SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is important
SEO is important for anyone who runs a website or a blog. Blogs are websites, too. Read this commentary, and decide if you should worry about SEO.
Believe it or not, I set out to make this a short article, but that was difficult. It relates to a complex issue: How to influence people, many people, through using the Internet. It also relates to some things that make it difficult to achieve that. I dropped the fleeting thought of keeping it short. By the way, SEO is a misnomer. It is not the optimizing of search engines but the optimizing of web pages, so that search engines get to like them and give them a high rank on account of it, but that is mostly what this blog post is all about. Read on and all about how I, an amateur, fought my way through SEO.
“You should write a book!”
People often told me that I should write a book. The incongruous thing about those suggestions is that they were made often, and that they were made via the Internet, through e-mails, in chat rooms and on bulletin boards (that was when there were not yet any web browsers).
Time went by. The suggestions came more often, even though people were increasingly being influenced by information they received via the Internet and ever increasingly less by reading printed text in newspapers, news-magazines and books. The publishing industry suffered. It suffered a beating that got worse, but the suggestions that I should write a book kept coming.
I knew how much work it would be to write a book and get it published, that I was not a well renowned author (nor even a very good one), and what my limitations were as a writer. I knew that it would not be very likely that a book I would write and get published would reach many people, let alone influence many of those.
Running a website and watching it grow
As soon as I could afford it, I launched a website, first with a free add-on to MSWord, called “Internet Assistant.” Then I progressed to Netscape, from there to MS FrontPage, and then to MS Expression Web.
MS FrontPage was a good tool to use, for standardizing page layout and design, as well as for correcting some flaws, primarily the checking for and repairing the integrity of links, both external (close to 5,000) and internal (about 45,000), in about 2003.
MS Expression was an even better tool, because it substantially improved my effectiveness and productivity in maintaining and polishing my website, although most of that finishing work was largely invisible to visitors, even though it aimed at increasing the visibility of the website.
Initially I had hoped that the website would come to attract 30,000 visitors a year, at the end of the first year of being online. The results were better, about 45,000. The number of visitors grew exponentially, causing me to hope that perhaps it would come close to what the number of visitors was, annually, for the website of the Alberta Report Newsmagazine, about 250,000 a year. It did that and kept growing in popularity.
By 2007, the annual number of visitors to fathersforlife.org was close to 1.5 million. That was very encouraging, but by that time many things were making themselves felt. It had become a massive job, taking about 10 hours a day, 24/7, and often as much as 24 hours a day (no kidding) to keep up. In one year alone, I spent most of the time working with the website to make sure of catering to what was becoming increasingly much more important than any of the other things I had been doing with the website (which by now had grown to about a 1000 web pages). That was and still is—for every web designer worth his salt—search engine optimization.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs. profit
SEO ensures that a website and individual web pages are ranked high on search-return lists. It is not the optimization of search engines, it optimizes web pages, so that search engines will “like” optimized web pages more than web pages that have not been so optimized. The web pages listed in the top-ten entries on search-return lists are optimally ranked, those in the top-20-30 not so much but still are very likely to be looked up, while a web page that ranks in 31st place or lower is a “further ran” in the competition for popularity.
I am neither a professional writer nor a web designer. The learning curve was steep. The demands that had to be met to make the most of what needed to be done were steadily becoming more and more challenging, not just in time spent, but also in having to buy software that made the job of meeting those demands easier but nevertheless increasingly-more barely possible, for anyone with limited time and financial resources.
SEO is necessary because of what search engines do: analyzing web page content, indexing it – so that it can be found, and ranking it—so that web pages that appear to pertain to search terms used will be ranked according to how relevant they are. Efforts at SEO, at least to some extent, must also consider what search engine providers want. That is, to make a profit. They make a profit by making those web pages that provide the best opportunities for spreading advertising the most popular, not necessarily those that contain the best and most constructive or enlightening information. The spreading of advertising is the bread and butter of search engine providers as well as that of information providers who rely on the spreading of advertising to make a living and their profits.
Those who are motivated by lofty ideals and any other, perhaps philanthropic, reasons to spread information, no matter how good it is, are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their intentions compete with those of others who use, say, pornography, gossip, sports, the weather and the news to spread advertising to make money.
Search-engine providers and others, who use search engines to have the pages popularized to make money from promoting advertising, are allies.
Those who primarily make money from the spreading of advertising but not so much because they wish to offer information of value soon gave rise to the term “click bait” to designate what they do: cash in on an opportunity to make money, while offering little or nothing of value to go along with that. Search engine providers make life difficult for the opportunists, by forcing standards on website design and layout that stress the value of information. It stands to reason that the standards favour information that is popular.
