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What Time Does the Super Bowl Start?

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The Dark Art of SEO can get out of hand.

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First of all, kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, just in case you are wondering.

Now you might be asking yourself why we are writing about the Super Bowl kickoff on a financial news website. The title of this article is a jab at an identical Huffington Post (AOL) article from last year's Super Bowl. Knowing that thousands of people would be checking the time that the Super Bowl starts, a reporter made an article with absolutely no useful or original information to juke his pageviews.

Here are the first three paragraphs in the original article (as reported by CNNMoney), before it was trashed in the blogosphere and subsequently "edited for greater clarity."

Are you wondering, "what time does the Superbowl start?"
It's a common search query, as is "what time is the super bowl 2011," "superbowl time" and "superbowl kickoff time 2011," according to Google Trends the evening before the Super Bowl.
It's easily answered too. Super Bowl 2011 will take place on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time and 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

This could have been written by an algorithm, provided that the algorithm was smart enough to make the user read to the end to find the information he or she is looking for, thus protecting the bounce rate and necessitating a click to view the answer. Though a human being did write this, it was clearly not written for people.

This is an example of SEO whoring, the abuse of search engine optimization. This practice has rewarded producers for mediocrity. Search engines are made to direct users to the best content, but SEO for its own sake distorts news judgment and annoys people.

Before Google (GOOG), there were indexes like Yahoo and proto-search engines like Alta Vista. Alta Vista made the mistake of selling its results to the highest bidder, rather than striving to give users the best results. Google was revolutionary because its algorithm rewarded pages for quality, measured by relevance to the user and previous users that linked to the page.

Some places turned this around and made entire businesses by gaming this system rather than just making good material. Rather than letting the best results rise to the top, search engines are inadvertently rewarding quantity over quality. (Read more: The Devolution of Digital Media)

HuffPo is by no means the worst SEO abuser. Demand Media (DMD) has an SEO-based business model. Demand basically gauges demand for content based on an algorithm that looks for what users are searching for plus the ad market for a set of terms, and bangs out that content as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Web users really hate the lousy content and very few come back for more. (Have a look at how Demand has performed since their god-awful IPO.) Other notorious instances come to mind, like the sunglasses vendor that realized that the more horrible his service is, the more people blog about him. The links in dissatisfied customers' blogs improved the vendor's search results, and thus generated more revenues. Christian rightist presidential candidate Rick Santorum has a famously embarrassing Google problem, courtesy of activists that oppose his anti-gay rights agenda. Google his last name if you must.

There are plenty of good reasons for a Web-native company to invest in search engine optimization. The first result on Google gets more than 50% of the attention. An article or blogpost, no matter how relevant, doesn't get read if it gets buried in search. SEO is a double-edged sword: You can't monetize a site without it, but fortunately, there are some practices that can bring quality content to the top.

SEO Practices That Don't Insult Users' Intelligence

Fortunately, Google has taken action against the "SEO whores" and "content farms" in last year's changes to the Google algorithm. If you run a blog or content-based website as part of your business, here are a few dos and don'ts for improving a site's visibility in search without stooping to boldfaced SEO abuse.

DO:
  • Make original content that nobody else has: If you have something unique, you can ignore the rest of these tips and you will be fine.
  • Organize: Use keywords that users will search for in the right tags like headlines. The h1 and h2 tags are the most powerful. Content management systems like WordPress very effectively organize your site and help bring traffic.
  • Title tags: This HTML tag appears in your search results and the title bar of the browser. Keywords should go here.
  • Metatags: Use "description" and "keywords" tags sparingly. Only use keywords that really relate to your post. If a user searches "Fed funds rate" and comes up with your article that's really about gold, they will probably bounce right off the site, and Google might catch on to your game.
  • Write a description for videos and graphics: Google bots can't read videos and pictures, but they can read captions.
  • Put keywords in the URL: Use dashes to separate words.
  • Use synonyms: If you write an article with the word "military" in the headline, use "armed forces" in the title tag. People searching with using both terms might find your article
  • Use social media and forums: Link to your site in relevant venues. If people like what they see, they will do your job for you.
AVOID:
  • Too many links: Only link to stuff similar and relevant to your post.
  • Making your entire site in Flash: It isn't just iOS that shuns flash. Search engines can't read Flash.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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