Web Misc

Thinking About SEO Makes Me Dizzy

You know what I find confusing? Search engine optimization (SEO). Let me explain what that is in case you don’t already know:

A brief introduction to search engines.

Say you run a website that sells aprons. When you first publish your website online, it automatically gets indexed by search engines like Google and Bing, and then your website will show up in their search result pages (SERPs). So when someone punches “buy aprons online!” into Google, your website might come up. A couple of important factors here:

  • You want your website to show up near the top of the list.
  • Google wants to order the results it shows by how relevant they are.

These two “wants” don’t always line up. So, one day someone realized that by tweaking how content is organized online, you can change how it ranks in Google’s results. This is called SEO, since you are optimizing your website (the one that sells aprons) so that it looks as attractive as possible to search engines like Google.

(Of course, there are good and bad ways to do this. I’m not going to discuss ethics here. What I’m more interested in is simply making sense of it all.)

What does Google do?

Should Google assign more or less weight to sites that are trying harder to get noticed? Well, it depends. Remember that Google’s job, which it takes very seriously, is to rank the most relevant links first. So Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm to find better and more accurate ways to identify the best results for any given query.

You could almost say that Google is optimizing its search algorithm for finding the most relevant content.

So, who’s optimizing for who?

Now we have SEO-types that are optimizing apron sites so that they rank better in Google, and Google constantly optimizing its search algorithm to find the best apron sites. Since the criteria for what defines the most relevant apron site is set by Google, and constantly changing, SEO-types are always aiming for a moving target (and likewise for Google, since new websites, some of which are bound to be about aprons, pop up every day).

Part of me thinks that SEO and search algorithms should converge. If SEO-types are working to get pages better recognition and Google is working to recognize pages more easily, shouldn’t they someday bridge that gap from opposite sides? But then who really wins? The user is getting the best-optimized pages in Google’s best-optimized algorithm, which still might not be the most relevant matches — best-optimized is not guaranteed to be most relevant.

And what about Bing?

Bing has it’s own search algorithm, and it’s picking up a bit of market share. Are SEO-types going to start optimizing their pages specifically for Internet Explorer Bing? And how does Bing tweak it’s algorithm? If all the SEO-types are already optimizing for Google’s search anyway, wouldn’t it be in Bing’s best interest to aim for picking up pages matching that style of optimization?

Then what’s the end-game? Returning the same results as Google? I mean, if Google is working to return the best possible results and Bing is also trying to do that, aren’t they sort of shooting for the same goal? You can get into how Google and Bing might have different definitions of “best”, but is that really true? It’s the same users they’re fighting over, and they’re indexing the same content; logically there is only one truly ideal way to order their results.

The whole thing is a giant mess to me.

I have a lot of respect for what SEO-types do, and obviously I’m very thankful for the work search engines are doing to make my life easier, but what a fascinating and perplexing industry! I can’t really tell who’s on who’s side, and it seems like everything (the tactics, the goals, the products) is perpetually changing. Does anyone really understand how it all works?

What’s your take on all this? Am I the only one that finds SEO kind of crazy?