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Evolution and the art of SEO

Written by David Harry   
Tuesday, 30 September 2008 07:48

Going beyond the past

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

A while back that ever popular topic emerged and once more.. SEO is dead (or does it suck? They’re kind of interchangeable). Has SEO really come to it's end? Before we start nailing that coffin too tightly shut, some introspection might be in order. If you’re an SEO that has lost your way… allow me to redirect (a little mental 301 for ya).

For starters, it would seem that some SEOs want other people’s jobs … from conversions to social media marketing, to try and redefine the roll of an optimizer to that of an internet marketer (term encompassing all the disciplines). I say stop trying to move the goal posts my SEO jesters and look at how your job is evolving, because it is.

I found it interesting that some peeps (like one Bill Slawski) are actually very excited about the future of search engines because they understand how it's evolving; while others have the ‘nothing new here’ attitude. Mind you Bill does advocate balanced approach (beyond SEO) as does fellow Canuck Jeff Quipp in what he likes to call the marketing mix. But that's a different story.

Jeff also suggested that there are also those that predict its demise to see what reaction they get (and others may be failed SEOs). Ok,ok... I get it.

SEO is dead


When it comes to straight SEO  (not cross-discipline), I find it telling that we hear little about topics outside the norm and more from the basics of SEO circa 2005, or new nefarious tricks that are but an excuse for a quality offering. There is so much more to embrace.

Allow me to 301 your brains

To begin with we have a wide variety of appealing concepts that a well rounded optimizer can play with in a modern search world including;

  1. Mobile Search
  2. Local Search (geographic)
  3. Vertical search (images, blogs etc..)
  4. Personalized search
  5. Universal Search
  6. Map Search
  7. Meta/Social search

For that matter how much have you truly studied core stuff like;

  1. Historical ranking factors
  2. PageRank (and I mean study)
  3. TrustRank (Google and Yahoo versions)
  4. Spam detection (methods)
  5. Robots.txt, site maps and redirects
  6. Factors affecting indexation

… these are some of the basics my little search freaks.

Now, it is fine to be more proficient in some areas over others, but the curiosity factor alone should pull one into learning more about the discipline as a whole. Get your friggen’ head out of Twitter’s backside long enough to at least follow the rudimentary principles of the industry. Or get out of it and start working as a SMM (be gone from my SEO kingdom!). If you don’t have the passion for SEO and search engines… then what the f@ck are you doing?

My alter ego Kay Dinsdale reminded me that in many situations, less competitive query spaces or strong domains, that the basics are often all that is required. Ok, I concede this... but she also admits to often 'going by feel' which shows the artistry that comes with years of dedication. As search evolves and clients benchmarks change, there is still plenty left to learn if one is so inclined.

Let me ask you this

Now for my little pop quiz; how many of you SEO types are familiar with the following concepts and how they relate to modern search?

  1. Behavioral signals and query analysis
  2. Personalized search
  3. Visual Block analysis; VIPS, Block Level Analysis, Object Level ranking
  4. Phrase based and semantic relationships signals
  5. Yahoo Personalized PageRank and HarmonicRank
  6. Microsoft BrowseRank
  7. Image ranking based upon similarity analysis,
  8. Optical character recognition in video - including street views
  9. Implicit and explicit annotation and tagging of web objects
  10. Personalization through biometrics
  11. Social search via implicit data
  12. HTMM – hidden topic markov models (and Probabilistic latent semantic analysis, latent dirichlet allocation)

If you are staring at that list with that ever-present WTF look on yer face – I submit that you may still have plenty to keep you entertained; because they are but a starting point…and it's all fascinating stuff, (tho many of my mates would disagree).

And there my friend is the RUB… some of the peeps that seem to be ringing the death knoll for SEO may not understand the game. Seriously, if you are out there in the trenches and have nothing more than a cursory understanding from the regurgitation of blog posts – time to give yer head a shake.

All about the passion
As you can see by the Sphinn screen above… there are plenty of opportunities for peeps to get into these new concepts… it simply doesn’t get any traction (when silly crap like PR exports do). Why? Cause it ain’t ‘sexy’…. This highlights part of the problem with perceptions.


