Raise your hands brothers and sisters if you believe. Say “I believe”…again, say “I believe”…one more time brothers and sisters…say “I believe – I believe in the greatness that is SEO”. For many people who are running an online business, search engine optimization (SEO) has taken on almost religious levels of faith. Tell people that SEO is nonsense and they look at you like you are a devil worshipper.
But new sociology research from the University at Buffalo in New York State suggests we may believe in the power of SEO because we only seek information that confirms our thinking. As soon as we find data or information that makes it possible that an alternative viewpoint exists, we mentally head for the hills, denying the new material. In fact the study shows that people essentially ignore any information that presents a contrary view to the one they already hold.
Although this study was focused upon political views, it shows that once a group of people get an idea in their head, it is very difficult to shift that notion – even if the view is confirmed as false. The study showed that the false belief that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 9/11 atrocity still persists – in spite of evidence showing that this could not be the case.
Consider then the whole area of “search engine optimisation” – SEO. Wherever you look there is simply tons of support for it. Indeed, Google serves up more than 31m indexed pages for it and if you check on keyword monitoring services, such as Wordtracker, you’ll find hundreds of variations of phrases using SEO, search engine optimization and so on. Clearly, it is a hugely popular topic.
But this new research raises the possibility that it is all bunkum, that we have a false belief in the goodness of SEO, which is merely constantly confirmed because we deny the existence of any information which dares to suggest that SEO might not work. In other words, we think that SEO is wonderful because we only see the “evidence” that confirms that belief.
Whenever you dare to criticise any aspect of Internet technology, along comes someone to tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about and that it certainly worked for them. Maybe. But maybe something else could have worked better. That’s the problem with SEO; it’s relatively easy to get good results, which only then “confirms” that it works – further helping us have faith in what may well be a falsehood. And, as a result, endless numbers of people can tell you it works. But maybe something else could work better.
Search engines, of course, have an interest in indexing stuff that promotes the apparent value of SEO. This leads to us seeing a considerable amount of information supporting the view that SEO is excellent, which in turn helps confirm our belief that it works. In other words, just as with many other popular ideas, the ever circular arrangement of supporting material, confirming our view, which then creates more supportive material is simply a way of helping us believe in something that is false.
The essential thing to always have in mind is whether or not SEO works for you, your marketplace, your customers, your products and your specific circumstances. Because it works for one of your products or services does not mean it will work for another. Just because SEO works for one of your networking contacts, doesn’t mean it will work for you.
In other words, don’t have blind faith in SEO – question it, test it and analyse it. If you don’t, you could well end up believing it is working, when in fact it isn’t. And as this New York State study shows, you will never even know it isn’t working because you will shut your mind to the evidence that it is failing.
The only way out of this conundrum is to test every aspect of your web site, to analyse the data and act on the information you glean from evidence. Mere faith will get you nowhere online.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+