Lisa Barone says SEO is in the details (“sweat the small stuff“)
Jill Whalen says the details don’t matter (“don’t sweat the small SEO stuff“)
Who is right?
What matters in SEO is what gets you to the top spot. Not the second spot, or the third spot, but the top spot for which your web page is qualified. If your page has what it takes to be #1 for your target term, you need to do whatever it takes to accept that reward. That’s when you listen to Lisa. Make it perfect, and get what you deserve.
Now, what qualifies your page for the coveted top spot? Of course that varies with the market niche and particular competitive situation. Often it involves off-page factors you do not control with on-page SEO. Eager to do what it takes to earn that top spot? Listen to Jill. She’ll help you get to the point that you need to hire Lisa. Really.
Now ask me how I know. I’m competitive. It’s what I do.
We knew it was coming, and we knew the New York Times was “getting” SEO. And it didn’t take long. The King of Content is now dominating the Google SERPs across a wide swath of the keyword space, via the re-published, re-purposed, New York Times Archives. Each “article” is re-purposed on a clean, CSS-driven text page, clearly dated TODAY and not-co-clearly labeled as “originally published” back in 1997, 1998, or whatever all the way back to 1981. Of course cross-referenced, categorized, sub-categorized, ad-infinitum.
You can check for yourself on your own “current events” topics of interest. Look for query.nytimes.com (search results) and topics.nytimes.com (archives) showing up in the #1 spot for search phrases, as if the re-published content was “fresh news”. Via Google referral, many of them are full articles. Via the New York Times archive search pages, my tests mostly returned pay-per-article results sets. Yes, there are ads on the pages.
Clearly if Google is going to rank “newly published” results as most relevant in a SERP, there is a nice big fat incentive to “re-publish” such archives fairly often. I wonder what the plan is, and what the monetization looks like?
[Update: Within a few hours of this post Google updated the SERPs.The result set mentioned in the comments was apparently "hand edited" - the NYT no longer ranks for that result. I just did my own re-check of one of my queries and it's still query.nyt as #1 and topics at number 4. I suppose if it were important to me, I would list them here and get the NYT removed. Isn't that good to know? (that was "sarcasm", by the way)]
SearchEngineLand says VW is search spamming, because the site has a content area set via CSS to “invisible”. The main page itself loads in Flash, which they also note. Last I checked Flash was a visible medium. A visual display of data. In other words, invisible to people with disabilities. Other SEO people followed on today enhancing SEL’s assertion that VW is “spamming”. Lisa Barone suggests that this hidden text is “ridiculous” and that VW’s SEO people should “evolve”. (Sorry, Lisa… no backlink. I couldn’t find a permalink). I suppose it’s all the rage these days to “out” competitive webmasters who push beyond the obvious and try to accommodate their markets as best as they can.
Now take a look at this web accessibility project article on “invisible content”. Wow. Imagine that. Someone actually bothers to create alternative content for those people with visual impairments, such that when they go to Volkswagon’s website using their screen readers, they “see” more than “Flash banner loading” or some other uninformative nonsense. They actually get informed (via that invisible-to-you-and-me alternative text) that they are on the Volkswagon site… the one about those nice little VW cars. Oh and look – the article is named “invisible content” and the URL is “invisiblecontent”, an exact match for “invisibleContent”. . I guess that’s why it was so easy to find in Google.
Sometimes it seems Google is unfair, but other times it sure seems that SEO people are pretty quick to jump on the judgement trail. Does it really matter that VW has “invisible content”? Does it really matter if you notice it? Is it really cause for one SEO to call another SEO primitive?
If you want to compete on the web, stay home or die trying. But please, stop whining. It’s ugly.
Update May 4: VW has taken the invisible content div off the site. The home page is still flash, and much less accessible than it was before. So now the more interesting bits should get discussed in the blogosphere:
- Q: Did a fear of Google cause VW to purposefully violate best-practice (and civil rights law in the US at least) by making the site inaccessible to people with visual impairments?
- Q: Did fear of an SEO blogosphere’s knee-jerk overreaction and hostile language do the same?
- Q: Does Google, by fostering an environment of secrecy surrounding search placement and supposed penalties for “hidden content”, encourage an inaccessible web? Does Google reward webmasters for remaining inaccessible to people with disabilities?
- Q: Does anyone care?
Note: I spent 10 years in disability research, including early involvement in the ADA and 508 as applied to the web. I worked for and with advocates for people with disabilities. Disability is a part of the world, and at least in this country, the law says people with disabilities should be accommodated.