Stop the funeral procession

SEO is clearly alive and well and as long as peeps use search engines to find things… it shall live on. What isn’t so certain is how long some of the providers shall last without themselves taking the passion to a new level. If you’re twitting about calling yourself and SEO and espouse a limited skill set – I hope you’re in my query spaces. You will be the manure that fertilizes my domination.

When reading search patents one evening I had this conversation;

The Mrs.; whatcha reading?
Moi; Another search patent. I love this shit, but most in the biz find them boring.

The Mrs.; what do you mean? Doesn’t everyone read them?
Moi; lol… no not at all. Kind of like sleeping pills for SEOs

The Mrs; that’s strange, I would think that they are required reading for peeps in your biz. Kind of like web designers not knowing about php or mysql, no?
Moi; yea… you would think… strange bunch.

This highlights to me how screwed up the industry can be when often the common knowledge comes from outdated publications and blog regurgitation. Not as much from a sound understanding of search engineering, technical concepts and testing, but from a limited view with limited tool sets. This also shows why some folks, time and time again, tell us how SEO is dead or dying… There is no true foundation to many optimizers’ education and ongoing learning. They are not, skilled in the art

Tricks and toys, smoke and mirrors…. Owning a punching bag and a set of nunchaku does not make you a martial artist.

To those of you that still have the passion for it… to those that are yearning to learn more… to those that understand the reality of it all.. I say, hold on for the ride – fun times are ahead. There are plenty of fascinating concepts emerging in search and as a provider or SEO enthusiast, aspire to understand it all…

Because if you are doing it for the money or the glory, breathing the air of the past; you have not embraced the love for the art. You may be nothing more than the trolls say you are. Glorified spammers.

Are ya feeling me or what?


Now if yer bored and looking for new ideas to get into... some reading...

Here and there ;

HTMM – Hidden Topic Markov Models (which Google seem to like)
PLSA – Probabilistic Latent Semantic Analysis
LDA – Latent Dirichlet Allocation
M icrosoft BrowseRank – (PDF)
Microsoft Block level link analysis (PDF)
Object level vertical search (PDF)
Search 2010 - white paper

From Mr. Bill;

Google historical ranking factors (and part II)
MS Vision-based page segmentation
Google document segmentation
Phrase Based indexing and retrieval
Using images to rank web pages
Phone keyboards  and searching via predictive queries
Entropy of search logs and personalization with back off
A personalized search using advanced operators
Re-ranking of results based on personalization diversification
Expanded search queries based on popularity
How search engines handle singular and plural

On the trail;

Social search engines (with Bill Slawski)
Phrase based indexing and retrieval
Query analysis confirmed by Google
Spam detection via historical ranking factors
Link builders guide to historical ranking
Your favourites as a ranking signal
Google personalized search
Beware; Google is watching you
How to protect your engagement data
A tale of two PageRank patents
Microsoft on behavioural data
Microsoft personalization via Biometrics
Yahoo social search through trusted networks
Yahoo HarmonicRank
Yahoo Personalized PageRank

Past rants;

The Evolution of SEO -What is SEO - SEO identity crisis - A world beyond links -Your SEO is weak -

If you're still bored and want to talk shop... get in touch; I'd be thrilled!



0 # Bloggeries 2008-09-30 08:34
Rant o licious and chalk full of quality content. Thanks for the morning read Dave! Happy Trails!
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0 # Dave 2008-09-30 08:47
Morning Rob... dontcha just love the smell of RANT first thing in the morning?

A mate discussed the rant angle and sadly, much like technical SEO posts, the rant tends to get more play... so WTF... go with the flow :woohoo:
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0 # andymurd 2008-09-30 09:01
You're not wrong: SEO is changing, just like it's changed since its inception.

Yahoo & MSN have made very open moves towards semantic search technologies and Google's local search is definitely using some semantic technologies for its results.

I think we'll see a gradual introduction of these algorithms into the mainstream SERPs pretty soon.
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0 # JMorris 2008-09-30 09:15
:woohoo: I love it!!!

