SEO snakeoil is dead, long live content-powered SEO

When I see job postings or titles that include SEO I tend to snicker. SEO, or “search engine optimization,” was a bit like this shaman and often snake oil sold to those companies who think you can juice search engines to have a higher rank than others. To some degree, this is true, but for the most part, when done, it’s not to the benefit of the consumer, merely to drive page views, which may not be what the consumer wants.

Google, Bing, et. al. have gotten smarter, for the better of you and I, the web searcher looking for the information WE want to find, not information intentionally slid in front of our eyes which may not be the right fit for what we’re looking for. Then how do we, designers, web architects create sites people want to read? Easy, comes back to content is king. Essentially, create and write web sites your target audience would want to see, fill it with content that’s compelling to your enduser… done.

Okay, so not quite that easy, the other parts of the puzzle in 2011 in terms of SEO done NOT to smoke-and-mirror audiences but simply to rather make it relevant and matter to users of the internet in general is add parts to any given web page that creates a web which search engines index and keep tabs on, hence making it more relevant to searches.

One acronym was created for this, and it’s based more-or-less on how modern search engines like Google and Bing take a look at the big picture of the internet, trillions of pages, and make some sense of it all: S.L.A.T.E.S.

S.L.A.T.E.S. was defined by Professor Andrew McAfee as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.” This said since being coined, it’s getting a bit more complex and, thankfully, more in real-time, so that if someone is searching for something and it’s an event being reported on now, the search will turn that up. If the search is for something local, due to many computers and most smart phones being locations specific, that information will be doled up, seemingly customized for that user’s search criteria. Searching is getting more and more intuitive and, as such, is nothing some snake-oil marketing person can juice easily, power to the people, it’s a good thing.

S.L.A.T.E.S. broken down:

Search – More traditionally defined as a web search query is a query that a user enters into web search engine to satisfy his or her information needs. Google and Bing monitor such things, as such, the more a topic gets searched, be that a snow storm paralyzing NYC or [shudder] Justin Bieber, sites that get the most traffic from these searches and people mouse clicks will show up higher in search relevance.

Links – Simply put, the more things are linked back and forth across the web, the more Google and Bing take notice. On top of this, the more these links are clicked upon, the higher those pages will get ranked, and this has some value to the sites being linked from as well.

Authorship – Two-fold, someone who publishes to the web under the same name, that gets gravity, the more clout that person has, which could be both frequency he publishes but also people linking/mentioning is the more her or his article will rank in relevance. Welcome to the CMS/blog world, individuals matter.

Tags – Beauty of a shared language. If people tag various postings all with the same tagging, it shows up. In Twitter this is known as trending, but there’s a bigger picture. If every tags and article “iPad” iPad’s ranking in searches in general would shoot up, and more specifically, those articles tagged people may be linking to.

Extensions – Mining of user data, activities and/or transactions which allows users to be guided to initiate other valuable activities or transactions or to see other people’s social interactions. The more of these interactions happen the higher everything ranks in that set. If someone has a “like” button for Facebook with a picture of a cute kitty, and that link gets shared on Facebook 150,000 times, you better believe that entire phenomena will get some notice somewhere by the search engines, and passed around. Sometimes though this is as simple as if, say, you’re on Amazon, and you buy a book, you may get after purchase a splash page “other customers who bought [insert book] also bought [this other book].” It’s a way for Amazon to iTunes to any online store with the proper developer programming try to make some predictive guesses as to what else you might like.

Signalling – The sending of alerts to users of the changing state of an element of interest, could be from using RSS or any type of push-pull data on the web that sends it’s information to someone, or something, else. Often this can be through the signalling of information to other instant clients. This is at the heart of things the beauty of the real-time web.

A breakdown of how this all may look is below, from Time Magazine’s page. First up it has content which is still pretty high up there for anything on the web under search, words were written in such a way Google/Bing/et.al. will index it with glee. It has tags which will help internet search engines get a gist of what it’s about – in the not-so good old daze this would be in the meta data, but nobody uses that anymore, amen. It’s got authoring. It has links going in various directions including two in the body pointing to other related articles. The entire page has signals as it uses RSS/XML, then more-so as it’s using Twitter trending in a block. Extra points for having a video embedded from Vimeo regarding the story, which itself than has embedded more parts of S.L.A.T.E.S., it’s almost recursive. It has various extensions like Facebook, Twitter, and comments, yes comments could be considered extensions, signals, or even authoring. They also do a good job, not just in user-centric (not forced) SEO but in terms of getting people to sign up, potentially email or pass along the article, etc. They’re allowing a lot of customizing and SEO all within one rather easy to scan page. All-in-all, this is how content-powered SEO is done.

SEO Diagramed