Search Engine Optimization Sucks!

Two weeks ago, as part of my “Living the Customer” post, I promised that I’d be talking about how search engine optimization sucks (from the perspective of the small website owner).

As fate would have it, Jeff Weiner, SVP of Search at Yahoo! just spoke at PC Forum and gave the perfect quote: “Search is the tyranny of the Web master. The only people getting into search indices are those sophisticated enough to get into a search index–they only can generate relevancy by incoming links, and there are a number of people for whom that doesn’t apply.”.

For the last few months, I’ve been helping a small niche content/community site to get noticed in search engines. And Jeff’s statement is spot on. Search results today are largely (and sadly) ruled by people who know how to game the system. It is simply too hard for a new, but good quality, site to get noticed and the techniques that search engines use to combat the SEOs and sploggers work against the little guy.

During the process of getting this site up, I worked with them to do everything right: submitted site maps, got into Y! Directory, got a fair number of links from other sites/directories. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And then I learned about the “Google Sandbox”. The “sandbox”–which Google officially denies–means that you will not show in the results of any popular/generic query for up to a year. Its been 9 months for this site, and it still doesn’t appear anywhere on popular searches on Google (not at all anywhere in the top 1000 results for relevant queries). Thankfully, it is getting good and relevant traction on Yahoo and MSN Search.

So who does appear on relevant queries? Well, the site in the #1 spot for most queries had keyword stuffed hyperlinks hidden on the page (white on white). The site that often appeared as #2 had two screen’s worth of ads before you scrolled all the way down to the content. And then there’s a ragtag bunch of semi-related sites. Now of course everyone thinks their site is the most relevant, but in this case, the site really is. The site that appears #1 most often is actually quite relevant and deserves its place, but they had to resort to Google trickery to get there. An honest, relevant site doesn’t seem to stand a chance.

In the end, I had to buy keywords on Google for this site. They’re paying about $140/month to get some attention. I guess that helps that google stock price, huh?

When I see all of this, its really clear that search has a long way to go. From a consumer perspective search is losing some of its usefulness as a way to find relevant info and from a small business perspective: forget it – unless you pay an SEO, you are not going to get noticed for a very, very long time. Small businesses need to focus elsewhere…

5 thoughts on “Search Engine Optimization Sucks!”

  1. Scott,

    Just stumbled across your blog and this post really hit home with me. I’ve been trying to ween myself of the paid search crack but am having a hard time kicking. It’s a full-time job to optimize your site for search engines, and like you mention, doing it the “right way” (without all the gaming and whoring) doesn’t benefit the business owner or the consumer looking for your service.

    Anyway, good read and I hope people at y!, google, et all take notice and address these conflicts of interest.

    Hope you are well.


  2. I don’t agree with this at all! The search engines can make click through cash but search results are the real goal. Unless people consistently find what they want then they willk not come back just for spam or ads.

    Yes it takes some time and some patience but just follow a few simple rules and you CAN get in the top 10.

    Go to my SEOkeywordExample site to see how it’s done.
    The efforts are worthwhile IF people are searching for the content you provide.

    I’m no SEO expert but it’s fun being able to beat the “professionals” in their own game. I’m at or near No.1 in MSN and Yahoo for “the coolest guy on the planet” and should be back in the top 10 in Google soon enough.

    This is no full time job, just a ONCE OFF effort for some fun.


  3. Wesley,

    Actually, I think your page proves my point. You need to know the “secrets” of the industry.

    You say things like “sprinkle your keywords liberally through the text” and “It would seem that Google only counts the ALT text if it is a linked image so we link the image to the same page on which it is displayed.”

    Linking an image to the same page? that’s against the user expectation and serves no purpose other than to purportedly raise your search engine placement. That’s the problem.

    All that having been said, for this little site I’m working with, I’ll make sure they are doing all that you say… 😉

  4. Dear Scott,

    even though your article is dated as of March 2006, I believe the SEO matter you have mentioned here in your blog is more newsworthy than ever. Your article brings the entire subject of search engine optimization to the point. As a webmaster you really wonder nowadays how other website owners are getting the top spots in the search engine rankings.

    I truly do not believe in Google’s concept of link popularity. Link popularity does not necessarily reflect the quality of a website. Furthermore, you can buy links in several web directories, news articles and press release providers. There are companies who do the job for you. There already exists a flood of SEO companies worldwide offering unethical methodologies to increase your search engine rankings.

    So, do these SEO “strategies” really help search engines to “recognize” and “honor” the quality of a website? You find a lot of doorway pages, fake websites these days on the Google network on top positions. These websites and web pages are mainly built, published and submitted by companies with the only purpose to offer several links to their main site. Filled with ad banners, ad textlinks and some “SEO friendly” blablabla text to make visitors give the impression this is a “real”, “impartial” and “independent” website.

    And I have to admit, these “fake” websites are getting better and more profesional. It will become more and more difficult for search engines to differentiate the “good” ones from the “bad” ones.

    This is going to become a very difficult task for search engine providers in the near future.

    I can only hope that search engine providers will punish companies more severely who are “polluting” the web day by day. Otherwise one gets the impression even search engines are supporting and promoting these techniques.

    And web developers doing a good job will sooner or later ask themselves.

    “Great, I did a good job … now what? … I end up like a “looser” because I believe I have made the right choice … and all these efforts for nothing? And the ones who have taken the unethical path in SEO will be rewarded?”

    Does the internet make sense at all?

    I hope more an more web developers and company owners will follow …

    graphically & sincerely,

    Marc Klein
    mediaVinci – The art of invention
    (formerly known as PIXEL INDUSTRIES)

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