Information that is not so popular, or that is, moreover, politically incorrect, is not conducive to promoting advertising and the incomes that can be derived from that. All of that is bad news for activists who feel that they are fighting for a worthy cause but whose cause is politically incorrect, say anti-feminist or conservative sentiments.
Many frustrated activists who hope to raise the world’s consciousness about their cause feel that they oppose a formidable army of liberals and feminist at the search-engine providers that have only one thing in mind, to snuff the flame of knowledge offered by conservatives, anti-feminists, Libertarians, etc… They are wide off the mark. They fail to realize that there is not necessarily ill will involved. They are butting up against the mundane reality of what drives corporations: Profit!
Although they may well be better for all in the long run, popular causes make no or little money for search engine providers in the heat of the moment. Short term gains are always better liked than uncertain ones that are far off in the future. The accounting rate of return and annual net profits are boss. Companies like Google may well have more than their fair share of liberal, anti-conservative employees, but that is not so much because they have a liberal political agenda, as it is that those employees are better at making sure their corporations make money by promoting what is politically correct. Political correctness ensures lots of clicks and thereby large profits, political correctness that opposes it does not.
All of that influences the standards for ranking algorithms used by search engine providers. None of it helps activists labouring to promote politically incorrect causes. At best, it causes them a lot of work.
SEO helps to Improve Web-Page Ranking
Above, I had briefly mentioned the work it takes to cater to the standards applied by search-engine providers when they rank web pages. I figure that in that one year I spent a little over an hour per web page to do SEO. Not to put too fine a point on it, at that time I focused on three aspects of that in the web page code, the Meta fields called: “Title”, “Description”, and “Keywords”. Roughly,
- Title: The title of the web page
- Description: A summary or abstract of what the given web page is all about. It must be short, as it contains what will be shown in the entry that will be contained in the list of entries that comprise the search return that anyone obtains when having searched for specific key words on the Internet
- Keywords: A list of the pertinent keywords that show up in the first 400 words of the text of a web page
- The interrelation of those three Meta fields amongst each other, and their relationships each and collectively to the aspects of the web page they represent. The parameters for that are dictated by the search engines. Not that I ever got a good grip on all of that, but I did a lot of reading and searching for information from good sources of information on that, and then some more reading, time and again.
If you figure that your website or blog needs SEO, then you are probably correct.
The precise parameters for that vary a little from search engine to search engine, but the details I used for those parameters covered what the most popular search engines used. Just to do that improved the ranking for my website. In the space of one year the annual numbers of visitors had increased from 240,000 per year to more than 800,000 a year, then to more than a million, and then to 1.5 million, annually, but there were problems that I became increasingly less capable of coping with.
SEO was and is becoming ever more difficult, requiring more work per web page. New software came on the market to make that work easier. Still, although there were no longer enough hours in the year to permit me to do what was needed to do a good job with SEO, I had even less money to buy the software required to make it easier, less error-prone, and to keep up with the ever-increasing complexity of SEO.
SEO had helped me to popularize the product of my work. That did not make me rich. It cost me money, but it gave me a good feeling that the work I did had more impact when a lot of people knew about it, whereas doing a little less work on SEO would only ensure that most of what work I did remained unknown to many people.
Over the years, I stayed in touch with most men’s and fathers’ rights activists in Canada and monitored the health and popularity of their websites. Much work went into some of them, little did into others. Except for two, all had low ranks, all received very little traffic, some so little that Alexa.com could not even rank them. I explained many times to many individuals what they would have to do and what not to do. No one ever took it to heart.
I know of one activist who was a prolific writer and collector of information, but whom it took years to be convinced that it was better to have many webpages linked through a hierarchical index than to have only one web page into which to stick it all. His web page took up to 15 minutes to load, often resulting in a crash of my browser. He most certainly never worried about SEO. What a waste of brain power and effort!
It is much the same with many “activists” who use Facebook. Facebook does little for activism but helps to fan the flames of public opinions, although not much more than voicing one’s opinions does in that respect when commuting via bus or having a coup of coffee at work. Such opinions may have a bit of an impact, collectively, but they cannot be equated to something like the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon was recorded. It can be and has been quoted. Very few casual conversations are ever recorded. As far as leaving lasting impressions, vastly most of them have about as much impact on the few people they reach as does speaking into the wind.
SEO Improves the Ranking of Blogs
Blogs are websites. Blog posts are individual web pages. Ranking is done the same way as is the ranking of any other websites and web pages. Anyone running a blog who neglects SEO will have the same results that he obtains when he ignores SEO on any other website: little traffic and few visits and page views.
I knew that, when I started a blog, dads&things, a few years ago. Yet, I neglected to worry about SEO for that blog, but no more.
