Talmudic SEO

SEO I’m guessing you never thought you’d be coming to our blog for a lesson in Talmud, the ancient Rabbinic texts that interpret the Bible. But stay with me please. If you care about Search Engine Optimization, and worry about the dizzying mix of messages about Panda this and Panda that, link building, Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO, keyword density, Meta everything, and more, you are likely to find this surprisingly helpful. Yes, they say that hundreds of years after it was written, the Talmud still offers lessons for everyday problems – even for getting your Web site found on Google!

The Problem: Do You Chase the Algorithm?

Are you tracking every pronouncement from Google and then hurriedly trying to make critical adjustments to your site? Did you stuff your site with Meta keywords a few years ago, and then stop using them all together more recently? Have you had SEO consultants tell you that you MUST have a specific percentage of your text made up of keywords? Have you been told, NOTHING MATTERS EXCEPT BACKLINKS? Have you tried “link sculpting” or managing the flow of PageRank(™) from one page to those below it by adding nofollow tags to some links? Were you concerned when the NY Times reported that Google was in effect punishing JC Penny for buying backlinks on link farms?

During a recent SXSW panel with Danny Sullivan, Editor-In-Chief of the Search Engine Land blog, and Duane Forrester, Microsoft’s Senior Product Marketing Manager for Bing, Matt Cutts of Google announced that Google will soon introduce a penalty for sites that are over-optimized or over-SEOd. That DOES sound frightening doesn’t it? What is over-optimization, anyway?

So? What Does the Talmud Say About Google’s Scary Pronouncements?

There is a famous story in the Talmud about two rabbis. One day a man comes to Rabbi Shamai and asks that he teach him everything the Torah has to say, while standing on one foot. Shamai dismisses him as not serious about Judaism. The man then goes to Rabbi Hillel, and asks the same of him – the whole Torah, while standing on one foot. So, while standing on one foot, Rabbi Hillel responded: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you. That is all the Torah; all the rest is commentary. Now go and study.”

SEO is NOT Complicated

Look, there are a lot of people reading every Google patent filing, and a lot of people spending their time trying to figure out shortcuts to ranking. But even if shortcuts work, they are short lived. There are Black Hat SEOs who don’t listen to the simple truth of what Google really wants. And there are Rabbi Shammai-style SEOs who think you have to become immersed in the finer details of SEO magic and spend months and years studying the effects of keyword placement here or there, and clearly this can only be done well if you hire them!

But SEO is just not that complicated.

There is Only One Rule of SEO

Rabbi Hillel’s lesson is simple. Do the right thing. And the same is true with SEO and Web sites. Make your site the best it can be for your users. That is the only rule of SEO. Do the right thing. Add content that’s better and more current than your competitors. Add video that’s fun, compelling, and educational. Add blogs that are interactive and challenging. Be fresh and be relevant in any way you can. Look at what your online competitors are doing and do it better. Design your web site to serve your users, not Google. Craft it around their needs. Engage your users. Provide useful information. That IS what Google wants! In that same panel discussion mentioned above, Matt Cutts explained (again thanks to searchengineland.com), “We are trying to level the playing field a bit” between those who practice over optimization or overly SEO – “versus those making great content” and great sites. Cutts makes this point whenever he can. Don’t be in the business of trying to fool or sweet-talk Google. Make good Web sites.

I recommend this video post as well, on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, by Maile Ohye, Google Developers Program Tech Lead. She discusses common mistakes and gives good tips, like “Do Something Cool” and “Stay fresh and relevant.”

Google says these things over and over again, perhaps not while standing on one foot but if you listen, they are yelling it from the rooftops. Stop chasing the algorithm. Don’t shape your site for the search engines. Create a great site for your users, the best site it can be.

All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.

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