Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 6 seconds


Tennis imageImagine it's the semi-finals of the U.S. Open and Roger Federer hits a ball that lands near the base line. "Is it in or out?" the world's No. 1 player asks the linesman, who shrugs and then the chair umpire. The umpire responds, "I can't tell you. But we'll let you know when we total up the score."

That's the way the rules for search engine rankings seem to work in the world of the major players, Microsoft and Google.  We know there are rules and we can deduce some of them when we see how well articles on our Web sites do in appearing in searches.

It's time for this to end and the argument was made very well by Harry Blodget, CEO of The Business Insider, this week in an article called "It's Time For Google To Take A Stand On Paid Links And Other SEO Practices". Blodget called for transparency in enforcement of the rules and even questioned why Google should be allowed to dictate good marketing practices. (Blodget omitted Yahoo in his call so I guess that's a sign of the time).

After sitting through some very good SEO sessions conducted by Joe Rotella of HR consulting firm Delphia, I started viewing the whole SEO subject as one giant game in which this spurious industry has spring up to tell businesses how to live up to what experts have deduced the rules are. Rotella said that a lot of what we know about the rules, or at least how they work in terms of how they are weighted, comes from hints that the search engine providers drop, conversations on their company blogs and I guess an occasional turn at the Ouija board.

What would happen if there was a published set of search engine ranking rules and the weight each component makes in determining search rankings? First of all, it would be easy to know if a company was adhering to them. No organization would have an advantage based on consulting advice. The whole SEO consulting business would dry up and blow away and money could be spent on a lot better uses than search-engine gamesmanship.

If one company disclosed the rules, the others would have to follow or face a serious competitive disadvantage. We would also quickly know if all three have the same playbook and we would know how they change.

Right now, however, if you want to know whether the ball was in or out, your guess is as good as mine.

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