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 :
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:
- Install the script
- 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.
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?
For those interested in the technical details, here’s what the user script checks each page for:
- Presence of the “description” meta tag.
- Presence of the “keywords” meta tag.
- Links containing the rel=”nofollow” attribute.
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.