Life is what happens when one had other plans, and life threw me a few curves. A couple of times the blog and my website got hacked into. Nothing bad happened, except that a few months ago things got so bad, even though I had already been forced to deactivate logging-in and subscribing (the blog can still be visited), and WordPress had been running on it in Safe Mode, preventing even me from making changes or updates. That problem was fixed a little over a month ago, and already the blog received last months 1,500 visits and 2450 page views. That is not bad, after a couple of months of virtually no traffic, but it won’t get much better, unless I do SEO, and there is a plug-in for Word Press that is just the tool for that.
I used the free version of it for a day now. I am so impressed by what it does and can do to make SEO easy, with a dynamic interface for any blog post that I am writing, that I decided to upgrade to Yoast SEO Premium. If you have ever done SEO, you will appreciate what this software package is able to do. Check it out. If you are using Word Press and have not tried Yoast SEO, you will quite likely not be disappointed.
After I have installed the upgrade for Yoast SEO premium, I will know more.
Note: I now worked with the basic version of Yoast SEO for a little more and found that, as of now, I just have to learn more about how to use it.
A couple of the flaws or shortcomings—I wrongly believed, it has—were in reality caused by my lack of expertise. So, I will hold off on buying an upgrade to Yoast SEO Premium, until I know that I need it. The upgrade would not have solved my finger problems or lack of comprehension. But I am impressed by it.
Not only does it tell me what I am doing wrong, it tells me what I am doing right, and it is nice to be able to instantly see how I am doing trying to do it right.
I should also mention that it will tell whether any of the previous work I did is still up to snuff, when search engine parameters change and when it requires me to fix certain things. Nothing like that has happened yet, but after I installed and activated the plug-in, it checked the whole blog, all 900 blog posts of it, to tell me that I had some work to do and what that is.
It does indicate in the list of blog posts which ones have been optimized, how well they have been optimized, and tells me which pages have not yet been optimized at all.
SEO will not help against or alleviate outright censorship
There is not much one can do to oppose or to get search engine providers to amend their decisions and algorithms affecting websites or web pages they do not like for whatever reasons. Regardless of how popular a web page is, such as the one with the weekly numbers of page views of an article dealing with sex-ed shown in the graph just shown above, such a page can be made popular by SEO, through improving its rank, but when it gets to be popular, it attracts attention.
The whole website containing it may be rated adult content. That will reduce the traffic to the whole website containing it. There are tools, such as parental control, or telecommunication providers like O2, in Europe, who dictate proof of age, for anyone who uses internet access provided by them. That is being done, not just for individual websites but for categories of websites, and that has a very noticeable effect on website traffic. That is what had happened with that sex-ed page. That web page is under targeted censorship.
The rapid drop-offs in traffic volumes have nothing to do with website or page ranking. They are the result of categorizing and even blocking websites from being listed in search return lists. Someone searching for them and for other webpages from the given website who did not provide proof of age will not even know that the website exists, because it is not in his list of results of searches, let alone being unable to access it if he did know what the URLs for such a web page or website.
No one should even remotely think that the general public’s interest in the issue of sex education drops over night to nothing or to a small fraction of what it was hours before, when it had been enjoying a rising volume of very high traffic.
Consider that I checked website classifications for as many men’s rights websites as I could think of and found that all of them, every one of them (close to a hundred different websites and blogs) had been made difficult to find or access, while feminist web pages with comparably sensitive content were not rated “adult content” or “proof of age” or even “discrimination” or, worse, “blocked”. For more on that, check the side-bar menus on the right of your screen and look for anything relating to “O2”, and that is just one telecommunications provider. There are many of them. You complain to them, and they won’t even respond to you.
Formatting Web Pages for Smart Phones
Earlier in this commentary, I mentioned the height of the popularity of the website of Fathers for Life, and that it was becoming more difficult to do things that the standards for SEO required. There is without a doubt software for that now, but then there was not all that much of it. Moreover, I had neither the time nor the money to do much about it.
One of the many things that causes a search-engine provider like Google to give a website or a web page a low rank is if web pages are not smartphone-friendly. Google themselves told me that, when I contacted them to find out why the traffic volume to my website had dropped of by one-third, overnight. There is a good solution for that now.
I must work on it for a while to make it look nicer and work a bit better, but menu options in WordPress and just a few clicks permitted me to set up a menu for primary navigation for anyone who has a smart phone and wishes to pay a visit to dads&things. It’ll take a little while to show up in the traffic statistics for the blog, but at least Google will be able to remove that handicap in their ranking of the pages at the blog; dads&things is now smartphone friendly!
That is all for now, as far as SEO and related things go.