To me, SEO has always been common sense. My mantra since the early '90s when I first started figuring out ways to help a given Web page to show up in the search listings is “think like a search engine.”
All that means is having an understanding of why certain elements are part of the secret ranking formula and others aren’t. Everything we do in SEO has a purpose, and that purpose is to make the site better than it is so that the search engines will like it better.
The search engines do not give weight at random to some factors and not others. Can you imagine search engineers sitting around saying something like: “I’ve got a great idea! Let’s provide the 13th and 27th word on any Web page with more weighting than any other words on the page!”
There’s no doubt that if they did implement something like this into their ranking formula, someone could probably reverse engineer things and figure it out in no time. However, reverse engineering doesn’t help you figure out the reasons behind the change in formula. So the reverse engineer would make sure that his 13th and 27th words on his pages all had his most important keyword phrases. Then he or she would tell all his or her friends to do the same. Soon the word would spread to SEO forums and the general population.
Everyone would be optimizing their pages this way, without ever knowing why, other than they read or heard about it somewhere, even though it defied all common sense.
Why uncommon sense tactics would never be an SEO factor
Of course, search engineers would never randomly make a change to their ranking formula like that, because it wouldn’t help them to determine the relevancy of any given page. The whole idea behind ranking formulas is to determine relevancy, and therefore, they’re not based on whims. They’re based on what a typical person would put on his or her Web site without knowing anything about SEO.
That’s right, the “average person,” not what an SEO or some automated software would do, but what any local business owner might do when creating his or her Web site.
An average person who used common sense would see a place for a “Title” on his or her pages, and if he or she thought about it logically, common sense would tell it was a good spot to describe what type of business they are and perhaps where they’re located. This is exactly what a Title tag is supposed to be used for, and why search engines do give it a lot of weight in their ranking formula.
It’s the same for all of the relevancy-determining elements in the formula.
Take linking. It’s an important factor for search engines for a reason. Links tell search engines which sites are liked by the general population. If the local business owner has amazing customer service or really low prices, word gets around. Soon people start visiting the Web site and they tell others of their great experience. With the Internet, and especially with the ease of creating Web sites and blogs, the fastest way of telling people what you like is by posting it somewhere online. And so they do.
The business owner doesn’t need to understand SEO to do a great with hi or her business. In fact, if he or she did know SEO (or thought he or she did), this person might go messing up a good thing. He or she might hear about link building and start running an old-fashioned reciprocal linking campaign with anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they were relevant to this business. At some point, he or she probably would end up with a giant links page full of online gambling links and other crazy stuff -- none of which were any use to the real visitors of his or her Web site. When the business owner didn’t know about SEO, he or she was only linking businesses that would provide value to his or her site visitors. Real links, real votes, and the real reason why search engines have made links an important factor in knowing which sites are the best.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to think about SEO when designing your site. In fact, it’s a really important thing, but you have to use common sense at the same time. As long as you always consider the “why’s” of what you’re doing, you’ll find it much easier to know exactly what to put on your site and where to put it.