The Performance Revolution Part II – Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tries to optimize the correct indexing of your site by search engines. At first glance, this may not seem like sustainability, but consider that good SEO will have the following effects:

  • Web spider programs will figure out how to index your site quickly, and spend less time chugging through your DOM, wasting CPU cycles on your bad code
  • Users searching for information will tend to go to your site only when it is relevant to their needs, which makes their use of the web more efficient. They will spend less time looking at screens, which, as we remember, ultimately create a few tens to hundreds of milligrams per second of carbon via their electrical power consumption.
  • Your ranking will improve, which affects sustainability of most web business models. Targeting the right people means that you don’t have to “spam” or blanket the Internet with wasteful advertising. Interestingly, banner ads have been shown to add on average 5-7% more battery drain on web pages.

What’s the consequence of not doing SEO on sustainability? We can define an equivalent of “quirksmode” for web spiders, which are the programs Google and others send out to “crawl” your website. If a site is designed to be easily read by the Google spider software, the code will run along standard paths, and fewer resources will be burned by Google IT centers indexing your site.

 In contrast, a site not optimized for search engine will cause the web spider to try a bunch of quirksmode-like methods to index your site, wasting additional time and power. Alternatively, the spider will “give up” and leave your site mis-indexed, leading to end-users wasting their time on your site.

A poorly indexed site has an effect on UX across the Internet ecosystem, resulting in bad sustainablility beyon simple efficiency issues. People will incorrectly route to your site, wasting time. The long-term value of the Internet will go down with bad indexing, and go up with good indexing.

What is the effect of applying SEO to your site on sustainability, then?

Unlike Web Performance Optimization (WPO), SEO can be “sustainable” or “unsustainable” after it is completed. There is SEO that conducts and “environmental cleanup” of search space, and SEO that “pollutes” the search space. Sustainability has two levels – the mechanical/technical level of making your site run smoothly with search engines, and the higher-level of which links you insert into the Internet ecosystem. There is also the issue that if you do ‘evil’ SEO Google will remove you from searches. This is a law-like imposition of illegal “unsustainablity”.

Here’s Google’s guidelines on their SEO blog:

More about what Google says to do to create “sustainable” SEO:

More about how Panda changed things:

Unlike WPO, which is a recent development, SEO has existed for many years, and the field also includes companies whose value statement is not “don’t be evil”. The SEO  includes may “fly by night” companies with less than wholesome goals and ideas. Content farms are a big problem. Google’s ‘Big Panda’ update attempts to fight the problem.  The bad guys are closely related to spammers, which try to grab lots of Internet bandwidth for free, via the hapless SMTP mail protocol.

Gaming the search engine space is a common practice of many companies and sites. This is anti-sustainability at the level of virtual design. We’re removing keywords pointing to their correct object, with keywords that point to the wrong thing.

A message to “be green” would reduce the Internet’s sustainability, if SEO forced lots of unrelated keywords to point to it. The medium is distinct from the message. It doesn’t matter that the message is, itself, supposedly green. We’re zapping the open and democratic side of Internet sustainability when we try to take over search space.

Another way to view SEO sustainability is to think of the web as a network of links. We can build links that let the Internet run more effectively for its users. We can pollute it with links that send them to the wrong place. Other people could fight it by adding “green” links which counteract the bad links, but in effect, this is like putting down chemicals to remove other chemicals – the virtual equivalent of an oil slick cleanup.

Here’s someone that agrees with me – honest SEO is the only sustainable strategy:

In fact, one way to phrase good versus bad SEO is that bad SEO leads users down links that are, in essense, a virtual “junk food” diet. Definitions could include reading only what you want to read – personalization. Overall, one can argue that an over-personalized Internet moves in the direction of lower sustainability.

And this book in SEO “junk food” links REALLY sounds like the more pious “sustainability” rhetoric you get in other design fields:

And some groups are using SEO to either “pollute” or “clean up” Internet search space, depending on how you slice it.  They aren’t trying to attract business; they’re trying to nudge social behavior by reforming the link structure of the Internet. From:

Earlier this year Greenpeace began using search engine optimization (SEO) for its Cool IT Challenge which was meant to link the names of the CEOs of some of the largest IT companies in the world with their firm’s environmental impact when a search was done of their name.

SEO is also targeting “green” messages. This falls outside the range of Sustainable Virtual Design (we are interested in the sustainability of the medium, not the message) but over-zealous SEO might warp the online world’s information space – sort of a “shout down” during a political speech.

The U.K. company Clownfish Marketing, promises to use SEO to specifically tie “green” products and services to keywords via SEO. Now, is this “pollution” or “cleanup” of the web search environment? You’ll have to decide.

A fairly business-oriented version of SEO sustainability:

sustainable SEO is…using techniques that will not only survive the test of time, but continue to work for you as time goes on.

The term ‘sustainability’ is turning up in a lot of SEO blogs, possibly because they’ve had more time to see the consequences of their efforts:

And wonder of wonders! Someone talking sustainablity of the web search space, rather than sustainability message content:

Here’s a link that takes the “ecosystem” aspect of SEO as a training ground for sustainable thinking, which a political overtone:

I’d appreciate anyone commenting with a list of legit SEO, in particular ones that might understand sustainability as a site goal.

One last note – SEO blends over into marketing, and there are LOTS of companies claiming to do “Green Marketing”. This is message, not media, which the target of Sustainable Virtual Design. Many of these “green marketing” websites are actually highly un-green, when you consider how they were designed and programmed. See other posts on this site for unsustainable web pages with sustainable messages.

Here are some SEO portal sites:

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