SEO and the 80/20 Rule

SEO: so important that it cannot be ignored, yet mysterious enough so that everyone has a different idea of how it works.

A prospective client, let’s call him Vladimir, once said to me he spent days editing the alt tags on his e-commerce site to boost his rankings with search engines. Alt tag (99% of people on the planet will not know what these are), are the text that appear in place of images when the page is loading and they are also the text that is read to blind people who use screen readers.

Do alt tags affect SEO? Yes they do. The real question that prospective client should have been asking though, is this: “how much will alt tags help me?”

1. You cannot quantify SEO

Unfortunately, SEO progress and value are impossible to measure accurately. We can do A, B, and C to improve our site’s SEO, but any improvements will be delayed showing in search engines and we will not know if it was A, B, or C that caused the improvements, if it was a mixture of the three, or if it was simply because a competing site had done something to cause it to drop and push our site up.

Because of the lack of clarity and transparency available, SEO is incredibly difficult to account for and impossible to knowing the consequences of any SEO-related actions is impossible to predict.

So yes, maybe those alt tags did help Vladimir, but by how much or if at all, we cannot ever know.

2. The basis of SEO

The overall concept behind SEO is this: search engines want good content to be high in their search results and they want spam and junk content to be very low or completely removed from the search results. That is why one of the liaisons between search engine giant Google and SEO professionals is the head of spam at Google, Matt Cutts.

Search engines show results based on a complex and ever-changing algorithm — we can think of as it as the search engine “rules” — and the goal of SEO is to understand those rules and act accordingly.

The reason something as trivial as alt tags is relevant to SEO is because they are an indicator (one of many) of what the site is about. However, the extent of how important those alt tags cannot ever be quantified (see point 1). So, should Vladimir have spent all that time fretting over alt tags?

3. 80/20 Rule and SEO

The 80/20 Rule, aka “Pareto’s Principle,” is the idea that all are not of equal importance.

For example, if we were to look at a list of tasks for a day, it might look like this:

  • take out the trash
  • rake leaves
  • vacuum car
  • wash the dog
  • meet work deadline

If all the activities were of equal important, we would see a distribution of activity value such as Figure A, with each having a 1/5 or 20% value:

Figure A, activity value IF all tasks are of equal importance

What the 80/20 Rule suggests is that things are never of equal importance — a few clients are as important than the rest, a few relationships in lives provide more fulfillment than all the rest combined, and so on. This inequality, if applied to our list of activities, would then look like Figure B:

Figure B, activity value that conforms to the 80/20 rule

Although there are five tasks above, none except the work deadline is urgent and important. In fact, it’s actual value would definitely exceed 80%.

As mentioned before, SEO is not quantifiable and a breakdown of SEO value of a site can never be made, but if I had to estimate it, it would look something like Figure C:

Figure C, an extreme oversimplification of how search engines determine a website’s relevancy


Every SEO campaign should have a goal and strategic plan

SEO campaigns should be well-planned ahead of time. Though impossible to quantify through a point system, improvements in SEO can be ascertained through other metrics, such as increased search result placement, increased organic traffic, increased conversions from organic traffic, etc.