Posted May 7, 2008 10:53 am by with 42 comments

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The guys at the eCommerce & Entrepreneurship Blog would like to point out that Google is trying to redefine search engine optimization (SEO) so that we all focus on the "on page" enhancements, not the "off page" link enhancements–you know the stuff that makes up the bulk of Google’s algorithm.

Here’s how the Google Analytics team recently defined SEO:

OK, there are one of three things going on here:

  1. Google’s trying to throw you off the scent deliberately, because they don’t want you to "adjust" your links.
  2. It’s just an oversight. The point was to explain the difference between SEO and "website optimization," not provide a detailed definition.
  3. Google needs to hire me immediately, so I can train them on SEO. πŸ˜‰

Which gets your vote?

  • Dave Snyder


    This is funny. Another case of Google not lying, but not telling the whole truth. They know that the Web is filled with misinformation about SEO, META keyword articles, keyword density articles, and the like. This pushes those seeking SEO knowledge towards those on-site factors. On-site work will get you ranked for a low competition term, but we all know that link equity is what makes the Google algo tick right now

  • I think it’s most likely an oversight, it’s not as if they are about to alter their algorithm to suddenly weight site content to outweigh linking.(Prays that isn’t the case)…

    Content Writing Advice’s last blog post..BBC Writes Facebook Virus ?To Prove A Point?

  • John D

    I agree with you Andy, the worlds best optimised website would get absolutely no-where without an active linkbuilding campaign. Why in webmaster tools does it show you the number of inbound links on a page by page basis. Isn’t link quality associated with Page rank???? If so aren’t Google also saying that page rank will also become redundant?

    I think that this is just another way for Google to tell its indexee’s not to buy links.

  • Wow! I always wondered whether all that link building stuff was a waste of my time, now I know, I just need to go and “adjust” all my content to get top rankings…
    “Do no eviltruth” as they say.


  • Maybe we just need a new term like, “link optimization.” My vote is #3 “Google needs to hire me immediately, so I can train them on SEO. ;-)” LOL Them AND the patent office. At least you’d provide us with clear definitions.

    BTW, just ordered your book “Radically Transparent.” Looking forward to reading it.

  • Google would never lie or give misinformation so I will now shift my business model for providing links to keyword stuffing.

  • Looks like #2 to me… As much as I’d like to jump on the numero uno wagon.

    Mark’s last blog post..You Can’t Hide From Google

  • I agree it’s likely #2, but they can still do #3! πŸ™‚

    @Michael – thanks for buying my book. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

  • I don’t see this as contradictory or deceptive at all on Google’s part. Rather, the differentiation of SEO and website optimization is valid and something to which any and every online business should be paying attention.

    For some context, our firm, Capterra acts as a lead generation channel for B2B software vendors. We help prospects connect with vendors, primarily based on a PPC model.

    The absolute most important element in a vendors success with Capterra (or any other similar lead-gen channel) is optimization of their site for conversion – not SEO.

    Digestible content, strong calls to action, short trackable forms to facilitate conversion… this is what creates success because attention to these details are what creates leads.

    And yet, some of the biggest vendors we speak with still get hung up on links from Capterra for SEO benefit as opposed to the potential of their listings with us to generate paying customers. Truly seeing the forest but not the trees.

    SEO is well and good and I don’t mean to disparage its importance. Strong search engine placement will get you traffic, but if your site is otherwise poorly designed, the conversions you see won’t be easily trackable and they’ll be vastly fewer in number than for a site that is optimized.

    Simply put – SEO can put you first in line at the dance, but without optimizing your site for conversion, you’ll still only be scoring by accident.

    As for why Google is highlighting this particular division, well, I’d say their investment in Analytics provides plenty of rational. They want to encourage and incentivize their AdSense users to track better and convert more.

    Better conversion rates and good data on how you achieve them = increased AdSense spend from happy customers and a reduction in the number of uninformed “AdWords is a rip-off” folks complaining about a service they understood and implemented poorly.

