John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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More SEO Noise

I doubt there has ever been as much noise in the SEO space as there is now. I’m not complaining about the noise, because I strongly support the idea of individuals hanging shingles and going into business for themselves. There are plenty of clients looking to educate new SEOs. But I will complain about the failure of the search engines and filters to produce quality SERPs and editorial reviews on the SEO space.

The days of “SEO is bad so ignore it” are long gone. If Google is such a great search engine, why can’t it figure out the good SEO stuff and promote it, while suppressing the noise? And if SearchEngineLand/SearchEngineWatch/SearchEngineRoundTable/SearchEngineWhatever is really a “resource” for people looking for information on SEO, why do they promote so much SEO noise?

I think SEO is way too political these days. I wonder how that can be, given that it is so accountable as well. You either have search referrals or you don’t. You either did what was best or you didn’t. You either add value to the conversation (whether private with a client or public via an “SEO blog”) or you don’t.
I know, it’s all about community (again). Just like the first bubble was all about eyeballs, this one is all about “members”. More is better. Quality doesn’t matter. Please the masses, because they count more.

And so we get SEO articles listed in supposedly editorial reviews that lazily hand-wave through SEO topics like alt tags, saying little more than off-hand conjecture on the topic. Three hundred and thirteen words on alt tags in the context of SEO, including such gems as:

The Alt Tag provides very marginal if any boost in SEO. It certainly is a best practice to use Alt tags, but, I wouldn’t rely on them to provide a noticable SEO value.

This is from a member of SEMPO, which is probably meant to suggest he’s got expertise, so I ask myself, why wouldn’t you rely on them? Why is it “best practice” to use them, but they don’t offer substantial value and you won’t rely on them? I guess I have to wait for some other article, because it isn’t offered here.

Then I read this part:

The most important Alt tag is on the logo.

Really? The logo? isn’t the logo usually in the masthead? Hasn’t Google been properly parsing page templates for centuries now? I thought Google was very good at identifying a masthead as secondary content, but maybe I am missing something. I haven’t been involved in SEMPO, so perhaps I am out of the loop? But I’m not sure, because that statement stands alone. No facts; no support. Despite how, to me, it seems completely wrong.

The the “article” continues to say (bold added):

In my opinion, the most important Alt tags are on sitewide images. Think about it. It’s just logical. Google must place more importance on a sitewide image over a single page image. So, sitewide images get more weight, not just logos.

and I think to myself “ahah! An opinion! Something of value! Cool….” and then the content registers and I react harshly. WTF. A sitewide image, probably one of the most recognizably templatic objects on a web site, “gets more weight” ? How is that,exactly? At least the last line of that paragraph clarifies my earlier question about “if it’s of no value, why use it?”:

All things being equal between 2 sites, the Alt tags properly written could push 1 site over the top.

So with all this noise, where is the signal? Are alt tags good? Worthwhile? Bad? And if good/bad, why? Should we use them? How should we use them? How do we know all of that?

To summarize,it seems they are not useful, except perhaps marginally, or if everything else is equal they may help you beat out your competitor. Huh? So, that means…. they are a good important part of SEO, right?

To summarize more, it says logos are the most important part of your website to tag with an alt tag, and that the alt tag should say “logo. Huh? Is “logo” a Google keyword? Are we trying to rank for “IBM logo”? I wasn’t aware. I can see a site wide masthead image being interpreted (properly) as indicative of site ownership or meaning, like an IBM logo tagged “IBM logo” at the top of every freaking page probably is understood by Google to support the idea that the site is, indeed, owned by IBM, the owners of the domain (IBM.com). But didn’t Google already know that? Wouldn’t it just be flagged as superfluous? Sure it would.

And site wides images: tag ‘em cause they are most important. Heh. Sure, why not. And tag em all the same while you’re at it. That should help Google parse the pages even better, throwing out everything but the meat for page ranking purposes.

The end of the article is equally fulfilling:

So, as far as Google being able to differentiate your logo from the rest of your images, they can’t. Google cannot OCR (optical character recognition) the whole web – thats why even links labeled sponsored links, Google can’t spot. The web is just too big for them to crawl and read all the graphics.

