Snake Oil is a generic term for medicines of no real value that are touted as miracle cure-alls. This description lends itself very nicely the claims made by certain alleged SEO (search engine optimisation) specialists who all promise they’ll get you onto page 1 of Google.
So what exactly is SEO?
Ever since the birth of the internet there have been search engines – software that tries to find all the sites relevant to a given search term a user types. And ever since there have been search engines, there have been people who try and manipulate them, wanting to be ahead of all the other results.
As for the search engines, all they want to do is ensure their users see the most relevant results as possible. And they generally don’t like it if you try and game the system.
The Death of the Keyword Field
In the early days, SEO was a simple matter. A web designer simply had to list about 10 “keywords” in a hidden field which Google used to classify the site. But web designers soon started “stuffing” keywords – repeating them over and over again in hidden places all over websites. In the end, search engines simply stopped considering these keywords at all for their rankings.
So how do they do it now?
Google & co are far more sophisticated these days. Given that people are always looking for ways to trick the system, they’re understandably very tight-lipped about how exactly they operate. Broadly though, there are 2 elements:
1) The site’s content
Google looks at: your site’s title, its headings, the images and its text to determine what you are offering. They’ve also gotten very clever at it, and any attempt to stuff a website with keywords will result in penalties. The simple answer is, as Google itself recommends, to build the site with the end user in mind: ask ‘what would someone type when looking for a business like mine’, or ‘what would a logical title for this page be’? Google likes content that reads like actual sentences, not artificially stuffed with keywords.
2) The site’s popularity
Google has several ways it tries to work out a site’s popularity. An obvious first one is how many visitors it gets. Next is how many other websites out there link to the site (these are called backlinks) – and, crucially, how popular those sites are themselves. The logic is simple but sound: if a thousand popular, well-ranked sites all independently have backlinks to your site, yours must be a decent one.
The Snake Oil Solution
Unfortunately, just as Google evolved, so did the snake oil salesmen. If you have a website yourself, I bet you get several unsolicited emails a week from companies offering SEO miracles: pure snake oil in a jar. Just as you wouldn’t give your credit card details to someone promising you unlimited cheap viagra, you should not trust anyone who emails out of the blue and promises you an instant jump to page 1 of Google. This cannot be achieved without cheating, and Google loves to punish cheaters.
Say you did reply to one of these unsolicited SEO emails. You pay over a wodge of cash and, lo and behold, two weeks later, your site is suddenly on page 1 just as promised. Result! But how did they achieve that? They haven’t touched your site’s content, so they must somehow have made it appear more popular. What this company has done is bombard the web with links to your site. They targeted news sites, blogs and directories and slapped in a backlink wherever they could. All of a sudden your site, which originally had 10 backlinks on the web, has thousands.
However, this is an artificial bump. The owners of the spammed sites will ultimately remove the backlinks and your ranking will eventually return to where was… if you’re lucky. Because Google checks to see where these backlinks are and how they came about. They also know how quickly these links appeared. Any site jumping from 10 to 10000 backlinks in the space of a week is clearly trying to cheat the system. Sites caught doing this suffer severe penalties and may even be removed totally from search results. So, can your snake oil spammer get you onto page 1? Yea, sure – briefly…
The Ethical Solution
Port 80 Services offers SEO as part of our web design service, but our approach is to focus uniquely on your site’s content. And not to blow our own trumpet too much, but we’re pretty good at it. The vast majority of the websites we build are easy to locate on the first page of Google for the search terms the owners wanted. We can’t guarantee your site will be on page 1, because there’s no way to do so without cheating, but we do guarantee your site will be made as Google-friendly as is ethically possible.