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The Problem With (pure) Whitehat Seo


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6 replies to this topic

#1 PatrickGer

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 11:37 AM

Im a big fan of the whitehat, big picture approach to SEO. ALong the lines of "give the search engines the content that they want to show to a certain demographic that searches for it, and then just show the search engines the way by removing barriers + understanding the signals of quality they use to determine what the best page is".

In other words, creating a win-win situation with a business/website named Google, that makes money from showing their visitors the most relevant content.

However......I just noticed a problem with that...if there are thousands of pages or "only" hundreds competing for page 1 rankings in Google, a slight margin of error in the algorithm (e.g. the algorithm not being completely perfect at showing the users the best result) is enough to cause the difference between a page 1 and a page 2 (or even 3 ranking), where almost nobody clicks.

If click throughs in the SERPs were distributed evenly (from page 1 down to page 100), a slight margin of error in the algorithm wouldnt matter.....but because click throughs are distributed so unevenly, I believe that having at least a decent understanding of the algorithm will be important, as it may make the difference between a page 1 and a page 2 ranking even if you truly have the best content for a given search query.

Anyone agrees/disagrees with it?

I'm wondering if my theory is right........if it is, then starting do so SEO on a popular, but never-before-SEO'd website...should get many rankings for keywords from page 2 to page 1, and make a major difference in the traffic (and hopefully sales) a website receives. Does this hold true in practice or do I miss something?

Edited by PatrickGer, 11 September 2010 - 12:17 PM.


#2 qwerty

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 12:20 PM

Well, what kind of "error" in the algorithm are you talking about? And why would you want to optimize a page to take advantage of something you consider to be an error -- wouldn't you expect that error to be fixed at some point, taking away whatever advantage you might have gained by identifying it?

If your goal in optimizing a site is making it as informative and useful to your audience as possible while removing any barriers that might keep a search engine from indexing its content, you're working toward long-term benefits. Anything else is short-term at best, and could potentially cause long-term harm, so a process that involves finding "errors" in the algo and taking advantage of them must also involve a plan to undo the work you've done at some point in the future, and I don't think that's beneficial to your client.

#3 PatrickGer

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 04:57 PM

EDIT: I DIDNT SEE HOW LONG THIS GOT...WHOEVER DOESNT READ IT, I WONT TAKE OFFENSE LOL
First, thanks for your reply qwerty.

I think, in the end, it doesn't only come down to whether something is an error that will be fixed at some point, but also to how much money you can make while it is being fixed.

Plus, I do not think that I'm exploiting an error, if I still create the best page for the people who search (what exactly is the best page for them would be another question, but I don't want to complicate this right now). It is just that until search engines are completely perfect (if they ever become this during my lifetime), they will always have a certain algorithm that determines what will rank at the top.

Now, they rely on links quite a bit (for highly competitive queries). In the future they will/might take user feedback (e.g. conversion rate might make a lot of sense for e-commerce websites) to determine what will rank on page 1 for a certain query.

In the end, if they have 100s of 1,000s of pages they could rank, as long as their method isn't completely perfect there will always be some pages that should rank in the top 10, but dont. And there will always be some pages that shouldn't rank in the top10 but do....as long as there is some margin of error in the method they use to rank web pages.

And the thing is that...if you're on page 2 rather than on page 1...which can happen even if you have the best page, but google's algorithm simply isn't perfect...then you will get an abnormally low percentage of the traffic you should receive (as in most SERPs few people bother to look at page 2) - if you truly have the best page.

Here's an example:

The other day I searched for something (a comparison of 2 demographics) in Google. I couldn't find what I was searching for anywhere. I searched and searched and searched, but couldnt find it. If Google's search engine was perfect I should be able to simply create that page somewhere and everyone else around the world typing that search into Google the next day should find that page at #1.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a world with perfect search engines, yet but search engines rely on certain quality factors that I would have to build up to get that page to rank.....the site/page would have to age....it needs the right links that the search engines want to count...etc.

However, by creating the truly best page for that given search query (and related queries), you should have a much easier time building the right links to it (sorry if im obsessing about link building, again..)...than if you were trying to rank a page with bad content that doesn't help anyone.

So I see whitehat SEO like this:
1. You try to create the best page for a given demographic that is searching for it online.
2. You show the search engines the way by leveraging the signals of quality they use currently...and by removing the barriers they face currently

If I completely ignore the signals of quality the search engine uses to understand if I have great content for that given search query...then in many cases I wont get the page into the top10 for competitive queries, imho. And I will get only a fraction of the traffic to it that a top10 ranking can get me (and that I should get, if I supply the best content for this given search query).

So nowadays, building some decent links (for example) to a page you want to rank is something you should do, if you want it to actually rank.