I stand corrected. I’ve been wrong before, so perhaps now, too. Perhaps Google can’t actually index the web’s images. Perhaps Google can’t actually surmize from image URLs, site architecture, filenames, and page structure when an image is in-context (relevance-supporting) or site specific (ownership and placement supporting). (sarc) I have no idea what “OCR” is (/sarc) but that last bit about “The web is just too big for them to crawl and read all the graphics.” I have to agree – that’s why we do SEO and get our stuff a seat on the bus before it fills up. Using alt tags. Right. Now I get it.

That was a lot of work. Hey SearchEngineWatch editors – no donuts for you today!

Sensitivity Disclaimer: I don’t know the author of that SEMPO-supported blog, and I bear no ill-will towards him. He didn’t ask me to read his blog, SearchEngineWatch did. And despite the in-your-face SEMPO banner, I don’t see him proclaiming expertise really. Hell, I’ll even bet he’s a nice guy. Best of luck to him. And to you.

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10 Responses to “More SEO Noise”

  1. tzd Says:

    I think alt tags are good for usability purposes… ie, people accessing the net that can’t see with their eyes. It’s like the early days of TV & close caption, when it was recommended for people that could not hear. Perhaps the engines give an extra bonus point for making the site accessible to everyone.

  2. Matt McGee Says:

    John, it’s posts like this that are earning you a perment spot in the RANTS section of my “Best Posts” recaps every month. :-)

  3. Danny Sullivan Says:

    I guess I think it’s been this noisy in the past, but maybe the noise is more spreadout? I mean the run-up to the Florida Update at Google in 2003 was fully of noise, but people were more concentrated on the forums spouting off about what they believed as if it was fact. But since then, many more people are now blogging than just staying concentrated in one place. And the opinions continue.

    If you go back to the SEOmoz quiz, one of the biggest issues I had with that was how stuff I felt was opinion or based on their own experience was somehow positioned as fact. I really try to be very careful to qualify anything I write — and I well know that two different people can have opposite opinions on a particular tactic and both be right.

    I guess that’s why I don’t worry about having a variety of opinions out there — so that people understand things aren’t so cut and dried. But hopefully, people are doing the right type of qualification in what they put out (or that we’re editing properly in stuff we publish!).

  4. searchfresco Says:

    Pages get a score as determined by an algorithm.

    A crude example:

    So if your page has kw in alt(2),title(4),strong(2)and h1(3), the page has a score of 11 for the kw.

    Higher scoring pages will of course rank higher than low scoring pages.

    The engineers have access to the variables that make up the score and tweak the variables to come up with scores, adjusting the scoring variables is known as an “update”.

    More scoring reference: (broken link removed)
    The above doesn’t factor in the influence of LINKS.

    Finding a genuine SEO service nowadays is probably as hard as finding your debt consolidation page at the top of the SERPs, most are just sales organizations playing the churn and burn game.

    Yes John; SEW,SEMPO, SEL are just pawns in the pocket of SEs, if they were to promote or point to any useful information the SE reps might not show up at their fleecings, er…conferences. A very political environment indeed, let the reader beware. If you think about it why would an SEO company publish any useful information about SEO? The idea of training the reader is counter productive to the task at hand; getting the money.

  5. theGypsy Says:

    Hey there John… long time no comment.. he he. I have been ranting about crappy SEO proviers and writers for a while now…. no one listens, lol. Will it ever change? Dunno…. the SEs do little more than publish guidelines so the rest is open to interpretation for SEO folks and consumers alike.

    As wel as SEO, I also run a web development company and there are many issues with shoppy folks there are well.. the W3C helps a little, but it is still out there. What can ya do?

    L8tr – Dave.

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  7. Jordan Kasteler Says:

    I’ll mention here the same thing I mentioned on the referenced article/posting…it’s ALT attributes NOT tags. There is no keyword. This can be somewhat misleading for many.

    John replies: Yes, Jordan  it’s alt attribute, but most of us call it an ALT tag because it defines alternative text for images and sometimes hrefs. Not technically correct, but vernacular in SEO world.

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  9. Russell Page Says:

    Sometimes I’m not sure alt doesn’t matter. Google can be so unpredicatble at times that it drives on a little batty.

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