Search engine optimization professionals can learn a great deal from a story like Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”
The tale is one of transformation for its main character Ebenezer Scrooge, one from darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death, to a life of light, joy and warmth. What the Dickens story imparts could prove important to the legacy of SEO as a digital marketing practice as well, showing that an evolution is absolutely necessary today for websites engaged in optimizing for search engines if they plan on existing at all in the future. Essentially, the ghosts of SEO past, present and future can show us what to avoid, the mistakes we’re currently making and where SEO and marketing investments should be made moving forward.
The Ghost of SEO Past: Those who have recently begun a search engine optimization campaign often fall prey to a belief system that was, unfortunately, far too simplified – even simplistic many years ago (and at times, just a little dark e.g. black hat). SEOs of the past focused on page components – e.g. page titles and meta descriptions, anchor text and alt tags – as well as the pursuit of Web-based citations or links.
The result at the time, which was effective in terms of ranking a website in some instances, were over-optimized pages that tended to be irrelevant to the user/visitor's query. The result of over-optimizing the website was a poor experience for consumers. Over time, search engines began to penalize those SEOs who were attempting to take advantage of these flaws (relevancy and popularity) in the system. The ghost of SEO past has taught the digital world and the SEOs that occupy it this: that the system can be manipulated, but it shouldn’t be.
The Ghost of SEO Present: If the SEO processes of the past were fueled in great part by ignorance, the search engine optimization practices of today are often fueled more by fear than anything else. Digital business owners (be they information publisher, e-commerce merchants or Web service provider) are chasing down real-time trends, feverishly publishing information in a virtual effort to capture the next visiting prospect and drive them to a potential sale. SEOs are also rapidly disavowing links for fear of what will happen if they are found in a bad digital neighborhood, and coding their pages with authorship markup because they don’t want to be the only one on the SERPs without that designation. It’s not necessarily a problem to chase trending topics, or spend time polishing your virtual image, but the result is often that SEOs and the digital enterprises that employ them lose sight of what’s really important – the actual long-term experience a user has with a brand and its content, products or services. The ghost of SEO present reminds us that what’s most important is the quality of a user's interaction with a website today.
The Ghost of SEO Future: The challenge for those responsible for search engine optimization in the future will be in avoiding the worry and anxiety of how search engines will evolve over time, and creating digital experiences that matter to consumers on their path to purchase or engagement/interaction. The focus on your future SEO efforts shouldn’t be link building, but relationship development; it shouldn’t be the development of content, but the development of authoritative (unique and meaningful) content, it shouldn’t be to manage the flow of PageRank from one page to the next, but to design a user experience that benefits site visitors and their quest for information, answers and solutions.
Now, SEO, go fetch a digital goose… the fattest digital goose on all the Web.