However, maybe the search engines will use user feedback data (e.g. conversion rates for e-commerce sites) or social media mentions,etc. increasingly in the future, and maybe abandon links as an important ranking factor.

if you truly have the best page for the given query, even though the links you had built which were helping you rank during the y ears before wont count anymore......you can now leverage the new signals of quality to get a top10 ranking again, and much more easily than someone trying to rank a crappy page. Matter of fact your page should already be ranked fairly high in the search engines, if it is the best page for the query as it will probably perform well at new factors the search engines may be using. It may however only be in the top 50 of the 1,000s of pages the search engines considers. Working on improving conversion rates & social media mentions (or whatever new factor has become more important) however, might help you get on google's front page, again...and get the traffic you deserve if you have the best page for the people searching for it.

Somehow, I'm afraid you wont agree :-), but I hope I got my point across. I'm not talking about exploiting an error in the system....Im really talking about errors in the system (the algorithm) that prevent y our page from being on the front page even though it should be on the front page (if we had search engines that were absolutely perfect, which simply isnt the case, yet........and might still take a long while to happen).......and that this can make a *major* difference in the traffic and sales you will receive, because so few people bother to go to page 2 (in most SERPs).

Edited by PatrickGer, 11 September 2010 - 05:06 PM.


#4 Michael Martinez

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 05:40 PM

I think you're making a fundamental assumptive mistake that many people have repeated through the years. There is no one right or best query.

Google recently disclosed that it receives about 1,000,000,000 search visits per week. Those visitors enter in billions of queries. 20-25% of those queries are new to Google -- the search engine has never seen them before, it has not accumulated metrics for them, and only a microscopic fraction of them will have been anticipated by search optimists (SEOs who try to guess the next trend in queries).

Of the 75-80% of repeat queries, probably no more than 40-50% of them are being tracked by anyone with search engine optimization knowledge. I believe Google recently said that only about 40% of the queries it serves are accompanied by ads. (NOTE: I am pulling these numbers off the top of my head, as I don't have time to look up references, but I'll try to find them later).

The more competitive a favored query becomes, the more incentive one has for finding other queries to draw traffic from. Despite the efforts of a few content farming companies, this approach to search engine optimization hasn't yet really become popular.

As for so-called "White Hat SEO" -- I think you're seeing that as a comprehensive solution to search engine optimization. I'm sure the terms "white hat/whitehat" and "black hat/blackhat" are evolving in use because no one ever really agreed on what they mean. But in general I think people are using "white" to mean "seeks to comply with search engine guidelines" and "black" to mean "doesn't care about search engine guidelines".

In that respect, white hat SEO isn't a solution or a method of search engine optimization -- it's just a self-limiting practice of agreeing to stay within the boundaries drawn by the search engines. The only incentive to be a "white hat" is that it reduces to the smallest possible risk the chance that your sites will be dumped out of search indexes.

In that respect, both the white hats and the black hats do many of the same things, often for the same reasons. These ethical classifications therefore overlap with many general principles and philosophies about how to optimize for search.

In my opinion, targeting individual keywords is a high-risk, low-payoff proposition. Do I do it? Yes, but I make sure I understand why I'm doing it.

Also in my opinion, targeting topics is much easier to do. You can just write whatever you want that "stays on topic" and you don't have to worry about what anchor text people point toward your site. There is nothing particularly "white hat" or ethical about this approach. In fact, many "black hats" take the same approach. They cloud the Web with vague stuff that doesn't have to rank for anything in particular as long as it draws traffic.

Being the best in your field is a valuable aspect of personal or commercial achievement. But "the best" can mean all sorts of stuff. You could be the best marketer and the worst authority on a topic (we certainly have people like that in SEO). You could be the best authority and the worst marketer (we also have people like that). You could be the best niche specialist and a mediocre marketer and a mediocre authority. You could be the best writer who doesn't really know what he's talking about but because your stuff is so entertaining people come out of the woodwork to read it despite your lack of marketing.

Search engine optimization is not about being all things to all people. It's really only about being something special or needful or helpful to a very small group of people. You can optimize a 5-page Website so that it draws a lot of traffic but it's still only going to appeal to a limited number of people for a limited number of reasons. Or you can build a Website that is constantly growing, adding content. It may draw a lot of traffic but it's still only going to appeal to a limited number of people, etc.

Or you can build a network, and you're still boxed in.

The limits are set more by your passion and your creativity than by the size or your site, the skill of your marketing, and the quality of your knowledge. Search engine optimization lets you refine what you're doing so that it approaches the best possible performance with respect to drawing traffic from search engines but it's not going to change the limits, improve your passion, or increase your skills or knowledge.

All of which is to say that it's really not the SEO work that makes a site the best page for a query or a demographic. The SEO work simply clears away some of the clutter that may be clogging up the traffic flow.

#5 PatrickGer

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 07:57 PM

Thanks for the reply Michael! will have to read it later (a second time, I have already read it, dont misunderstand this please) to fully grasp it.

QUOTE
These ethical classifications therefore overlap with many general principles and philosophies about how to optimize for search.


