Bad Advice That Sounds Good

Nov 25th

Many professional lies are passed off as good information because they are just part of an industry vernacular or learning curve. For example, many people say make quality content, but never attempt to define what quality content is, or even how certain types of quality content are being marginalized by scrapers, social sites, user generated content, automated news sites, and search engines. Bad advice is frequently given out as though it is good advice because

  • people talk in terms of ideals because...

    • they want to justify the time they spent learning what they know

    • they want to justify the career path they chose (which may become a large part of their identity)
    • they buy into white lies that put themselves or others at the top of social networks
    • they get paid more if only a few people can do what they teach (supply vs demand, etc.)
  • professionals want to make their profession seem more complex than it is...
    • to lock new competitors out of their market

    • to feel proud of themselves for the hard work they do and all they know
    • to justify the fees they charge
    • they get paid more if only a few people can do what they teach (supply vs demand, etc.)
  • many people with authority only consider their worldview...
    • because they are insecure or it is all they know

    • or they realize that if they (or the market) were less idealistic they might lose their authority / income / market position
    • they get paid more if only a few people can do what they teach (supply vs demand, etc.)

A few white lies I hate...

  • Create quality content. Why do I hate it? If you don't have much brand recognition higher quallity content will lose out to average content. Most people never talk about the social aspects of the web when saying to create quality content.

  • Don't buy or sell links. Why do I hate it? The major search engines are the largest link brokers. Their guidelines are based on them extracting as much value from the web as possible, and many of them buy and sell links with intent to manipulate their own indexes or pollute other search engines. Most quality links are in one way or another bought. If I package value and give it away and then people link at it then I bought those links. If I list my site in the Yahoo! Directory I bought a listing.
  • Create your website for users, not for search engines. Why do I hate it? Search is marginalizing many publishing business models. To pay for the costs of creating linkworthy content it makes sense to add a significant amount of lower cost highly monetized filler to a website.
  • Used variable width liquid design. Why do I hate it? Using a fixed width design allows you greater control of the readability and ad integration (and thus monetization) for most of your target market on most content sites.
  • Validate your site. Why do I hate it? Most successful sites do not validate.

What web design / web development / SEO white lies do you see most often? Which ones frustrate you?

Published: November 25, 2006

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Comments

corey
November 27, 2006 - 8:36pm

Aaron you are right on about the w3c validator...the ends justify the means here. If "bad code" works what makes it bad?

The validator is great for finding syntax errors while working on large code sections, but as far as getting the green light it makes zero difference in the resulting site's performance.

Comments here say "but web professionals should conform to the standards." I say we should make the standards, and validating web page code shouldn't be one of them. It impacts nothing.

Peter Labrow
November 27, 2006 - 9:31pm

Garbage on most counts. You are essentially saying that you'll carry on doing below-par work because others do to. Try harder.

November 27, 2006 - 9:44pm

>Websites should be accessible, use standards compliant code

Most websites shouldn't spend the time necessary to do such if they are focused on achieving a reasonable ROI.

>To me, it seems that white lies turns into good advice, when you describe everything perfectly for a particular case. Just putting up the "Quality content" sign is just a teaser to taunt someone who doesn't know what 'quality content' is and it is annoying.

Spot on Yuri. That was what I was trying to say, but more eloquently, using fewer words.

>Lose out how? Traffic? ... SEO for adsense sites is clearly different than SEO for companies selling products or generating leads and your approach is very much focused on the former.

Yeah... I was mostly talking about traffic.

To be fair, I have talked about AdSense type monetization quite a bit recently, but I also have made many $1,000's from affiliate programs and direct product sales, and also realize that on some ecommerce type sites that less is more.

My point on losing out was that I have done things that were average(ish) when I was somewhat popular and seen them spread well, while some things that were of (IMHO) higher quality that were done when I was less popular went nowhere.

>Garbage on most counts. You are essentially saying that you'll carry on doing below-par work because others do to. Try harder.

See, that is the issue. Using your value system my work is below-par, but on using my value system my work is above-par.

I think the key to being successful is to try to be somewhat rounded, but heavily focus your energies on things you are great at. People will look past your flaws if you are unique and interesting.

In spite of disagreeing with this post you still felt the need to comment on it.

November 27, 2006 - 10:53pm

I can't count how many times I've been sucked into validation arguments. I'm inexplicably drawn to them in a strange moth to flame kind of way.

I have heard (as has Aaron no doubt) representatives from pretty much every major explicitly say validation doesn't impact your SERP. Obviously excepting grotesquely malformed pages/code that neither man nor machine could read.

