. Holler. Peace up, A-Town Down. Etc.

    I’ll iterate what I said in the previous post that the problem lies in our incredibly broad definition of SEO.

    Steven: I think coding, organizing, and implementation are SEO. Keyword research is arguable.

    James: The social aspect is online PR. We discussed this in the last post.

    Taking from Steven’s analogy, it is the job of an SEO to build the Highway in such a way that it is accessible to the largest possible number of cars. It is the Social Media Expert’s job to get the cars on it.

    Ultimately, I believe, that internet PR, and SEO are joined at the hip. PR agencies should have SEO coding teams, and SEO agencies should have social media teams.

    The two job functions are too wide for one person to have a complete grasp of both. The two teams should collaborate and share best practices, but they shouldn’t be doing the same thing.

    I’ll write more later. Me missus is waiting to take me to lunch, and she stole my pants some months ago and won’t give them back, affording me no say in the matter.

    • Glad to offer the shout Mike.

      I do think keywords are part of SEO. You can’t really optimize a page or site unless you know what you’re optimizing for. Maybe you’re suggesting it should be someone else who is doing the research, but it’s certainly an essential part of the process.

      I do agree with you about the job definition being wide. I think it’s part to do with the industry maturing. 10 years ago one person could master the whole process, but now people are specializing in various aspects.

      In the end a successful website has many different parts working together. And because different fields overlap you’ll find many different services being offered under the same job description depending on who’s offering the services.

      Looking forward to your further thoughts.

  5. Keywords, while part of SEO, I am personally still up in the air regarding who should choose them.

    On the one hand, the people who are probably best equipped to find the right words are Market Researchers. On the other hand, you need an SEO to estimate competition for those words as well setup adwords campaigns to test their possible ROI.

    So, again, ideally (and I think that will be a recurring theme of this comment ‘ideally’) you would spread things out amongst market researchers and SEO coders.

    What this all seems to point to is what you eluded to, saying “a successful website has many different parts working together”.

    And as I mention in my post regarding SEO and Traditional marketing, I believe that within 5 years internet marketing will be assimilated into traditional marketing, and our roles will be broken out by
    1.) Code
    2.) Promotion
    3.) Analysis

    Of course, who knows what will actually happen, but that’s where I see things going.

    I also believe there will be a major talent shortage in all 3 areas, and MAJORLY in the leadership roles capable of managing the three groups.

    I think that if you want to land the cushiest job with a major corporation or marketing agency, you’ll want to become very familiar with all three areas.

    So, when James says that SEO is moving toward promotion, and you say that there is still a place for coding, I think what we’re really noticing is our industry’s impending corporate sellout.

    Holy Comment, Batman!

    • I understand where you’re coming from. As the industry matures I think we’re going to see more people specializing in the different parts of the process. We already are seeing that.

      There really are a lot of different skills that make up SEO. Social, copywriting, coding, design, analysis, etc.

      Knowing all the different areas is also good if you work for yourself. Doesn’t have to be about the corporate workplace. If anything you’ll see more specialization in the corporate environment and more generalization in the lone SEO.

  6. It is a real downer when you preach current Google mandates and good citizen theory to clients and then they show you how their competitors’ ridiculously keyword-stuffed sites rank for No. 1.

    Why can’t Google, with its many ways to get in trouble innocently, deal with the flat-out abusive cheaters? How hard would it be to write into the algo an annex that penalizes meta=keyword repetition of the same word 25 freaking times?

    As for keywords, I always include them in meta. The top 8 or so words or phrases that actually exist in your page’s text and heads. Google may deny it uses them, but you never know from day to day. How could it hurt?

    • Most people believe that search engines like MSN still weight the keyword tags.

      I’ll bet google weights them too, just much less than MSN. As I always tell me clients, SEO is a conglomeration of bevvy of different tactics, not one magic bullet.

      • I really don’t think much emphasis is placed on meta keywords anymore. Simply too easy to spam.