As for this...I didn't mean to attach any ethics to whitehat vs. blackhat actually. I see google as a for-profit c ompany trying to make money. So I dont really think so-called blackhat SEO is highly unethical or anything. What many people refer to as grayhat SEO (I guess..if its a spectrum..) is what I consider unethical - playing mindgames with people,etc..

EDIT:

Not really on-topic, I guess...but I just have to ask. Is this the "only" reason why you believe that links are not that important for SEO?:

QUOTE
The more competitive a favored query becomes, the more incentive one has for finding other queries to draw traffic from.


By using the word only, I didnt mean to suggest that isnt completely true (the more overheated a query gets, the lower the ROI on it gets, and thus if the only thing one cares about is ROI, at a certain point alternative queries - if one can find and/or create them obviously do become a better choice).

I was just wondering if there are other reasons why you think SEOs obsess over links way too much or if this is basically it.

Any chance I can get you to tell us how you created the new query space of SEO theory, again? How did you get people to start searching for it? The only way I can think of to create a new query space would be to make people aware of a problem they had not considered, yet and spread the news about that problem in forums + blogs,etc. of the niche (and perhaps end up making the whole niche aware of it, if its well-connected, small enough, and the problem is a truly bad one). hope this doesnt sound unethical (playing mind games with people as I mentioned above), I think it could be done in an ethical way, a win/win situation - Im actually doing something like this on the site im working on (but not to create a new query space).

However, searching for SEO theory doesn't seem to fall into that category (of using a "bad problem" to get people to start searching for it).


Edited by PatrickGer, 11 September 2010 - 08:07 PM.


#6 Michael Martinez

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 09:54 PM

QUOTE(PatrickGer @ Sep 11 2010, 05:57 PM) View Post
Not really on-topic, I guess...but I just have to ask. Is this the "only" reason why you believe that links are not that important for SEO?:
By using the word only, I didnt mean to suggest that isnt completely true (the more overheated a query gets, the lower the ROI on it gets, and thus if the only thing one cares about is ROI, at a certain point alternative queries - if one can find and/or create them obviously do become a better choice).


Links are important to search engine optimization. They're just not as important as the SEO community has made them out to be.

QUOTE
I was just wondering if there are other reasons why you think SEOs obsess over links way too much or if this is basically it.


Because most of the links that people obtain don't pass value, a rational person should be asking WHY so many people keep building links that don't pass value. I say it's because they are obsessed with links. Other people may see it differently.

QUOTE
Any chance I can get you to tell us how you created the new query space of SEO theory, again? How did you get people to start searching for it? The only way I can think of to create a new query space would be to make people aware of a problem they had not considered, yet and spread the news about that problem in forums + blogs,etc. of the niche (and perhaps end up making the whole niche aware of it, if its well-connected, small enough, and the problem is a truly bad one). hope this doesnt sound unethical (playing mind games with people as I mentioned above), I think it could be done in an ethical way, a win/win situation - Im actually doing something like this on the site im working on (but not to create a new query space).


I wrote about SEO theory on the blog -- nothing more. No advertising. No social media seeding. No DIGGing, Stumbling, Tweeting, etcering. In a very, very few places I left a link under my name as I commented on some of the more well-known SEO sites like Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim and Barry Schwartz' SE Roundtable. To this day I have never created a Sphinn account so I've never sphunn my own articles. Thanks to submissions from others, and their Sphinns, SEO Theory made it to the front page of Sphinn a few times.

The blog was certainly promoted by other people through social media services, but they made that decision on their own. They gave natural links and visibility to the blog because, whether they agreed with me or not, they appreciated my taking the time to share my passion.

SEO theory isn't about fixing what's wrong with the SEO community. It's about sharing my conclusions about what I have observed in the search engine optimization process. I've certainly used the blog as a bully pulpit from time to time but I think that goes with the territory.

#7 PatrickGer

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 10:43 AM

thanks for the explanation!

QUOTE(Michael Martinez @ Sep 12 2010, 04:54 AM) View Post
Links are important to search engine optimization. They're just not as important as the SEO community has made them out to be.
Because most of the links that people obtain don't pass value, a rational person should be asking WHY so many people keep building links that don't pass value. I say it's because they are obsessed with links. Other people may see it differently.
I wrote about SEO theory on the blog -- nothing more. No advertising. No social media seeding. No DIGGing, Stumbling, Tweeting, etcering. In a very, very few places I left a link under my name as I commented on some of the more well-known SEO sites like Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim and Barry Schwartz' SE Roundtable. To this day I have never created a Sphinn account so I've never sphunn my own articles. Thanks to submissions from others, and their Sphinns, SEO Theory made it to the front page of Sphinn a few times.

The blog was certainly promoted by other people through social media services, but they made that decision on their own. They gave natural links and visibility to the blog because, whether they agreed with me or not, they appreciated my taking the time to share my passion.

SEO theory isn't about fixing what's wrong with the SEO community. It's about sharing my conclusions about what I have observed in the search engine optimization process. I've certainly used the blog as a bully pulpit from time to time but I think that goes with the territory.






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