If your site renders in all the major browsers, you have a listing in the search engines, and you're converting your traffic to dollars... what more validation do you need?

On the other hand if your site is so badly formed that spiders cant crawl it, you probably don't have a listing in search engines, you probably aren't rendering correctly in all the major browsers, and I seriously doubt you're converting any traffic to dollars. If that's the case, you sir, should think about validation.

Should you worry when the W3C freaks out and fails you over some attribute tags? I can't see it.

November 28, 2006 - 1:42am

Assuming there's a continuum of dead-earnest/serious and heh-heh-linkbait! type of postings, I'm a bit uncertian of where this post lies (no pun intended), but I'll take the bait anyway... primarily to yet once again clarify issues relating to links.

Google has no problems with people buying and selling links. That's called advertising. We do discourage the buying and selling of links for the purposes of manipulating search engine rankings.

Actually, let me quote directly from the our Webmaster guidelines:

Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

There is, admittedly, a bit of fuzziness in this, but cases we see quite often tend to be rather cut and dry. Buying a link on a high-PR site that happens to be in tiny font on the very bottom of a footer? Probably not being purchased as "advertising"... not for the purposes of drawing traffic or garnering brand recognition. As you might guess, those aren't the sort of links we see as trusted votes for a site.

* * *

I also take issue with the faulty logic that goes like this: "I see tons of crap content that does well in the search engines, therefore, there are no SEO-related advantages to creating quality content." Blah. I firmly believe (both from my prior SEO work and my current observations at Google) that -- in the aggregate -- quality content does better than crap content over time.

* * *

Creating a Web site to please search engines rather than users? Again, incredibly short-sighted. What our algorithms reward (or push down) today is likely to be quite different next month. Spending time to please your users -- having them return and refer friends -- is, IMHO, very clearly a superior long-term strategy compared with trying to reverse-engineer and/or trick the search engines.

* * *

Lastly... validation. I'd spend my efforts more on broad accessibility issues rather than precise validation wins.

November 28, 2006 - 3:50am

I must say, as a faux-famous, complete non-seo expert, student of Web Search little guy who's just trying his best at this wacky seo game, this post really did put some things into perspective for me.

You see, I'm a site owner trying to implement any trick, hack, link, content, IBL, contextual, SEO and SEM thing I can think of to get better rankings. Better rankings means I have a chance to put my brand of snake oil in front of more prospective customers, so they can decide whether to buy it or not.

So I have a few things I have to contend with, getting them to find me, and once they have, getting them to trust me.

>Create quality content
or
>Create your website for users, not for search engines.

First part, getting them to find me. I HAVE TO GET PEOPLE IN THE DOOR. I can advertise like an animal, but in all honesty, being a little guy, I can only advertise so much. I've had too many strange conversations with supposed PSEM's who tell me I have to spend $2000 in PPC to get about $15000, or some of the other BIG SALES NUMBERS they throw at me, worth of business. I understand advertising and marketing ratio's, thank you very much, and I know that's a pretty good PROPOSED RETURN, but do you remember what it takes to get $2000? How about $200, or even $20? Throwing money at a problem may be an answer, but THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES that PPC will get you business. There's a good CHANCE that it will, but I've got a lightbill to pay, and a wife that would like to eat a meal from time to time.

So, as a little guy, I have to rely on Search Engine Results. I like working on my SEO and SEM by hand, hour after hour, because it's demonstrable results. The time I spend might be counted as money, but Web surfers who SEARCH for something are coming to my site because that's what they are looking for. They where looking for what I can sell them. That's the good traffic.

So, "creating quality content" is, I think, a relative term. Basic, old fashioned, marketing and SALESMANSHIP take over, and the content you create is that content that will attract, inform, and create a demand for your snake oil. My customer wants to (virtually) see, smell, feel and taste the product I'm displaying for their perusal. So I use what I can to do that. It's words, in paragraphs or bullet points, pictures and whatever else I can come up with.

Aha, but here's the trick, I have to create that content in a way that will attract the SE's as well. Let me ask you this, how many times can you repeat a term, or a related term, in a grammatically correct manner, before you sound stupid? And, if you sound stupid, how many people do you know will buy a product from somebody who's stupid? I don't buy from stupid people, or shops. I buy from authority, and so do all of you.

"Creating a Web site to please search engines rather than users? Again, incredibly short-sighted. What our algorithms reward (or push down) today is likely to be quite different next month. Spending time to please your users -- having them return and refer friends -- is, IMHO, very clearly a superior long-term strategy compared with trying to reverse-engineer and/or trick the search engines."

