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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!


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