A recent rant by John Dvorak at PCMag.com, “SEO Fiascoes: The Trouble with Search Engine Optimization“, has thrown me for quite a loop. Considering the amount of time I’ve spent learning SEO and small business website design, I will be the first to admit that there are a slew of companies in operation today that take advantage of the ignorance surrounding search engine optimization in order to turn a quick buck – the inspiration for this blog came as a result of such charlatans, after all. I do, however, take exception to virtually every word of Mr. Dvorak’s rant, which is based entirely upon his own ignorance – without a shred of fact or truth.
The advice he was given, particularly with regard to the permalink structure of the URLs of his blog, was absolutely CORRECT. The problem lies, not with the suggestion his unnamed “SEO Maven” friend offered, but that this individual gave him only part of the information necessary in order to make the changes properly. Mr. Dvorak elected to run with this partial information and tackle the task of changing the URL structure of his blog without fully understanding the appropriate process for doing so, nor the necessary steps required to do it properly.
Therein lies the problem with search engine optimization: do-it-yourselfers armed with partial information and the over-reaching egos that lead them to believe a massive undertaking – like changing the URL structure of an entire site or blog – can be properly carried out based on the limited information provided during an IM conversation. I’d really encourage those who want to learn a little more about SEO to start with the basics – like, say…META tags. Here’s a good overview from my friend, Josh: “META Tags and SEO“. See, part of the problem with many who know something about SEO is that they neglect to understand that sharing tidbits of information, like “…you should be using long URLs…” (which, if quoted by Mr. Dvorak correctly is NOT the appropriate explanation), doesn’t provide whomever they’re speaking to with a realistic picture of what is involved in making such a massive change to an existing site or blog.
What Mr. Dvorak’s SEO pal neglected to mention was that before even considering making such a change, he should think long and hard about what the new URLs should be and that simply changing the URL structure in the permalinks settings of WordPress would not be enough. Nor was he properly advised to use the custom permalink structure /%postname%/, as to include only the title of the post in the URL – not the date.
Furthermore, Mr. Dvorak also neglected to edit the individual permalinks to include only the most pertinent information regarding the post’s topic and the applicable keywords. Like this post, for instance, whose URL is not http://www.seoaly.com/ignorant-do-it-yourselfers-and-their-seo-fiascoes-the-real-trouble-with-search-engine-optimization, but the more search engine friendly and user-friendly http://www.seoaly.com/real-trouble-with-search-engine-optimization instead.
Another thing not taken into account when Mr. Dvorak changed his URLs was: what will happen to any existing links to the old post URLs? You see, when permalinks are changed it will break the existing links to the old URL. Someone who fully understands SEO, rather than thinking they can glean all of the information needed from a brief IM conversation, would have understood that installing a plugin – like Redirection – would be necessary in order create a 301 redirect and to prevent any existing links from breaking as a result of the changes to the post URLs. Immediately creating a new sitemap and submitting it to Google would help to make them aware of the changes to the URL structure of the blog, as well – but I doubt that step was taken into consideration either.
Again, having a partial understanding of the process and not being aware of all that occurs when a post URL is changed was your undoing, Mr. Dvorak – not the advice that adjustments to the URLs would increase the optimization of the individual posts on your blog. This is no “trick”, as you claim – this is an accepted and effective SEO strategy that is not only employed by reputable SEOs, but actually recommended by Google and documented at the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog. Here are two of the many posts that give some insight into Google’s recommendations for URL structure: Dynamic URLs vs. Static URLs and Google’s SEO Starter Guide.
A further claim was made that making changes to the URLs “…does nothing” and that “…long URLs are crap and stupid.” Again, I question the use of the term “long URLs” and tend to believe the use of this improper terminology as further proof that he was not provided with the appropriate information initially. Nevertheless, this claim is based purely on ignorance, rather than being based in fact. Creating URLs that contain keywords, rather than simply the domain and “?p=3100″, as is the WordPress default format for URLs, DOES – in fact – have an impact on the ranking of the post in the search results. In much the same way that having a keyword in the domain itself helps to improve ranking, so does having the post’s main keywords in the URL string of the individual page or post. This is a fact and it is undisputed, as illustrated by the aforementioned posts at Google’s official webmaster blog.
You see, Mr. Dvorak, search engine optimization and learning all that is involved with it is a full time undertaking. Those of us involved in the industry do this all day, every day and – unlike you – have a complete understanding of the far-reaching implications and potential problems with changing the URL structure of a blog. Unlike you, we understand the big picture of the overall optimization of a site or blog. SEO is not something that should be tackled by just anyone completing task after task on a universal checklist. Your claim that SEO is snake oil speaks more to your ignorance than to fact. Making such a claim is the imbecilic equivalent of diagnosing someone with Appendicitis and attempting to remove their appendix based on the information available at WebMD, then proceeding to hold WebMD accountable when the patient dies on the table.