So I agree with Aaron's point, and re-emphasize another one. Don't tell me that I need Quality Content, tell me how to mix quality content with what will attract a search bot.

>Validate your site

Web users, surfers....uhmm, the people OUT THERE, are not web-tech savvy professionals like Aaron or some of the responders to this post. They shop online, for goods or services, the way they shop in a store, or in a market, or wherever. All they need is a web page that renders in their browser of choice, in an attractive and professional way.

I've had several knock down, slobber knocker debates with standardistas who think that their website is more important than mine because it is 100% W3C compliant code and css. Great!! Fantastic!!! You are so freakin' awesome! Your website is technologically better than mine. I'm glad for you. But in no way, shape or form is your website MORE important than mine. It's not more important to the average web user who could care less about your compliant code, and since the average web user is spending money on my site, and not yours, I think that proves my point.

So MR. Justin Evans
"Websites should be accessible, use standards compliant code, and satisfy usability concerns; it's as simple as that. Search engine optimisation should never hinder the user's experience. This post is Bad Advice That Doesn't Even Sound Good!"

How come your site fails?
http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fhomeinbrighton.co.uk%2F&c...

Don't throw stones now!

SE's business in results, not code compliant results. End of story.

>Use variable width liquid design
This one is just dumb. Do you read books or magazines that are 3 feet wide. Didn't think so.

Ok Aaron, I'm sorry I hijacked your blog. I'll leave now. But I think my perspective is valid as well.

Oh, a white lie that I hate is.
Get quality, in bound links from relevant sources.

From who? I sell stuff, and guess what, the quality relevant sources can only come from sites that SELL THE SAME STUFF!! Do you think they want to send some business my way? What are the other sources? Blogs. I need a calculator to tell you how many blog owner have told me that they will be more than happy to talk about my site, as long as I pay them mucho dinero.

Aaron hit the head on a previous post. You have to get link creative.

November 28, 2006 - 6:21am

This comment section is great, such a clash of many worlds.

Couple of quick points.

I say we should make the standards, and validating web page code shouldn't be one of them. It impacts nothing.

We do make the standards, have you ever used Microformats on your site? This is being adopted by future releases of browsers but will definitely be an SEO factor in the future. Do you think people who don't care about code quality came up with these concepts?

Also validation with zero errors IS unrealistic for any commercial sites that 1) hack to make sites work cross-browser and 2) serve up any kind of adserver solution.

The point isn't total error free pages! It's about semantic, clean markup which no SEO here can deny the importance of. Validation of a site should be done to get rid of glaring problems at the beginning of a redesign (typos and extra code) and this does impact a websites performance.

Using your value system my work is below-par, but on using my value system my work is above-par.

Again, when your SEO work has impact on my development work (I am also an SEO) then I believe you have to think a bit broader than this. I worry about these attitudes across the SEO industry. You can do these things with limited impact on ROI.

Accessibility and Web Standards are NOT extras for web development. If they are then you need to find a new developer.

November 28, 2006 - 7:55am

Spot on Yuri. That was what I was trying to say, but more eloquently, using fewer words.

Well, then the point of the post is not that those cliches suck and the advice is cr@p. It is that people need to provide more clues about what they mean. A less detailed advice is still a quality one, if you start asking questions and it is not as low as to start exchanging links with anyone. "Create quality content" is a chance for someone to start thinking about it and provide value to his visitors, instead of venturing somewhere else.

November 28, 2006 - 8:48am

Hi again gleddy
I usually require compliant code (or at least nearly so) if I am paying good money for a site design, but if I design something myself it usually comes out a bit uglier.

Sufyan
November 28, 2006 - 1:41pm

Assuming there's a continuum of dead-earnest/serious and heh-heh-linkbait! type of postings, I'm a bit uncertian of where this post lies (no pun intended), but I'll take the bait anyway... primarily to yet once again clarify issues relating to links.

Adam Lasnik-

Is this the meaning of "DO NO EVIL" that:

Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.

- There, you discourage SEOs to trick search engines.
- And you encourage publishers to trick visitors (by letting them blend your AdSense ads.)

Make pages for users, not for search engines.

- There, you emphasize on creating pages for the users not search engines.

- And you emphasize by showing examples of web layouts to display Adsense for better CTR.

Double-policy? Hehe...

November 28, 2006 - 3:57pm

My point on losing out was that I have done things that were average(ish) when I was somewhat popular and seen them spread well, while some things that were of (IMHO) higher quality that were done when I was less popular went nowhere.

