The dark art

I’ve gone on a crash course in Search Engine Optimization. There’s a ton of free information available via blogs and articles. The catch, to the extent that there is one, is that SEO is like economics – the experts are all in complete disagreement.

Well, that’s an exaggeration. There are clear steps that you can take to draw a search engine’s attention to a particular bit of content. (This would start with giving the content a clear and literal title like “How to do Search Engine Optimization” instead of, say, “The dark art”.) And more sophisticated steps for “optimizing” an entire site. And other steps for gaining IBLs – that’s industry gibberish for inbound links – to further raise your standing in Google’s eyes.

Within each of these activities you also have a range of choices from the clearly innocent through the merely questionable to the completely manipulative and dishonest. More about that in a later post. But one interesting thing about SEO is that all this activity is at some level merely an exploitation of the limitations of Google’s mysterious algorithm. The better the algorithm gets, the less opportunity there will be for gaming the system. Right now, nobody’s completely sure of how the different factors in the algorithm are weighted. Improving the algorithm means getting the relative weights correct and/or coming up with new factors that are harder for evildoers to manipulate.

In the meantime, SEO is a critical skill in publishing and Web commerce.


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