When you hear of SEO a couple things come to mind and none of them are very good. I mostly think of shady and dishonest practices, gimmicks and other cheap methods to game the search engines. The very nature of SEO is to artificially inflate search results higher than where they should be. And right about this time some white hat SEO'ers jump in and say, hey what about us.
To which I respond:
There Is No White Hat
There is no ethical or “good” way to do SEO. Whatever practices you are using are inflating search results artificially. If your small business site comes up on page 5 an SEO’er may be able to get it up to page one, but so could a good content writer or web developer. If you had a funky old table based site I’m sure a lot could be done to improve your rankings, but none of it requires an SEO’er to do. A competent web developer and content writer could do it better, and nothing unethical needs to happen. And honestly, if you don’t have good search results, there is a reason, and that reason is your content sucks. But there lies the underlying problem. People want their websites to be found, but search in the future will become a smaller and smaller part of where that traffic comes from, which I get into below.
The Google Search Optimization Guide is really all you need to know about optimizing your website for search. In fact anything you do outside of that guide, is pretty much going to be an unethical method to game the search engines.
But enough about my thoughts on SEO.
Why SEO is Hurting SEO
If Google didn’t have to worry about SEO’ers, search results would be incredibly accurate. But because there is so much money in search, Google has to spend all of their time trying to prevent and react to SEO’ers attempts to game the system. Google employs some of the smartest people in the world, and yet even they cannot keep all the garbage out.
Polluting Their Own Playground
For every site with quality content using SEO to improve their search results, there are dozens if not thousands more, promoting garbage content. The more garbage is pushed to the top of Google, the less useful Google becomes.
SEO’ers have been so successful at altering search results, that many keywords are no longer useable to find actual content, just junk SEO’ers are promoting. You can make a good argument that internet wide search is no longer the best way to answer a question online. If I have a question, I search for the answer on Quora, where I know the results will be relevant. There are other non-search engine websites as well that are slowly chipping away at Google’s search market share.
Users are not going to be stupid forever.
It takes the rest of the internet far longer to catch up, but eventually more and more people will realize that internet wide search cannot provide accurate results, and there are better alternatives becoming available.
Social is also having a huge impact on the way people find content online. Partially because of Google’s inaccurate results, but also because people trust others they know, or believe to be authorities. Social is well on it’s way to becoming the dominate traffic driver on the web.
And of course there are numerous problems with social. Namely, having a handful of “experts” providing the majority of content people view, further encouraging group-think, sameness, and yet another barrier for fresh content to find it’s way to the surface. But at least it is a step in the right direction.
To see the affect social is having, all you have to do is look at your Analytics results. For example, this site only gets 8% of it’s traffic from Google search. Of course, it is a new blog with a low rank, but I still never expect Google to ever be the primary driver of traffic.
With these changes and the shift from search to social as the number one driver of traffic, those evil people doing SEO will move on and find new ways to game social. I’m sure they already have. But the internet will move forward and slowly but surely, garbage content will stop finding it’s way into our browsers.
Google’s Shift to Incorporate Social
Google has also embraced social. Google Plus allows users to like content they approve of and that content gets better search results because of it. Google has also allowed individuals to block websites they visited through search that they did not like, and these too are effecting search results, negatively. Lastly, Google has begun to employ people, who’s job it is to visit websites and rank there content. That is currently the only infallible way to prevent search result tampering. And I suspect Google will use it more and more.
SEO harms the internet in many ways, poor search results is only one of them. There is unlikely ever going to be an end to SEO but hopefully the internet is able to continue to adapt and prevent said content from polluting our internet browsing experiences.