SEO. Am I taking crazy pills?

I'm currently attending the Brighton SEO conference at the Corn Exchange. Huge turnout, and clearly this industry continues to thrive.

But, I'll admit it. Over the years my view on SEO has become increasingly negative and pessimistic. This conference helped solidify that view.

When I create sites, I'd like to think I cater to good, basic 'on-site' SEO best practices. I make sure the code and structure is well-made and semantically coded. I use header tags appropriately, I use descriptive names for divs - or more recently with the HTML5 spec - sections, articles , headers and footers. I do the basics to set a good foundation for clients to build on. But after that, unless I'm working with a great copywriter, much of the hard work to getting a good search ranking is very much down to the client. And their content. And I make that very clear.

Content is king

Content is and always will be king. I'm not naive enough to think that Google aren't in it for something, but ultimately they're trying to bring relevant search results to the masses as they drive their advertising cash cow. For the end user, like my mum or your dad, the ability to find something on the massive www is simple, quick and easy.

So back at the BrightonSEO conference, the first talk was about Google's recent algorithmic update, codenamed 'Panda'. Based on the tweets, this was a highly anticipated presentation, seeing as Panda clearly affects the work that the SEOs in this room do for themselves or for their clients.

During the presentation, the speaker gave a telling anecdote:

Some of our clients' sites have Our main site has still not recovered from Panda, 4 months later.

I'll get back to that in a second. First, some tidbits from the speaker of things to do in light of the recent Panda update:

Am I taking crazy pills? Isn't all of the above just common sense to cater to the user > customer > conversion process? The utter nerve Google have that they updated their worldwide search algorithm - used by millions every second of every day - to 'weed out' all of the crap content out there on the web! Who the hell do they think they are?

As for that quote above... doesn't the fact the speaker's clients site(s) were still affected by Panda directly implicate them as an agency that doesn't provide the necessary best practices, guidelines and quality content that Google and other search engines want to see?

As outlined in the comments below, the speaker worked in-house exclusively. As a result, any opinion on any client sites has been redacted.

In subsequent talks throughout the morning, an underlying theme was content. Both good and bad.

Shocking

The second speaker was utterly shocking. Speaking about creating a private blog network, he bluntly, openly recommended SEOs trick Google and the SE's by spreading their sites over multiple IP addresses. Mix up the name servers (!). When creating sites, make them at least look 'real' by purchasing pro WP themes, and even go so far as installing Google Analytics, Adsense and make 'real' about us/contact pages. And, if they couldn't be bothered to create multiple GA accounts, meh, just steal the code from bigger sites like the Daily Mail. Then, for content, just go to oDesk or similar and pay for any content, regardless of quality. 'It'll be fairly dubious, but…'. Yes, my jaw was on the floor.

The juxtaposition between these two opening talks couldn't have been more clear. Google's Panda update wants better, more relevant content. So do I. It has and will affect sites that don't get in line by providing better content and better customer experience. The private blog network guy completely contradicted that, speaking about content farming, gaming Google and complete black hat practices.

One more time

Content is king. It ought to be, seeing as that's what we do when on the web. We consume content pure and simple, and as users we want easy ways to discover and digest content. The best sites out there are designed to package content first. It's a bonus if they're easy on the eye. So when we and Google, MSN, etc experience bullshit fake WP blogs using the Daily Mail's Analytics code, it affects not only my mum and your dad, but the web as a whole.

I'm understanding SEO less and less. As my clients will attest, I never recommend SEO. I recommend using common sense. Write good stuff. Sell good stuff. Get a site well built and designed. Enjoy it. Search engine ranking comes only after that.