Yet which of those things made you more popular? Reputation is built on quality content. If your book were saying nothing special, if your content was nothing special, nobody would be reading this blog or hearing you disparaging what made you.

You think I have a reputation because one day, all by magic, the SEOs of the world thought, lets make Ammon popular? Content built the popularity, for me and for most any other name you could recognise.

Frank
November 28, 2006 - 9:15pm

Many sophisticated consumers may put more trust into a website that is validated than not. Why loose few customers just because your website does not validate.

Great topic. Thank you Aaron.

November 28, 2006 - 9:57pm

The same could be said for spelling lose vs loose there Frank. I make the same error you just did, and don't really fault you for it, but that is an example of another thing where people may trust vs not trust you.

My point is more that most of us do not have enough time to be both a coding expert and a topic specific expert who keeps learning and teaching...especially off the start, when we have a lot to learn and getting exposure might be an uphill battle.

Totally agree that the hard work and perceived quality is what builds brand and reputation Ammon.

Kim Krause Berg
November 29, 2006 - 3:59am

My point is more that most of us do not have enough time to be both a coding expert and a topic specific expert who keeps learning and teaching...especially off the start, when we have a lot to learn and getting exposure might be an uphill battle.

I sense another topic rolling around your head, Aaron. Another hot one too. I love your honesty and willingness to look at the world with your eyes wide open. Thank you.

Azhar Malik
November 29, 2006 - 8:47am

"Hi again gleddy I usually require compliant code (or at least nearly so) if I am paying good money for a site design, but if I design something myself it usually comes out a bit uglier.

aaron wall on November 28, 2006 01:48 AM"

Aaron does that mean if one can afford to pay than it is not such a bad advice? ;-). With firefox taking a chunk of market share from explorer, doesnt it make sensce to validate, to make sure all your web traffic is seeing what you want them to see. Just logical, from accessibility stand point. Also it might not help SEO directly but can effect your conversion data.

"I am grateful that the validator exists as a tool to help me make my site more accessible. I would prefer to validate and I respect the goal, but it seems like a stretch to relate it to search marketing.

Gradiva Couzin
http://www.yourseoplan.com/ "

100% on target

November 30, 2006 - 1:04pm

I agree with most of these points and have been guilty of falling into the trap of saying "Content is king" without necessarily saying why.

I note that some people have reacted strongly to saying anything negative against validation. Aaron is right, some of the best sites don't validate and some of the ones that do are so dull.

e.g. http://www.useit.com/

By all means strive to validate as much as you can, make your site as accessible as you can but don't go so far as to become a zealot on web standards. The web is littered with homogeneous, standards compliant, validating sites. Boundaries will never be pushed if we pander to everyone in a safe validating standards compliant way.

December 1, 2006 - 8:08am

One thing people seem to be overlooking with validation is it's not exactly hard to do. Some of the comments here would lead you to believe it's going to take hours on end to validate a site. In truth it takes the same amount of time to develop a site that validates as it does to develop one that doesn't validate.

December 1, 2006 - 10:48am

My point is more that most of us do not have enough time to be both a coding expert and a topic specific expert who keeps learning and teaching...especially off the start, when we have a lot to learn and getting exposure might be an uphill battle.

But you have to do your job at its best, so you have to learn the new indsutry, before you start working in it. Learning information is easy.

So being an expert in a topic is a requirement for a successful SEO/marketing job, IMHO.

There are lots of things you can do, before the project starts, while learning the new topic, so it is just another step in the process.

But when it comes to doing something with your hands, I'll agree with you, that not everyone can design, code (HTML/CSS/PHP), write text, SEO, market, improve usability and accessibility. Learning the trade requires not only knowledge, but skills and experience.

Jay
December 3, 2006 - 4:15am

Validate your site. Why do I hate it? Most successful sites do not validate.

Just because most successful sites don't doesn't mean that being validated is why other sites don't succeed. I think the better advice on this one would've been: validate, but don't expect that alone to make you succeed.

November 25, 2006 - 8:08am

Good article, but most of your points are not really "white lies" but more like opinions.

I tend to agree with your take on this (i.e. most of the opinions along the lines described are wrong), but I don't believe that in the majority of the cases, people are intentionally lying (they're just misguided).

Or, perhaps I'm just too naive. :)

December 3, 2006 - 12:39pm

Validate first...ask questions later...where is the sense in that logic Jay?

