Apr 42012

SEO Should Be Invisible

Or, put another way, 'over-optimization' is synonymous with 'no real business model'.

In many ways, the message of an "over-optimization penalty" by Google is their way of saying you're doomed without a real business model. In another sense, it sends the message that SEO is important enough that you have to get it right. SEO should be taken seriously, and hackneyed work won't cut the mustard.

How We Approach SEO

Our approach to SEO has always emphasized that it should be deliberately unnoticeable. What do I mean by that? Simple: SEO should be unseen, when it's done well, and only noticeable to other SEOs. It should not be overt. It should not take precedence over more important aspects of a site, like the site's brand message, its purpose, its user experience, and its value proposition. We can distill this to a simple concept:

  1. First, make the best user experience possible. Make a great product. Have something truly valuable.
  2. Next, maximize it for SEO.

SEO should be an invisible layer beneath a strong user experience, a beautiful site, and a clear, coherent message and purpose.

SEO should be invisible. Just like Matt Cutts xkcd stickman.

SEO should be invisible. (photo: Matt Cutts as xkcd stickman)

This makes the risk of falling to an over-optimization penalty simple to avoid. If a site has no real purpose, save leveraging weaknesses in search engine algorithms; if a site has no clear business model, other than finding inefficiencies in the market; if a site has no clear value, other than ranking highly for long-tail terms and passing traffic along while taking a few bucks; if any of these cases are present, the model is not sustainable. SEO should never take prominence over more important aspects of a site, especially its business model. It's in these situations that a site should be worried about its future.

'Over-optimization' May Not Be New

It's likely Google has already looked at this area before, and is simply calling out publicly some of the things its been doing for several years (while naming it something new). We've recommended against what we call "SEO footers" (the long, below-the-fold-forever, exact anchor text matching nonsense) for several years. I believe strongly that links within these low-quality types of 'shingle' or 'stub' page elements get devalued, at best, and possibly even contribute to lower organic scoring for a website. Reasonable Surfer Patent, anyone?

Keep It Simple. Keep It Smart.

Really, it's nothing new. Keep doing what you're doing: having a purpose on the web bigger than monetizing via SEO. Then monetize it wisely with smart SEO. It's what we've been doing at RKG, and what we'll continue to do: helping real companies with value succeed online.

The Simple Things. Like SEO.

SEO is simple. (image: Alvaro Sarney)

SEO is simple. Stop trying to make it more difficult.



25 Responses to "SEO Should Be Invisible"
What an evolution! From hidden keyword stuffing, to content keyword stuffing and link keyword stuffing - and now we are finally full circle to what really mattered from the beginning - the user experience... Now it's Invisible SEO!
Axekap says:
Hi Adam, Could we add though that this longer term and sustainable approach to SEO might lower returns in organic traffic investments, especially for new comers without an already well established site or brand ?
@Axekap - no, long-term sustainable SEO doesn't lower returns. On the contrary, the returns from this approach are much greater. Think of it this way: sites hit by Penguin now have their (in some cases) business models destroyed. That greatly lowers their returns. Shortcuts can certainly lead to quicker results, but at the expense of increased risk. With increased risk comes greater likelihood that all your returns will be reduced to naught, greatly lowering said returns.
I guess the flip side of the argument might be: if you don't have a real business model (you're scrapping content, adding no value to it, serving ads against it, etc) black hat SEO is your only hope. The long term, sustainable, invisible SEO model requires that you have a business with a real value proposition in the marketplace. Thankfully, those are the only kinds of clients we serve :-)
SEO should definitely be invisible. This article definitely sheds light on how stealthy seo should be done.
Clarentino says:
Well said. Things must be done right. Build your site the right way, that focuses on quality content and provides a good user experience. You won't go wrong. You still need backlinks but it should not shout out "spam links". Just focus on quality. The rest will handle them selves the right way.
Thoufeeq says:
Great thought on SEO ! User-experience first, the rest are secondary. Agreed !
I've been working on SEO for a year and a month exactly and decided in my second year to focus on SEO. What a big mistake! I read a couple of books, chose an experimental website, and put what they said into practice, perhaps a bit literally. Within three days the consistent daily page views had dropped from 100 per day to 20. This site had 70% of its traffic from Google queries and had 60 clicks per day. Now it has virtually nothing! Lucky this wasn't my main website. Lesson learnt, it's act natural from now on, with a feel of what my potential viewers search strings might be. Keywords, don't get me started!!!
Hopbots says:
I am agree with you Adam, It has done you seo like traditional marketing , then it would be hard for any one to hurt you. as long as you are giving value to your customer and readers then you work will be done by your followers. and i think it still works.


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