    I’m not sure where nefariousness enters into it. Can anyone enlighten me?

    — MDT

  • @Michael – I think you missed the point. We’re not debating the difference between SEO and website optimization. We’re debating the rather limited and inaccurate definition for SEO.

  • Hi Andy,
    Thanks as usual for a great post.

    Can I offer a #4? It’s not an oversight. The Google Analytics Blog is talking about SEO in the ideal sense. The bulk of Google’s algorithm is about inbound links, but ideally those links would not be something a site owner could “optimize”. In a perfect world, the “uniquely democratic nature of the web” would mean that the only way a site owner could improve inbound links would be by improving her own site’s content, compelling other sites to reward those efforts with lots of “votes” in the form of juicy links (presumably links with exactly the right keywords in the anchor text – hey, we’re talking perfection here, right?).

    As most of your readers know, the model for PageRank was a method of ranking authority based on number and “weight” of citations in academic literature. Academic folks presumably were less inclined to go around bribing people to cite their articles than some website owners are inclined to do whatever they have to today to get inbound links.

  • This is only a good thing by Google. They are not lying or being deceptive they are simply making it so people spend time on improving the quality and useability of their websites instead of simply building links to it.

    People say a backlink is like a vote. Actively getting inbound links is like paying people to vote for your site whereas having good content on your site makes people want to give your site a vote.

    Quality content is what should position the websites in the SERPs and this is why Google is putting emphasis on it.


    wii guy’s last blog post..Use your Xbox 360 with your PC monitor

  • I hear you, but in this instance – a one sentence summary of SEO appearing on the Google Analytics blog in a much longer post about site optimization – I think it is pretty weak sauce to imply that Google is trying to color the discourse. Not that they’re above it, but I just don’t see it here.

    — MDT

  • Yeah they’re probably just trying to get people to focus on the things that will help them in the long run. If Google says, “Get links” and isn’t extremely careful about how they say it, they could cause a few creative people to do some questionable link building which may result in a penalty.

    It’s just not wise to say “build links” w/o saying about 200 other things.

    In addition, if you think there are creative ways to build links now, wait until 10% of business owners, as opposed to 2 – 5%, know the benefits of SEO. Wait until 50% know and so on.

  • @Michael D. Hence option 2 – “It’s just an oversight. The point was to explain the difference between SEO and “website optimization,” not provide a detailed definition.” πŸ™‚

    That gets my vote, but it’s still fun to discuss #1 anyway. πŸ˜‰

  • I would say its number 2. It makes the most amount of sense as its the only real truth.

  • Andy,
    I think that this should be looked from a perspective of the author. I don’t think that the Google analytics team is really concerned with how a user got to a given page, but what they did or did not do when they got to the page.

    I don’t think that the general populous at Google, other than those directly involved with search quality or algo development, really have any insight or concern for the ranking of pages in SERPs.

    Or, if you are really into conspiracy theory, they are passing misinformation to throw off the scent #1.

    Stephen Pitts’s last blog post..Meta Tags Constitute Trademark Infringement or Not?

  • Search Optimisation vs. Web Optimisation?
    *Scratches head*
    And here I thought they were pretty much the same thing…
    ‘Course, I used to think blogging sounded like something you do on the toilet after a hard night’s drinking.

    Judd Exley’s last blog post..One is sometimes better than Two

  • “Keyphrase” sounds much better than “keyword phrase”.

    Utah SEO’s last blog post..Social Media Taught at School

  • Are you an SEO or WO?

    Ok, Ok! a WOSEO? Or a BMF a Bad Mother F. πŸ˜‰

    Google does not want us to optimize our site, that is kind of dumb.

    Should we have one million Page Spawned by session IDs all pointing to the same content page?

    Really Google! Link shopping has never been part of professional SEO.

