A respected SEO recently published a post that really made me think. First, I agree with the post's sentiment. Second, the website housing this post tackles SEO Theory, so it's not a surprise that the post is tinted with colors of "what should be" rather than "what is".
I'm no blackhatter, but I do visit sites and forums of varying shades of grey. One site I like a lot is frequented and owned by very smart webmasters. These guys stay on the cutting edge of "what is". Many of them provide tools and services that take advantage of search algorithms in genius, if not somewhat devious, ways.
In the past month I've witnessed a site buried deep in the SERPs jump to page 1 in a matter of weeks using one of the services.
What does this SERP boosting service do? Backlinks.
The service is actually a system comprising thirty or forty servers (probably virtual) with class C network addresses hosting over 100 differently themed blogs. The icing on the cake? A social networking/validation element that kicks in like a turbo booster.
A user provides three keywords and five supplemental keywords, pays the man his money and wallah! Crap articles on fake blogs using a layered system of backlinks all socially validated to give your site a boost.
In my plight to rank for the phrase Boise SEO, I've considered using this service. But that would go against the rules I set up for myself two months ago. Nope. If I'm to rank for "Boise SEO", I'll do it the organic way. (Organic costs more sometimes, but it's supposed to taste better, isn't it?)
Some would say, "Yeehaw! Where can I sign up?' Others would say, "No fair! That's cheating. Where can I sign up?"
What I know about SEO is, content should always win. But it doesn't. So what if your title tags are off? So what if your meta whatever isn't exactly right? The education, entertainment and enlightenment you deliver should be enough. Right?
Well, no say a hundred thousand million professional SEOs. You've got to get your title tags right, because the search engine looks for them. You've got to get your blah blah blah set up right. Why? Because the search engine uses them. You've got to segment your content in usable and easily navigated hierarchies. You've got to do this and you've got to do that -- all for the sake of search.
There's software for all of that.
There's software that will pore over every nook of your site and tell you exactly what's missing. Some software can even suggest the phrases and words you should use. It's a push button SEO world. So tell me ...
How is any of that different than the link building system I mentioned?
It's not. You need title tags, keywords and links in order to rank well. In today's climate, why should any one of these be singled out as the "bad guy".
Do I long for the days when writing style and "having a take" actually mean more than all the signals an inhuman digital search radar can recognize? Of course. What writer doesn't? What seeker of knowledge wouldn't?
For now, if you want to be recognized for more than an ethical stand against search engine manipulation, sometimes you've got no choice but to play by the rules -- no matter how bent or broken they may be.