November 25, 2006 - 9:45am

"Don't buy or sell links" Yes, the hypocricy is a problem - recently Adam Lasnik posted (Google Groups, I think) that one fix for supplemental problems is to get more links.
Good answer, but this is from Google? They who tell us not to buy links, not to get reciprocal links... but somehow we are supposed to 'get' them?
I didn't bother posting a response. Too much like spitting into a fan :(

November 25, 2006 - 10:24am

I hate the comment that my boss makes of "Just whack a few meta tags in there and it's sorted". SEO is so much more than that (was we all know), hell some people could argue that meta tags don't make a difference.

Obviously this is a "mis-informed white lie", but still gets my goat non-the-less.

November 25, 2006 - 11:00am

Well I think these so called white lies are the most common terms used in the SEO industry.Yes I do agree that one can simplify these terms but mostly that changes the whole meaning. I find them to be regular terms and nothing else.

November 25, 2006 - 11:29am

This is a great post--very true! I really find that on panels at conferences and often times on blogs as well you read how things "should be done" as opposed to "how they are done." It was cool hearing you at PubCon!

December 4, 2006 - 12:32pm

Dianes comments:

where the general idea conveyed is that if you've considered search engines *at all* in building a site, you're a spammer.

Yup thats exactly what happened to me on a certain forum when I displayed my own website... some people just don't get it...

Daz

Adam
November 25, 2006 - 2:30pm

Validating your site is a bad advice? You gotta be joking. Making a site that does not validate means you don't really know how to make a website.
It's like black hat and white hat SEO, only with guys who make websites. You got what you want, so why bother making it good if it takes more time.

November 25, 2006 - 6:24pm

The biggest lie of all may be Google saying they want to make the best search engine of all.

They just want to get money.

If they didn't have adwords and adsense where would be Google now ?

Web and SEO is just about money and all lies goes around saying that people don't care about money or power.

November 25, 2006 - 6:30pm

The most frustrating "white lies" are those companies set as policy or strategy. This specifically plays into your "many people with authority only consider their world view" point. I'd argue that is as damaging as what some so called pundits do within our industry.

Companies either read an article (automatically becoming experts) or have a bad experience with the web. This in turn shapes their policy moving forward. They refuse to try something new or revisit an old strategy because they are the experts. I believe this is a big reason why most companies fail online.

November 25, 2006 - 7:01pm

Wow- strong post. I agree with you strongly on most of this, but I wanted to kinda defend the "create quality content" piece a bit.

Hearing this used to piss me off more than anything, because so many shitty sites with bad content outranked my sites based on their links alone... but now that I have my own little self reinforcing market position on my main vertical, the one thing that has helped me maintain that is thinking outside the box with content.

Content, not just as in text, but as in tools, buzz discounts, etc. We're beefing up our offline marketing efforts just to have more content.

Those who marginalize the content are just the same as those who chase the top dog's link portfolio. The top dog can stay on top if they continue to will implement more and more outside the box thinking / linking and the competition will continue to chase the links.

Same with content. If you are the perennial innovator you'll stay ahead of those who try and steal your shit. After all, a site with crappy content and tons of links is one of two things: an emtpy shell and / or an easy target to ban for crappy linking.

Aaron
November 25, 2006 - 7:01pm

The white lie that tables are dead/evil etc. I'd imagine so many new CSS converts are trying to reinvent the wheel because of this one, it should have been 'use tables for what they were intended', holding tabular data.

Totally agree with the liquid design issue, not only for readability but using fixed width can be used for greater control over the site design, I've seen some really well designed sites using fixed width.

Most design forums having a Flash vs CSS which is best thread. They're both best at what they do, although I don't really use Flash much these days and really loathe how some people use it I do believe it still has it's place.

November 25, 2006 - 7:42pm

Content is King is one of those myths that some stick to because it suits their purpose.

Good quality does NOT always beat second rate quality. Good marketing trumps good quality (VHS/Betamax, Apple/Microsoft)

But it's an easy black and white view that more often than not pays off. Or used to pay off. Or used to pay off for the Old Guard in the early, non-hyper-competitive internet.

Desirea
November 25, 2006 - 7:58pm

I agree with what's been said. I think you've hit the nail on the head Aaron. It seems like some SEOs hide behind the "quality content" mantra to hide some of the other tactics they use. The things I've discovered them hiding have all been things that are easily discovered through research. While I do think quality content is important, I really don't think it's the only thing you've got to have going in an effective SEO campaign.

November 25, 2006 - 7:58pm

I disagree about validation. Deaf people shop online. Visually-impaired people shop online too. Are you telling webmasters to ignore that market?

If I have a choice between a website that validates and a website that doesn't validate, guess where my dollars goes to?

