The Useless Art of SEO

I give up.

I have no idea what the hell these people talk about, and I don’t care. Yes, I understand what they want people to do, and I understand their terminology and the procedures. I just have no idea why the hell they want people to do this stuff.

SEO rubbish

(Normally, I wouldn’t post screenshots and I would quote the text normally. However, this is a spam comment, so it may be removed by the host. And, of course, I don’t want to dignify the makers of the plugin by linking to them or quoting their “priceless” wisdom.)

Some time in the past, I’ve probably rambled about how computer science is like magic. I’m a neopagan who views magic as a metaphor of human influence in various forms, conscious or unconscious. Technology is one of the expressions of this idea: use and application of complex technology can yield complicated results that people don’t always fully understand. Understanding hows and whys of technology can allow us to comprehend our lives.

I don’t exactly keep in touch with other neopagans, so I have no idea what they say about my weird theories, but I guess if you examine computer science as a form of magic, Search Engine Optimisation is in a category that is rarely thought of. Most people have heard of white magic or black magic - forms of magic that directly help or harm people. SEO is right there in the category of unmagical magic - magic that sorta helps you for a while, unless someone decides otherwise, in which case all that effort totally went to waste.

Someone once quipped “God is real, unless declared integer”. Seems to me your pagerank behaves pretty much the same way. Your pagerank is what Google says it is, and you bloody well shouldn’t waste time developing crazy theories on how it works and how to increase it. Because ultimately, it all depends on Google’s ideas. Systems built on guesses on how the foundation works are bound to be shoddy systems. If god is suddenly integer and not floating point, then your code should use integer operations accordingly, which, in a strongly typed language, may require extensive modifications to the source code. …And this highly stretched analogy doesn’t make much sense, but please bear with me.

Every time I see a SEO expert babbling these days, I start thinking of the damage their babbling might cause.

A random, easy example: This blog runs on top of Melody. Melody is based on Movable Type 4, and ships with the MT4 themes. This blog uses the Classic theme, which is basically a souped-up MT4 default theme. I picked this theme because it’s nice enough and didn’t need much changes from MT4.

But Melody’s default theme is DePo Clean, which was ported from WordPress. The ported theme had a fairly curious feature: index pages were removed from search engines through robot exclusion.

The theory, of course, was that the index/category/archive pages should have less weight on searches and you should get good results for the articles themselves.

The first thing that rang bullshit to me was the fact that Google already seems to already figure out the permalinks for Classic themes pretty well. I can search for, say, a random title from my blog, and boom, I get the permalink - no archives in sight:

SEO done right

No archive pages. Not even a link along the lines of “see more results at beastwithin.org”. Just my link and folks talking about it - and I did nothing to achieve this.

The second thing is that this is an exceedingly crappy way of telling Googlebot how to do its job. If I want to tell the bot that some pages are pretty darn important, I want to do just that and nothing more. If I want to tell the bot that some pages are not that important, I want to do just that. I don’t want to tell it “don’t even look at this page” when I really mean “this page is not that important, but feel free to look at it”.

Thus said the Melody maintainer:

DePo Clean was ported from WordPress as faithfully as I could do it. That approach is very common with WordPress themes (DePoClean included). SEO is big in that community, so I presume it’s a fairly effective tactic for helping search engines figure out which is the canonical link for a given entry.

Point the first: presumptions are frigging dangerous when you’re dealing with deterministic systems. Point the second: DePo theme itself doesn’t seem to do those tags (at least not any more).

And point the third: The users were apprehensive because Google’s own documentation explicitly says that pages that have noindex,nofollow will not be indexed; the fact that such pages may appear on the sitemap and Google seems to index the pages is just undocumented behaviour.

Point the fourth: It’s always about Google, isn’t it? It’s no matter if the other crawlers also decide to implement the Robot Exclusion Standard, and follow it to the letter. Other crawlers like, oh, I don’t know - the Internet Archive crawler? Some people want their babblings to be archived, you know.

However, all this is fairly academic - Melody DePo has apparently removed the tags. But the point remains: messing with the tags is something that should not be done for short-term gain, because in long term, things will change.

And the odd thing is, if you think of SEO as a long term art, then it’s basically synonymous with other sensible web design ideas.

Let me present to you a no-bullshit SEO guide:

  • Use sensible permalinks - as in filenames that make sense and URLs that humans can actually comprehend and that have some kind of a sensible meaning. No hex cookies. No weird numbers that mean nothing. No squillion billion weird parameters that only make sense to your CMS. /YYYY/MM/DD/page-title.html is enough for Melody, and it’s hard to argue it’s not enough for everyone else, dammit.
  • Use sensible page titles.
  • Structure the text using normal HTML elements, like headings and such. Use all formatting markup the way the formatting markup is meant to be used.

Basically, it’s not that hard. You owe me no money for these incredibly common-sense bits of wisdom.

Premature optimisation is the root of all evil, as famed giants of science told us. Novices shouldn’t optimise. Experts shouldn’t optimise yet. …I guess I’ll better post this article before more clichés materialise.

Oh, an the spam comment was found in a new video game journalism article. You may not see it, but that’s because the comment only appears with JavaScript blocked - it’s in the story’s WordPress comments, not IntenseDebate comments. Using features that the blog owners themselves don’t use! Optimisation!

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