Brand new year, same old SEO?


Article originally from Michael Block’s Blog. Cross-Posted with permission.

Happy New Year, everyone! Based on excerpts from my Facebook feed, the consensus seems to be that 2013 is going to be a good one and, personally, I’m inclined to agree!

The end of the year/new year transition period generally brings two things when it comes to articles in the media: 1) recaps of the previous year and 2) bold predictions for the new year. My good friend, Erik, shot me an article from the latter camp that suggested that the “New SEO” would favor content over tactics and that that would be good for publishers. It’s a well-written article from August of 2012 that’s making the rounds again now. I wrote a response to Erik but I realized that it might be useful to post it as a blog (which is why you’re reading this now, even if you aren’t Erik).

So, to begin, the notion that SEO is about creating good content rather than “fooling” the search engines has been the way of the world since at least early 2011 for agencies like Wpromote, the company for which I work. As a result, it seems the author is trying to speak to the layperson rather than SEO experts. Perhaps that was precisely his intention.

Also, and this is what’s much more interesting to me, there’s still a strong argument to be made that the “content is king” platitude is not even close to a truism yet. For example, take HuffingtonPost.com, a site that is extremely successful at SEO. This site does create original content but the vast majority of their content is reposted from other sources and they’ve been criticized harshly for this very reason. HuffingtonPost.com has denied the allegations but that’s not what I came here to point out, although there is ancillary relevance to the discussion.

Moving on, let’s take a look at their current front page:

Huffington Post Front Page

The headline links to this article with a much more SEO friendly title.

This is essentially a repost of the Associated Press story that is cited in the article. Note that although they used essentially all the text in AP story, HuffPo didn’t actually link back to AP.org despite linking to other HuffPo articles five times!¹ In my opinion, there’s nothing necessarily unethical going on but I would always recommend linking back to the original source as common courtesy at the very least. However, from an SEO perspective, it doesn’t benefit HuffPo to give another news source a link, so why do it? Plus, they got to use all of the keyword-rich text that the AP story used by citing it in full.

Now, let’s do a Google search for “John Boehner”:

Google search for "John Boehner"

What do you know?! The HuffPo article is one of the top links and AP is nowhere to be found. Google still isn’t good at assigning credit in this situation in the short term but the short term is all that really matters. Even if the AP article manages to outpace HuffPo’s in the future (unlikely anyway), nobody will care by tomorrow. It will quite literally be old news.

So, there you go: HuffPo waited for the AP story to come out, added a little bit of left-wing seasoning to appeal to their audience², copied and pasted the AP story in full, stuffed the top of the story with the relevant keywords that people will likely use to find the story in Google (look at the “FOLLOW” tags), and win another round of the SEO game thanks to tactics triumphing over content.

I’m not suggesting that HuffPo did anything wrong–that’s an argument for another day–I’m merely pointing out an issue that will continue be difficult for Google to deal with.

Nothing is ever simple in the world of SEO and although it’s getting tougher and tougher to game the system, it can still be an effective strategy when done properly using accepted best practices.

¹ I would be remiss to leave out that HuffPo does link to an NPR story, however, given that the AP story is cited in full, I felt that this point was somewhat irrelevant to the fundamental argument of the post.

² By “left-wing seasoning” I am referring to the front page headline of “By a Nose.” Although Boehner’s victory may have been slimmer than expected by some, I wouldn’t personally consider a vote of 220-192 a win “by a nose.”