Matt Gemmell’s post, SEO for Non-dicks, ended up on Hacker News the other day. Normally, I get douche chills when reading posts about SEO. I think this one is important to read, though – including the comments.
I’m asked sometimes for advice on building an internet presence, and I usually have to fumble for an answer – because I haven’t pursued any particular strategy beyond the glaringly obvious: create original, relevant content repeatedly.
This is where Gemmell is on point. I get requests or questions on the weekly from clients and non-clients asking me to advise or actually help in “boosting” their SEO – or “Search Engine Optimization” for you lucky ones that have never heard the phrase. I have no interest in telling clients to make fake sites, spam other blogs, or plagiarise. A lot of the popular SEO tactics used are unethical, and it’s something that I have to deal with all the time when people scrape my own content or use other slimy spamdexing tactics to make it to the top of search engine results.
I just want to build you a website, and build it damn well and efficiently. And I want you to fill that site up with good content, and do it damn well and often.
As a web developer hired to build you a website or application, there are certainly tips and “tricks” I use to make sure that your site is readable to a search engine, just like the one’s listed by Gemmell. Those things I can do, and you are more than welcome to ask me if I am doing them to be sure – you’re paying for me to code, and you want your money’s worth!
My code and your content will be more than enough to gain followers and peak search engine results…in a perfect world.
I pose to you the problem many clients have of existing in a space where it’s not possible to simply write good fucking content. Or if you’re competing in a space that is so totally overwhelmingly competitive that the only hope you have is to buy links and generate fake blog networks?
I would never condone these tactics or do them myself because I’m not a dick, but you can’t generalize the tactics used for SEO-ing a blog for all types of businesses IMO. Businesses compete in a lot of ways, and in the open market of the Internet they’ll go where they need to go to get ahead. - commenter, Tyler 20 characters
Here is where you need to realize how important reading the comments in a popular blog post is, as you’ll get the perspective beyond the writer and his fans – especially when the site comes up on a popular social news site. Once you weed out the assholes and the spammers, you get insightful ones like the one above. Reading on, you’ll see that this perfect world of just creating “original, relevant content repeatedly” is a pipe dream for those in large and general fields with an overwhelming amount of competition (car insurance, Italian food, psychiatry, mommy blogging, etc). You can be the most entertaining and well-written person ever, but if you’re entering a field of vast competition, your quick wit and unending charm may simply not be enough.
Some of these commenters have been doing SEO for over 10 years (does one do SEO? That sounds weird to me). To them, it’s a legitimate business that became saturated with con-artists and unemployed ignoramuses looking to make some easy ca$h monies on people who just want to build an audience or following. That happens to all job fields though, especially when the Web is involved, so I understand their vitriol when they are generalized as a group of modern-day “snake oil salesmen.”
Regardless, I still have to keep my eyes from rolling out of their sockets when a client complains that my “SEO isn’t working” for them, when I’ve never told them that I “did SEO” or said that I would get them to the top of Google search results.
You can’t just create content for a site with no audience and expect magic and riches to happen. Sometimes you need to do outreach. Bring the audience to you.
* Use social networking to your advantage. Connect with people who you think will be interested, but don’t spam people; it’s counterproductive and a major turn-off. And be human! I get companies following me on Twitter that only aggregate other companies’ news and provide nothing interesting to me. Then they auto-DM me and I block them. See, counterproductive.
* Read and comment on blogs that are related to your work so you become part of a community of folks who may find your writing or services to be of interest to them. If you write meaningful comments, you’ll attract other commenters and bloggers. Some of my favorite and longest-lasting clients are people with blogs that I’ve read and commented on or read my blog regularly. Some of them are people I’ve hired to do work as well. Aha! Networking!
* You need to update regularly. If you are going on hiatus, post that announcement on your site and social networking sites. If I don’t hear from a blog or Twitter feed in weeks, I’ll unsubscribe or unfollow them. You really shouldn’t go on hiatus to begin with, though. If you are taking a leave or vacation, then set up scheduled posts or hire a temp/intern to hold down the fort while you’re out.
If your strategy isn’t working out, or you don’t have the time to take part in it, then go ahead and hire an SEO expert. You need to do your research, though, and don’t feel obligated to hire the first person offering to do the work (this applies to anyone you hire, really). Also, don’t sell anyone short by expecting cheap work (you get what you pay for, yada yada yada…) and make it clear that you don’t want unethical practices, which may do more harm than good, to be used.
All in all, the best advice I can give is to educate yourself about SEO and the vast amount of work it takes to create and maintain a credible and reliable website, as well as building a following. If you wait until the 11th hour to think of these things, well, that’s when you end up failing or becoming vulnerable to “dicks.”
Also, don’t ask me to do SEO for you. I’m not an expert, and I don’t want to be. I also do not know any SEO experts, but I’m always looking to meet one.