The case of SEO ‘Boondoggle’ – Leapfrogg’s view

After reading Jill Whalen’s recent article “Is Most of SEO Just a Boondoggle?” (which I admit I was subconsciously drawn to because of the amusing title!) I was doubly intrigued by her subsequent interview with Andrew Goodman in which she upheld all of her claims. In these articles Whalen has set about trying to debunk some SEO myths, or in her words, SEO techniques which are “boondoggle”.

So, to sum up, Whalen doesn’t believe the following are valuable SEO techniques:

  • Page Rank sculpting via nofollow links
  • “Fixing” of Keyword Meta tags
  • Search engine submission
  • Keyword density
  • XML site maps (for the most part)
  • H1 tags
  • Keyword rich URLs (only worth it if re-developing a site)

However she does believe the following techniques provide benefits for sites:

  • Descriptive internal anchor text
  • Rewriting content for your target audience
  • Title tag changes
  • Flattening of site architecture

While I whole-heartedly agree with Whalen regarding some of the techniques referred to as “boondoggle”, namely Page Rank sculpting, Keyword Meta tag fixing and search engine submission, I do not necessarily agree with the others.

Sure, the term “keyword density” refers back to a time when the majority of search engine marketers doggedly measured the number of times a keyword appeared within a page of copy. And even though I don’t agree with this measurement practice, I do believe that it is imperative to ensure popular / relevant keywords appear within page copy. It is important to include keywords in copy to ensure search engines deem the page relevant to a search query but they need to be incorporated with care so as not to impede the readability of the page for site visitors. Including keywords in copy also allows visitors to identify that the page is relevant to their search query which will hopefully encourage them to stick around on your site.

In terms of the SEO techniques Whalen supports I do agree that descriptive internal anchor text, rewriting content for your target audience and title tag changes are all important. For example, a client recently came to us with concerns that they weren’t ranking above their competitors for a certain keyword relevant to their business. After ensuring other on-the-page factors were in place we suggested tweaking their home page title tag to include this term and hey presto(!) their rankings improved and they shot up from 12th to 3rd position on Google! It is very satisfying that something so simple has the potential to provide great results when other on-the-page avenues have already been implemented.

I also agree with Whalen on the issue of flattening site architecture, to an extent. Even though search engines generally attribute the weighting of pages depending on how close they are to the home page this does not mean that a site should be completely flat as hierarchical structure is very important. Implementing a logical hierarchical structure helps search engines understand which parts of your website are more important than others and it also aids usability for your visitors. For more information on the importance of good site architecture take a peek at this great post by a fellow Frogger.

However, I’m reluctant to place too much emphasis on looking at these SEO factors individually. At Leapfrogg we believe in a holistic approach to ‘on the page’ SEO (or as we prefer to call it “website optimisation”). In our experience we have found that implementing a combination of techniques makes a positive difference to the client’s site even if the individual parts have little or no effect when implemented on their own. Its very much about the sum of all parts.

I think it’s also vital not to place total emphasis on using technical SEO techniques to achieve rankings for a website as this neglects the importance of usability and conversion. Surely the best approach to website optimisation is to implement a range of technical factors as well as making sure the site is as usable as possible, along with great content. This approach is focused on much more than rankings…it has the user at heart; because at the end of the day, rankings are useless if your website cannot convert visitors into customers.

This is why we adopt a range of techniques to ensure the site is built on a good foundation technically, as well as conforming to certain usability standards to encourage conversions and repeat visits.

What I really wanted to get across with this post is that I believe a holistic approach covers all bases which helps ensure we can truly help clients acquire, convert and retain customers online. I believe website optimisation isn’t solely about fiddly, technical aspects behind a website (although these are essential!) but it is also about making sure a site is usable and engaging. What’s the point of getting a visitor to your site if you aren’t encouraging them to take a look around. So rankings are all very well but if no-one wants to stay on your site once they get there then that is just boondoggle!

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