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SEO Should Be Invisible

Or, put another way, 'over-optimization' is synonymous with 'no real business model'. In many ways, the message of an "over-optimization penalty" by Google is their way of saying you're doomed without a real business model. In another sense, it sends the message that SEO is important enough that you have to get it right. SEO should be taken seriously, and hackneyed work won't cut the mustard. How We Approach SEO Our approach to SEO has always emphasized that it should be deliberately unnoticeable. What do I mean by that? Simple: SEO should be unseen, when it's done well, and only noticeable to other SEOs. It should not be overt. It should not take precedence over more important aspects of a site, like the site's brand message, its purpose, its user experience, and its value proposition. We can distill this to a simple concept:
  1. First, make the best user experience possible. Make a great product. Have something truly valuable.
  2. Next, maximize it for SEO.
SEO should be an invisible layer beneath a strong user experience, a beautiful site, and a clear, coherent message and purpose.
SEO should be invisible. Just like Matt Cutts xkcd stickman.

SEO should be invisible. (photo: Matt Cutts as xkcd stickman)

This makes the risk of falling to an over-optimization penalty simple to avoid. If a site has no real purpose, save leveraging weaknesses in search engine algorithms; if a site has no clear business model, other than finding inefficiencies in the market; if a site has no clear value, other than ranking highly for long-tail terms and passing traffic along while taking a few bucks; if any of these cases are present, the model is not sustainable. SEO should never take prominence over more important aspects of a site, especially its business model. It's in these situations that a site should be worried about its future. 'Over-optimization' May Not Be New It's likely Google has already looked at this area before, and is simply calling out publicly some of the things its been doing for several years (while naming it something new). We've recommended against what we call "SEO footers" (the long, below-the-fold-forever, exact anchor text matching nonsense) for several years. I believe strongly that links within these low-quality types of 'shingle' or 'stub' page elements get devalued, at best, and possibly even contribute to lower organic scoring for a website. Reasonable Surfer Patent, anyone? Keep It Simple. Keep It Smart. Really, it's nothing new. Keep doing what you're doing: having a purpose on the web bigger than monetizing via SEO. Then monetize it wisely with smart SEO. It's what we've been doing at RKG, and what we'll continue to do: helping real companies with value succeed online.
The Simple Things. Like SEO.

SEO is simple. (image: Alvaro Sarney)

SEO is simple. Stop trying to make it more difficult.  
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