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Does Search Engine Optimization Make a Difference?

Posted By Darren Rowse 25th of July 2009 Search Engine Optimization 0 Comments

Earlier today I had a debate via instant messaging with another blogger who told me that Search Engine Optimization doesn’t make any difference any more. They argued that you just need to provide good content and search engine rankings look after themselves.

While I see where the blogger comes from and I agree to a point that search rankings look after themselves when you build a useful blog – I’m also convinced that knowing some basic SEO and implementing it on a site can have a significant impact.

Want proof?

Check out this chart:


What you’re looking at above is the search engine referred traffic over the last two months on my digital photography forum. The blue line is the last month and the green line is the month before that.

You can see quite clearly that around 25th June something happened to change the amount of search engine traffic arriving on the forum.

What happened? I simply installed a plugin called VBSEO. It’s a plugin for VBulletin (the platform I use to run the forum) that simply makes the forum more search engine friendly. It does quite a few things including changing the url structure of the forum to include keywords rather than numbers.

Here’s when the plugin was installed:


Within a day or two we noticed search engine traffic increasing. In the period you see above search traffic is 35.98% higher than in the last month than the proceeding one (that includes the first half of the month when the difference wasn’t massive). In fact over the last week search traffic has been up by 69.66%!

Now it is worth saying that Vbulletin is not well set up for SEO in its default form (in fact it’s pretty bad) and that most blogging platforms are better optimized in their default form – however I think it’s pretty clear from the above graph that SEO does have an impact.

Further Reading: check out our Search Engine Optimization Tips for Bloggers for more specific details on how to optimize a blog for search engines.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. “They argued that you just need to provide good content and search engine rankings look after themselves.”

    I think that is true – eventually!

    But you’d need a lot of content and be posting very regularly.

    I use Jeff Johnsons SEO wordpress plugin and it’s made a huge difference to the ‘organic’ traffic i get.


  2. It is interesting reviewing the successful key words in various posts comparing Google vs. Bing vs. Yahoo etc.

    My newer blogs (one less than 2 months old) is getting a higher share of Bing hits compared to my other sites which indicates to me that SEO is more effective with BING at least in the inititial stages of a blog’s life…

  3. I implement some basic SEO. I use the “All in One SEO Pack” plugin (for WordPress). Does it make a difference? A bit, but my search traffic is fairly low, anyway.

    I could probably spend some time learning more about SEO, but my preference is to focus on the content. I blog mostly for fun, and honestly, becoming an SEO expert doesn’t sounds like much fun :)

  4. Wow, that was very convincing. I should try a test with something of that nature with a few of my other blogs. See how to works out.

  5. It is important that you optimize your blog/web site for search engines. There are plenty of resources out there for that. One such resource is Google’s search-engine-optimization-starter-guide

    One thing I have seen with blogspot blogs is that, most of the time only Google index the new blogs. It takes some time to be indexed by Yahoo and Bing. Anyone knows a reason for that?

  6. Why do your two time periods have the same peaks? It seems odd that the curve for two months would line up so well…

  7. I think, SEO better than not, Content is the most inportant thing.

  8. Interesting! While I agree that content is the most important, keywords to help to an extent. Great article!

  9. The thing is, what sort of results did you get from this? More forum signups for example?

  10. Great. Guess, I need to keep thinking about SEO…

  11. About 50% of my traffic from the last year has come from search engine visitors, so it definitely makes a difference. I don’t do too much SEO outside of a little keyword research and some plugins that help a little though. I think it’s well worth it to focus on it up to a point, just don’t go crazy over it (it’s very easy to do this!). The benefits begin to diminish greatly after an initial effort of SEO work.

  12. I believe SEO does matter, but it alone can’t give you success

  13. SEO won’t help crappy content very much. There is a direct correlation between good content and search-optimized content. Knowing what people are looking for and giving to them is both good writing and good SEO. But it goes beyond that, you are proving with these screen shots, Darren.

    There is a technical implementation aspect to SEO where your understanding of what people are looking for has to appear in certain places in a web page (title, headlines, link text, images, etc.). It really does make a huge difference. If I may be so forward, I literally “wrote the book” on WordPress SEO–just see the link for name above this comment.

