A World Without SEO

Search engine optimization gets a lot of flack from the uninformed. While most web developers know (presumably) that applying basic SEO techniques to a one’s site is just common sense, the average web-dweller needn’t be so lenient. For many, “SEO” is a word to be spoken in disgust, a synonym for spam, viruses and other nastiness. I’ve seen some go so far as to suggest that SEO practices should be abolished entirely and that any site that uses SEO should be banned from search engines.

For example, consider this blog post by Jacques Mattheij. Overall, the post presents an interesting collection of startup ideas. But three quarters down the list there’s this gem :

(42) NoSeo
A search engine that will drop any site that has been search engine

Arrgh. I’m sure Jacques is a smart guy and didn’t actually mean to imply that all forms of SEO are evil. But it was his post that finally pushed me over the edge and made me say: “You know what? Lets do this.” Lets find out what the search results would look like if all SE optimized sites were actually removed from the index. Perhaps it’ll make people appreciate that “SEO” doesn’t equal “bad”.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to build a brand new search engine just to prove a point. So I did the next best thing: I wrote a Greasemonkey script that scans Google search results and removes all pages that have been optimized for search engines. Just run a Google search, select User Script Commands… -> Remove SEO’d pages from the Greasemonkey menu, and all those nasty, icky “optimized” pages will magically disappear. Here, try it:

  1. Install the script
  2. Search Google for “puppies”, right-click the Greasemonkey icon and select the Remove SEO’d pages user script command.

In case you’re too lazy or simply don’t have Firefox/Greasemonkey installed, here’s a pair of screenshots to demonstrate the effect.

Normal Google results (click for full view):
Same page with search engine optimized results removed (click for full view):

After all optimized sites have been removed, what remains is basically a list of links to other Google properties like image search and Google News. Doing the same thing for different search queries produces a similar picture : around 90% of results get filtered out. Often, the page is left empty.

Were all those sites that got removed spammy and evil? Of course not. It’s just that SEO is a valuable, legitimate tool that is used by the vast majority of popular (and not so popular) websites. A search engine that indiscriminately bans SEO’d sites will be effectively useless, unable to deliver any meaningful results at all.

As for distinguishing between “good” and “evil” SEO and banning only sites that use the evil kind, I bet Google already does that to the best of their ability. Think you can do better?

Technical Note

For those interested in the technical details, here’s what the user script checks each page for:

I’m well aware that all of the above are generally considered “white hat”, but they still fall under the broad umbrella of SEO. That’s “evil” enough for the purposes of this experiment. Plus, these on-page optimizations are easy to detect.

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4 Responses to “A World Without SEO”

  1. Gary says:

    Great post. Thanks! I fully agree with your comment about much of SEO being common sense. I also believe that the ‘snakeoil’ SEO salesmen that promise unrealistic results have much to do with ill-feeling towards SEO

  2. gpusi says:

    No bad,thanks for share the SEO information.

  3. Gareth Rees says:

    I didn’t realise there was a script to do this. Conversely I’ll put it to good use to see who is SEOing and who isn’t.

  4. David says:

    The best way for clients to protect themselves is to ask the SEO if they are willing to work on commission or based on performance. This weeds out the nasties and unexperienced in a hurry.

    Any SEO with extensive experience is likely an expert in all forms of online advertising as well as conversion optimization and lead/sale source tracking. That means they know how to generate traffic and turn that traffic into sales for the client.

    The web would be a horrible place full of nonsense if there SEO was banned. The problem is that too many people hire SEO’s without properly vetting them like they would a local plumber or construction contractor.

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