Great post man! The factors and topics you outlined above are the primary reason that I transitioned to being a full-time developer and blogger and stopped focusing on SEO as a career move. While the intellect is there to be a SEO, the amount of research needed is more than I care to invest. I still study SEO to some degree, but not to THAT level.

I fully agree with what you are saying here. If SEO is dead, then SEOs are NOT paying attention. Even with my limited SEO knowledge, I knew that much.

Rant on brother, rant on!
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0 # Rhys 2008-09-30 09:30
It's very true what you are saying in terms of SEO (I really don't like the term SEO too, SEO should be for onpage stuff - the optimizing - the SEM should be for the offpage stuff - the link building). It's amazing how certain SEO operators operate. For example, we took on a client who wasn't getting sales from their e-commerce website, despite being listed #1 on their main keyword.

First thing I did was submit their product feed to froogle, and within about 48 hours, they had 30 sales.

People just focus on too many of the small things, and not enough of the bigger picture.
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0 # Dave 2008-09-30 09:50
@Andy I often think that many of them already are – even if in limited DC distribution. Testing and tweaking is part of the continuous improvement model that search quality teams deal with. You would think there are always a variety of theories, new signals and tweaks ongoing at any time.

@JM I hear that… strangely I am more of a well rounded marketer that simply has a passion for search. But as my pal said, some instances don’t require the level of insanity that I take it too. So, I am more rambling about SEOs considering a world beyond the bubble (old school tactics). I accept not everyone need be as obsessed as I ;0)

@Rhys – I’d agree that certain elements of link building (baiting, content generation) are more in the realm of promotions as well. Some aspects such as competitive analysis would still be the geeky stuff of SEO. Certainly though it could be argued much of it resides best in other areas. That’s kind of the problem with no defined lines in the world of SEM… and internet marketing in general.

As for the bigger picture, that is really the art. Being able to absorb, test and analyze things to a point where it flows freely.

…thanks ya’ll for stopping by and taking the time to peck out some luv
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0 # Mike Wilton 2008-09-30 10:39
Great post. Being relatively new to the SEO industry I am always looking for ways to grow. Many of the concepts you mentioned in this post I was not aware of. Like you said, the mainstream of SEO shy away from many of these topics and they are not in the public eye much. I appreciate you taking the time to bring them up in this post. These are definitely some things I will be looking into further.
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0 # Dave 2008-09-30 10:55
Hiya Mike... at the risk of sounding like I am working for the Department of Redundancy Department - it's ultimately about the passion. We are all best served by doing things in life we enjoy. If you are going to be an SEO then I dearly hope there is a burning desire to constantly learn more.

This journey has also taught me that I may be a bit of an extremist (is that term PC or what?) and so I am more tempered than when I first wrote the post.

Hopefully though, the death knolls of link bait can be laid to rest and simply referrence this post when folks sing it's swan song.
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0 # Feydakin 2008-10-01 09:03
I still find patents incredibly boring.. :side:
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0 # Dave 2008-10-01 10:43
yea yea yea Steve-o... I hear ya, but at least there are peeps out there breakin 'em down. What doesn't happen is peeps talking about it once it has been translated.

The example of page segmentation could play huge in terms of back link evaluations depending on the segmentation values...

Part of the reason this was a rant is because I know it will get more play, than say one of the boring posts... that are the REAL SHIT... sigh... but ranting always plays better...
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0 # dave 2008-10-01 20:24

thats some really cool stuff, i think there needs to be more focus on optimising the content!
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0 # Terry Van Horne 2008-10-04 17:16
Well... I'd say real SEO hasn't evolved that much. Same techniques for new media. SMO is just community building with better tools. I've been doing this about 15 years and all that has really changed is the media. The techniques seldom differ and are mostly stuff I learned as a direct and data mining marketer! SEO hasn't evolved that much what has evolved is the internet and we'll always be the pros that implement it enhancing the marketing aspects and ensuring it works for users. The rest of what many think is SEO is really internet marketing and sound development practices. Will that ever die! Not a chance many profess to do what I do but verrrry few actually do!
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0 # pr10 google 2008-10-22 18:05
man your a genious :cheer:
great post
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0 # seo scientist 2008-11-10 22:51
SEO is also a science so all ideas about its artistic nature should always have technical counterpart.
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