November 25, 2006 - 8:40pm

Not exactly about web design/development/SEO, but I think this is a good example:

http://www.funshop.ch/catalog/images/artikel/26388.jpg

November 25, 2006 - 9:42pm

some people could argue that meta tags don't make a difference.

but those people would not be considering CTR from search results.

Making a site that does not validate means you don't really know how to make a website.

Why read and post comments on broken sites then? Because for most people validation doesn't matter.

It's like black hat and white hat SEO, only with guys who make websites. You got what you want, so why bother making it good if it takes more time.

Nothing wrong with seeing returns from your work. Any SMART business person will likely consider the point of diminishing returns when planning out how well to execute a business plan, and what criteria is important.

If I have a choice between a website that validates and a website that doesn't validate, guess where my dollars goes to?

My site does not validate.
Neither does yours.
http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.deafbiz.com%2Fweblog%2F

Adam
November 26, 2006 - 12:31am

Make your site accessible for blind people. Why do i hate it? Most people are not blind.

I hope you get it this way.

November 26, 2006 - 3:08am

Except if you are a big brand and dont want to get sued for not being blind friendly - like Target was ... see the cnet news article for those that are interested....

http://news.com.com/2100-1030-6038123.html

November 26, 2006 - 7:17am

I have problems with SEO-centric advice that does not consider accessibility or web standards based design.

Why do I hate this? We are supposed to be web professionals (including all of the SEO experts) and should consider how all of this SEO advice affects the site as a whole.

"Most successful sites do not validate" - so this means you don't have to worry about it? Not a good attitude.

November 26, 2006 - 9:13am

Oh wow, I'm surprised to see the fighting about validation. Not long ago I received an email from a website owner whose SEO consultant had just told her that she needed to pay some amount - maybe it was $5000 - to get her site to pass validation. And she was being told that it was an SEO issue. Pretty outrageous, don't you think? Maybe that's the context of the "white lie" that Aaron is describing.

I am grateful that the validator exists as a tool to help me make my site more accessible. I would prefer to validate and I respect the goal, but it seems like a stretch to relate it to search marketing.

Gradiva Couzin
http://www.yourseoplan.com/

November 26, 2006 - 10:12am

Accessibility is a major bug bear for me.

Professionals often give contradictory advice (as do users for that matter).

A while back I followed an expert's advice about making fonts and page layouts scalable/fluid to make a site I was working on more accessible. We tested it on a small area of the site.

We got more complaints about text size being too small in 3 days (dozens) than we'd had in the previous 3 years (1 or 2/year for the entire site). We went back to the old way of doing things pretty sharpish.

As a result I usually end up going with what feels right.

November 26, 2006 - 12:42pm

Excellent post. Infact one of the most interesting posts I've read on this blog, despite it being a generalized opinion peace.

Concerning "Create your website for users, not for search engines."

Another example of how this is a white lie is the need to use keyword phrases in title and header tags. It may be better for users to see more creative headers, but doing so will greatly effect your search engine rankings. This is especially true if the site is new or has only a few links with keyword rich anchor text pointing at it.

Russ
November 26, 2006 - 8:02pm

Validation... I tend to only take this into account if the client asks for it. I also think that validation / accessibility are two separate things - a site that validates from a tech point of view is unlikely to have fulfilled all the requirements necessary for an 'accessible' site. My preferred solution is to have two sets of pages running side by side - one graphical, one purely text based - which is easy enough to handle with dynamic sites and ensures you don't bend your brain trying to create a 'one size fits all' bunch of code.

Sufyan
November 26, 2006 - 9:12pm
November 26, 2006 - 9:15pm

I think this article just reinforces the the idea that if someone tells you soemthing that you dont truly beleive or have a weird feeling about it, its not always true because an expert said it.

November 26, 2006 - 10:01pm

The biggest reason above all else misinformation in SEO work so damn well is it polarizes people. Strong opinions yield strong reactions where facts alone keep readers sleeping. The eyeballs biased worldviews generate more than makes up for any loss of credibility you may suffer from stacking one opinion on top of another.

Why do people say "build quality content?" Because we're too busy to bother doing our own homework. Instead, we constantly hand in other people's homework (while pretending we did them ourselves).

"build quality content" Why do I hate hearing that, too? Not because its untrue. If you go around telling people "DON'T build quality content" people will think you're nuts. I hate that line because its terribly unpacked to the point of uselessness. Nobody really knows how to "build quality content."