    Only Matt Cutts hates SEOs because he cannot get his Google algorithm to think like him! LOL

  • This is not completely a bad thing, SEO includes both onsite and offsite whereas most people take SEO as just building links. I hope these changes can help website owners concentrate more on the content rather than just the backlinks.

  • PS3

    I’d go for option 3 Andy….as long as you then come back and e-mail us all details of the algorithm.

    I would dare to second guess Google and it is hard to see where their focus would lie. Do they care about content as long as people find pages and click through ads? Or is content key because advertisers don’t want the wrong visitors using their ppc budgets without good conversion?

    Being totally honest, I haven’t got a clue myself!

  • Linkbuilding is the biggest part of their algo. So they would rank someone higher for NASA than NASA’s homepage because they optimise their page better and stuff it with more h1, h2, strong, meta tags and keywords? What a joke!

    seo dude’s last blog post..April contest winners

  • Nice SEO definition there from the big G. This has led to posts on other blogs declaring that SEO is dead! Sure stirred up a hornets nest, but lets face it folks, by now we all have a fair idea of what works and what doesn’t, and limiting ourselves by buying into a statement like this would be tantamount to SEOcide.

  • Great post…leave it to Google help clarify the differences for us :o)

    Search Engine Optimization Journal’s last blog post..Search Engine Optimization Or Pay Per Click (PPC)?

  • how can they rank 2 identical pages if they remove the weight of links on the pages

  • With so much expert opinion, I shall refrain from commenting and vote for #2.

    Nicole’s last blog post..Shopping for Kids

  • #4 – They’ve adopted Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos”, not realizing the intelligence level of the SEO community to see through the shenanigans.

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  • Well then what if we could add a third definition to this list and relate link-building to website promotion? Link building is alive and working – our sales alone are a good proof.
    And I’m voting for 1.

    Sasha Hodges’s last blog post..Professional Search Engine Ranking Reports With New Rank Tracker Enterprise. Act Now, Save 40%!

  • Funny how something so right can be so wrong… but yet be so right..?

  • Dave

    I think that people in search marketing have extended the definition of SEO to include link building. If you think about it, SEO means “optimizing” YOUR website–it’s content, code, navigation, etc. While inbound links are essential to good ranking, garnering them is not optimizing your site. Think about a presidential candidate. He/she thinks, “I need to be a better person to get elected.” Does asking other people to endorse you make you a better person? No, but it may still help you get elected. Google is just giving the actual definition of SEO, not describing the ways sites get ranked higher according to their algorithm.

  • I think it has to be #2 as #1 would be just evil. And they can’t afford #3. πŸ™‚

  • Goggle works in mysterious ways!:)

    Eva White’s last blog post..Rising Hemlines.. Rising Stocks

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  • tom

    Nice SEO definition there from the big G. This has led to posts on other blogs declaring that SEO is dead! Sure stirred up a hornets nest but lets face it folks, by now we all have a fair idea of what works and what doesn’t and limiting ourselves by buying into a statement like this would be tantamount to SEOcide.

    tom’s last blog post..Traffic Assistants – Learn How to Attract Targeted Customers to Your Website

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  • Google is trying to redefine search engine optimization (SEO) so that we all focus on the “on page” optimization, not the “off page” link optimization

    Temi’s last blog post..Carl Icahn – Yahoo sabotage Microsoft deal

  • I find it a bit ironic that Google wants to redefine SEO. A pioneer in the SEO industry, Jeff Herzog has in my opinion defined search and more importantly what value search brings to a web site. Search is far more than an online medium. Mr. Herzog taught us that online is good, however offline to online and back again is even better.

  • Link building is and always has been 99.9 percent bullcrap. Its spam and Google knows it. I have one link but a page rank of 3.

  • Odds are that they were just making the point about the difference between on-site SEO and website optimization. However, I do think that link building as many know it, building a bunch of crap links with the same anchor text, is being removed from the equation.

    Utah SEO’s last blog post..10 Ways to improve SEO Conversions

  • It’s definitely just an oversight, as you say it wasn’t meant as an full description.