Let me start out by stating a couple of details that are going to come to light in this post. First, I am about to show my age. I have been in and around the industry of Web Design and Search Engine Optimization for many years. I started dabbling with these things in the last century. You know, back in the world of CompuServe and dial-up modems. Yeah, that long ago!
The second detail you will pick up from this post is that I have made a living by helping people navigate the difficulties of getting their business or organization set up on the Internet. I don’t say that to brag or, depending on your point of view, villainize myself. It is just a fact. Take it however you wish.
Search Engines of Yore
Many years ago when the Internet was young, few people knew much about it, and many of those who did, felt it was a passing fad or at best a place to find information or talk to people from around the world. I still remember my fascination with talking to someone from another country in an online group. It was amazing how cool that was. Our technology has come a long way since then and these types of interactions have become mundane to most of us. Today, we hear news from around the world mere moments after things have happened.
In the old days (I can’t believe I just wrote that), search engines were just a simple way to find information or sites that might interest you. That still holds true today. However, as things grew in the online world, more and more businesses were adding websites as a way of marketing and communicating with potential customers. Search engines needed a way to let people find the information or sites they were looking for amidst a sea of possibilities, and display that information in a relevant manner. This generally involved their “web crawler” searching through web pages and look for keywords within the content on a page. If your search terms matched the content on the page, you would see that page in your search engine results page (SERP). Simple, right? Not for long.
The Need for Better Results
Everything was fine when the whole thing started out. The trouble came when more and more sites were being created. As more sites popped up, it became increasingly difficult to find the site or information for which you were searching. Simply put, there was just too much information and a serious need to sort it out in a manner that showed you the information you were looking for and not cluttered in with information that was not related to your needs. All we really want is to find the information or site(s) we want without all of the stuff we don’t. Right?
The Google Takeover
In the beginning there were several search engines vying for the right to be your search site of choice. If you have been around the Internet for a while, you may remember names like Infoseek, Lycos and AltaVista. There were several more search engines and there are still many more today. All of these early search engines were in a power struggle to win the “top” spot.
Google began as a research project in the mid 1990s and grew to become the number one search engine in most of the world today. The only place that Google is not the leader is in China where Baidu is king. Google achieved such universal recognition that its name has become a verb, ie. “I Googled her to see when she was born.”
Google’s algorithm, or the code that determines a site’s placement in the SERP, has been growing and adapting for a couple of decades now. As website experts have tried to find ways to get their sites to rank the highest, Google has responded by changing their code to make sure that only the most legitimate information finds its way into your search results. There are lots of ways they have gone about lowering or removing sites that try to “cheat” the system and we will not go into that here, but Google works diligently to provide the best, most relevant, results possible. This is where things get a little shaky.
Somewhere along the line, I feel like Google may have gone a bit too far in an effort to keep site owners honest. While striving to find signals that a site was best for certain search results, Google has offered “suggestions” on how to set up a website to rank well.
Have We Gone Off The Rails?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short) is a set of techniques and elements that offer search engines an indication of what your site is about. Many companies have offered SEO services to their clients and Light House Studio is one of these companies.
We have been providing SEO services for almost two decades, so I have had lots of experience in this field and have followed the current trends closely. One of the most troublesome trends I have seen is in the suggested methods offered by Google. One of the popular phrases you will hear in this field is “Content is King.” In fact, I have said it myself.
The idea of good content is not a bad one. Everyone likes good content that is well written and presented. The trouble comes when this mindset slips into the pattern of churning out more content just to rank better. If you are approaching content as a means for better ranking, then you will often tend toward quantity over quality.
Content quantity is not the only area where Google is making these suggestions. They also have started heavily pushing for faster loading sites, sites that are mobile friendly and other such enhancements that should increase the user experience. All good ideas, but at what cost?
My problem (and I understand that this is MY problem) with where we are right now is that I have an ever increasing feeling that Google has started dictating what our sites should look like and what they should contain. I am all for sites that are well designed and have great content, but I don’t feel that it is Google’s place to tell me what I should have on my site. I am afraid we might be starting to cross the line between curating content and controlling content. This makes me nervous.
I truly understand Google’s efforts to make sites better for users. A happy user is better for a company than a frustrated user who has to wait for pages to load or who cannot view a site because it does not display well on a mobile device. We all want sites that load quickly, display well and have great content, but where do we draw the line?
What Do You Think?
As someone who follows the search industry closely, I have a different perspective on these matters than most. So, what are your thoughts, dear reader? Do you feel the search community is overstepping their bounds or do you think this is a small price to pay for better websites? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.