November 26, 2006 - 10:04pm

> Create your website for users, not for search engines

This is a pretty blanket statement which lacks any sort of context with which to evaluate it. What does it mean? Don't auto-generate pages solely for ranking? Or don't consider search engines at all when building a site?

And yet I've seen this statement taken to the ne plus ultra (the ultimate) in forums, where the general idea conveyed is that if you've considered search engines *at all* in building a site, you're a spammer. And I mean SEO forums, where they're on the one hand trying to guide members into proper optimization of their sites and, on the other, counsel them that they're not to consider search engines while building them. Try doing that!

It's a preposterous situation, very much like saying "build your car for yourself only without taking into consideration the circumstances in which you'll have to drive it". (Well, cars are too narrow; I'd like a really w-i-d-e car, ya know.)

So, without clarification or context, the statement leaves people to evaluate where and how it fits into the scheme of things; unfortunately, some don't do so well with it.

November 27, 2006 - 1:20am

I have problems with SEO-centric advice that does not consider accessibility or web standards based design.

Why do I hate this? We are supposed to be web professionals (including all of the SEO experts) and should consider how all of this SEO advice affects the site as a whole.

"Most successful sites do not validate" - so this means you don't have to worry about it? Not a good attitude.

I have problems with standards-centric advice that does not consider marketing or web visibility.

Why do I hate this? We are supposed to be web professionals (including all of the design experts) and should consider how all of this design advice affects the web as a whole.

"Most successful sites do not validate" - so this means you don't have to worry about it? Not a good attitude.

And why does validation matter? Because your pay / market position / sense of self worth depends on people believing it?

The web is not a great place because of professionals who uphold standards. The web is great because amatures are able to share their passion with others, even if they use imperfect code. Most people using the web do not care about coding.

Amateurs seek fame, sharing information and ideas to help build it. It is the aggregate demand created by making information accessible to MOST people which makes it possible for amateurs to build their market position into something substantial. I have done well without validating. Maybe I would do better if I did, but validating is a waste of time for most people trying to build a brand from scratch.

November 27, 2006 - 2:43am

The web is great because amatures are able to share their passion with others, even if they use imperfect code. Most people using the web do not care about coding.

That is very true and most people shouldn't care about validation. If you are worried about a purist standards argument here it's not where I am going.

But what concerns me is an SEO industry that has 1) disregard or 2) ignorance towards other important factors in the industry today such as web standards (browser compatibility, future proofing, page download times) and accessibility (the web for everyone)

SEO's must understand the medium they are influencing just as an online journalist must change their writing styles to adapt to the online space rather than print. When you are a professional consultant, it is your job to see the bigger picture and know these things.

This blog does seem more aware of these issues than many, it just frustrates me to see SEO's in my local industry producing pages that rank well, but take us back to what I have seen produced circa 1999.

Good post by the way, love to hear strong opinions on this stuff.

November 27, 2006 - 3:12am

Amateurs seek fame, sharing information and ideas to help build it. It is the aggregate demand created by making information accessible to MOST people which makes it possible for amateurs to build their market position into something substantial.

Ouch. I seek fame. And I share tons of info to help build it. And I like interesting content.

I suck big time.

Anyways...

Sites don't NEED to validate in order to work properly. If they look right in all browsers and don't blow anything up and convert and stuff, who gives a shit (unless you are a coder trying to prove you CAN do it). They are standards GUIDELINES, not requirements.

And- If it doesn't hurt your design, there is no reason not to make your site accessible. It's quick and easy for the most part, and only people (like me) who are lazy can / should look past it.

Sites with thousands to millions of daily visitors cannot usually afford to look past such a large market... marketing works by trimming percentage points and margins and to just let stuff go like that is dumb.

On the flipside, if you have a site with a small defined market (like your personal blog for instance) who gives a shit. Do whatever you want.

Shake your money maker mofos, and stop arguing over BS that really doesn't add up to a thing. In the end, it is a webmasters' discretion and a reader's / visitor's choice. Do it the way you want to and find out for youself what works instead of taking someboy else's word for it.

November 27, 2006 - 3:44am

Interesting post Aaron and I think that your right on the money with your comments. There's plenty of SEO advice floating around and the one's I dislike most are usually from business type magazines advising businesses on how to implement their online presence both in creating a website and ranking in the search engines. Most of the information in most cases is second rate and outdated at best and I can only laugh knowing that many people will take this information as gospel SEO.

I'm an advocate for web page validation, however it has a long way to go before we can use it successfully. There's still so many areas of web design that can't be implemented successfully under all circumstances and I have doubts that we'll ever get there because of the evolution and pace of the web. In my opinion I don't think it really makes much if any of a difference to a site's ranking anyway from my experience. I've seen plenty of sites that were created using frontpage with tonnes of proprietary code add to the source, totally done by an amateur and they were ranking pretty well for their target market.