        Danny Sullivan wrote a great post last year on meta tags. He tested a few things so you can how each engine really treats the tag.

    • Glenn just because those sites are using meta keywords, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the meta keywords that are responsible for the ranking.

      That might be hard to get across to clients who see them and assume they’re important. I don’t think they really hurt unless you want to make it difficult for your competitors to know what keywords you’re targeting. I don’t think they help either though. I don’t use them.

  7. Steven — Thanks for the reply.

    Yes, these sites pack ‘em in everywhere — title bars, h1s, anchor links, text, footers, wherever. Gross.

    My point is Google could easily target that meta and snag those practicing old-school SEO cheats. How hard could it be. Of course, that would also get some mom-and-pops — some of the clients I deal with do that sort of thing on their own, not really knowing better.

    As I said, I think a couple of keywords (on pages you actually want traffic) could never hurt and might possibly help. It’s all a holistic thing anyway.

    Appreciate the blog post.

    • I can understand your point. I guess Google could easily set keyword stuffed meta tags as a flag, but I think not counting them works well enough.

      As far as the keyword stuffed titles, hx tags, etc yeah they could do something more about them.

      My own preference is for Google to just discount things they don’t want to see instead of punishing people. In some cases they absolutely should punish, but a lot of the time some of the spammy stuff you see is being done by people who don’t know any better.

      I’d rather not see innocent people who make errors of judgment grouped in with the people actively manipulating things. I think if Google simply didn’t count things it would have the same effect on the spammers without punishing the mistaken.

      I know how you feel though. I see some of those keyword stuffed pages in results and it’s frustrating to think they can rank well.

  8. Thanks steven bradley you have acquired good knowledge for both marketing and optimizing. I am sure you are appearing at 1st position for many keywords. Though you have not specifeid here exact tips you are using but still i got much idea how to get hold for the keywords I am targeting. Thanks for your unique post please carry your efforts.

  9. Hi :)

    Finally, the first mention I found about actual technical aspects of SEO.

    I’m a geek, and I do code (and pages, and pages’ code).

    I want to push basic SEO techniques so my team will put them into practice.

    No way to find that online.

    Much information on general mumbo jumbo way too far from the code. Ohh groovy I can send my site to social sites and wish to be the next facebook. But that’s not what I do, it’s another departement here that would do that.

    For example, this site here uses :

    Geeks Are Still Relevant In Modern SEO | TheVanBlog | Van SEO Design

    Ok check, I use the same structure.

    huh?

    Description = first 156 characters of your post O.o

    It seams people still think that websites are “written” and static while everything is in a database somewhere. When I pull it out to generate a page, how do I proceed with SEO techniques. And how will those affect the rest of my team (technical or not).

    Any hints on where to find “real geek code stuff” ?

    Thanks! (added your site in my bookmarks…)

    • Glad you found the post Sébastien. Yeah a lot of the seo talk now is about social media, but with good reason. It can be a great way to network and ultimately attract new readers and links.

      I tend to focus on the technical side of site development and the seo aspects of it.

      keyword research
      Search friendly code
      Info architecture focusing on keyword themes
      Finding potential problems and fixing them

      I think if you look there are people talking about the technical aspects of seo. The cutting edge stuff is mostly talked about on the blackhat side of things.

      Even if that’s not within your ethics you can still learn a lot from the dark side.

      A few black/grey hat blogs I like are:

      Bluehat SEO and Slightly Shady SEO

      Eli hasn’t been updating Bluehat a lot lately, but there’s plenty there to keep you busy until he does.

      Slightly Shady is updated much more often.

      If you start there and just start clicking on the names of people who comment you’ll find a wealth of technical seo information.

  10. For the record: dun-dun-duh-dunnnnn

    I was at dinner with my girlfriend last week, and after the meal, I gave her a little napkin-scribbling semantic markup primer. Halfway through, she interrupted, telling me that the mini lesson was turning her on.

    Hope for our inner geeks yet!

    I enjoyed this post Steve – it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    -Matt

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