Taking everything into account I think the way you approach SEO, and web standards for a site depends on what your goals are for the site and what you are trying to achieve.

November 27, 2006 - 5:31am

I think the list was designed more to stir up a controversy than anything based on fact. But a I do agree with your premise that almost all links are "purchased" one way or another.

November 27, 2006 - 1:12pm

Websites should be accessible, use standards compliant code, and satisfy usability concerns; it's as simple as that. Search engine optimisation should never hinder the user's experience. This post is Bad Advice That Doesn't Even Sound Good!

November 27, 2006 - 1:16pm

No, really, Aaron, do you think the advice you quoted above is wrong?

Maybe you just don't like the way it is provided in?

If any of the advice is given with a lot of details (context, if you will), it'll be solid advice. So why negate 'creating quality content' or 'creating the site for the users'?

Normally, creating quality content means creating useful information, entertaining information, tools or anything else that the visitors will use. Doing everything for the users means that your customers will get what they want and you will, too.

Then again, one thing that most people forget, when they say that sites should be designed for the humans, is that search engines need to be taken into account. A site has to be crawlable and you have to use keywords in page titles anyway.

Then again, if you create a page for a human, you'll create a descriptibe meta description and an attractive (aimed at CTR and keywords) title.

To me, it seems that white lies turns into good advice, when you describe everything perfectly for a particular case. Just putting up the "Quality content" sign is just a teaser to taunt someone who doesn't know what 'quality content' is and it is annoying.

November 27, 2006 - 5:00pm

Aaron, I think you're 100% dead on with linking. I think Matt Cutts is great, but I know I have heard him say it, "you shouldn't buy or sell links."

When you really thing about it though, isn’t Google Adwords the largest link buying program in the world? I know everyone will tell me that is paid search, and it's different than buying links for SEO, but the intention is ultimately the same for the buyer, no?

Isn't Google Adsense the largest link selling program in the world? Don't believe me? Ask any webmaster to run Adsense for free, the fact is, they are in the link selling business and have partnered with Google.

Really though, when a site owner buying Adwords, or links from a broker, they have the same intent in mind. They are hoping to monetize their website in the end.

I just find it ironic that Google has built a massive business out buying and selling links, but tells webmasters that it is not ok.

November 27, 2006 - 7:32pm

"Create quality content. Why do I hate it? If you don't have much brand recognition higher quallity content will lose out to average content."

Lose out how? Traffic? Shitty content doesn't convert leads. It does however, lead users to click on ads when you're running an adsense site.

SEO for adsense sites is clearly different than SEO for companies selling products or generating leads and your approach is very much focused on the former. That is the SEO white lie that annoys me.

September 25, 2007 - 8:45am

My personal favorite SEO white lie that I love to hate is the idea that all black hats always get punished in the search results. For the keywords I optimize for there are a tonne of sites on the first SERP for Google that clearly use black hat methods.

Also, for all of you who argue that the web is there for amateurs to express themselves where have you been for the last 7 years? Sure amateurs can express themselves online, but the vast majority will do it on someone else's blog or on MySpace/Facebook and make the owners of those sites rich by contributing unique content.

On this note, Google are also scumbags for introducing the no-follow tag. It isn't reducing spam, the spam is still there on unmoderated forums. What it is doing is reducing the ability of people to express what they think is worth-while and what is not on the internet. Since they have lost this ability, you can be pretty certain that the value of a resource is now determined by SEO's and large corporations with budgets to basically buy links.

Another pet hate of mine is that idea that keyword density doesn't affect or is unimportant for SEO. Title tags and headings are part of that keyword density and guess what, Google notices these. You may as well say 'Google ignores the body copy of your site'. Until real artificial intelligence is developed, keyword density will always play a role in SERPs results.

Also, I hate the assumption that Google is the best search engine. It is not - it is simply the most marketed, and it's marketing power comes from selling links.

For those of you who think a w3c valid page is "accessible" that is nonsense. Try putting your site through a reader like JAWS, which will provide you with much more accurate data on how accessible your site is. As for w3c validation itself, I consider it important from a programmatic perspective - otherwise you are basically giving a hand to companies like Microsoft who push dodgy wysiwyg which are more usuable on the author's end in favour of better semantic technologies which are more accessible on the user's end.

September 27, 2007 - 5:51am

Lots of great rants in there! :)

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