  14. Anyone WHO SAYS THAT searching engine ranking is noting is actually fooling others…Though the good content is everything but SEO is still the name of the game…Still you need to build links and increase your website power…

  15. It could well have been a coincidence don’t you think? I mean wouldn’t call the fact that the installation of a plugin and a sudden spike in traffic as conclusive proof, although I do believe that SEO does actually make a difference.

  16. Hi Darren.

    The other blogger does have a point, but so do you. There are many aspects of SEO.

    Relationship / Human SEO
    One aspect is to deliver great content and people will link to you. So that would be SEO as impacted by relationships and humans.

    Mechanical / Googlebot SEO
    The other aspect of SEO is digital. Googlebot doesn’t link to you like people do, instead it helps your SEO by spidering your content and looks in key places to see what your content is relevant for. Use that knowledge to tell Googlebot what you think is important.

    So I think the real answer is, you’re both right!

  17. Content is king, but adding more tools to your blog to optimize your placement in searches can only help…not hurt.

  18. DJ @ Fermentarium said:
    “Why do your two time periods have the same peaks? It seems odd that the curve for two months would line up so well…”

    In seems that the site has high traffic every Friday – this is where the peaks are. Darren compared two time periods that began on the same day of the week (Sunday) so the Fridays line up with each other – hence the peaks occuring at the same spot in the draft.

    Friday is probably a day when a lot of people are hitting Google hard as they kill time until the end of the work week.

    Doesn’t seem odd at all now, does it? :)

  19. Holy cow, my numbers are almost as high as yours (not!)

    YES, with that SEO gadget in place on my blog for the past few months I’m getting so much more traffic, most bouncing of course – but not all. And since I’ve a “nicheless niche,” I’ve got a broad base of terms folks can search.

    And searches for pansy poems, which I’ve written a few of, If I can write and post more of those, I think I’ll have pretty-much have cornered the Web pansy poem market.

  20. It would probably be fair to compare year on year too so you can adjust for seasonal differences.

    But who needs stats. Google themselves in their own documentation tells us that they need our help to tell them what a page is about. We do this by setting correct titles, set out headers right etc. Webmaster tools will even help you spot these problems where you get it wrong.

    Some still seem to think “SEO” is some kind of magical art only “experts” can understand. The reality is you just need to send out the right signals to tell search engines what your page is about so they can rank you for the right terms. Some terms are searched for more than others.

    Just read the docs and implement it. Yes it does matter but neither is it a hard thing to do and get right.

  21. I think that you need to legs to run a race. Good content is one leg and SEO tactics are another leg. Without either one your not going to be successful long term.

  22. I agree with many of the other comments that content is what is going to provide the overall highest and most lasting search engine results.

    However, as John Hoff explains above, part of our success will come by directing search engines to the content that is most important. By effectively using the correct tags and arranging HTML in the best way, we can increase the chances that search engines will spider our content, make correct assessments, and direct relevant traffic our way.

  23. the Thesis theme for WordPress supposedly does a better job with SEO…anybody tested or confirm that? thanks, Jim

  24. SEO definitely makes a difference in term of traffic and earning. In order to receive more search engine traffic, great content is what we should produce and get to the top ranking. Despite the top ranking, Darren you will still getting tons of traffic with your strong brand. :)


  25. I see both sides of the debate. My only thought is that while SEO still makes a difference, I wonder if effectively marketing on social networking sites makes more of a difference than SEO. Although I am just starting to market my Trident Consulting blogm (http://www.trident-consulting.net) on them, Ive found sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others to be very useful in increasing traffic… more useful than SEO.

  26. SEO unnecesssary? Isn’t that sacrilege? An entire industry would collapse.

  27. Tangent:
    I’ve heard that AWebber is not compatible with Macs. Is this true? Any Mac users also using AWebber?
    Sorry for the tangent. It’s kind of time sensitive for me.

  28. SEO works like the sugar in the cup of hot coffee.Because search engine traffic add the value to any online webpage or blog.Search engine is the main gateway of find content online.
    Without content,search engine fails,without search engine no content finding method and without SEO no traffic…..

  29. But only if you’re getting any traffic in the first place…

  30. What works for me is to be mindful of SEO but not let it become overwhelming.

    I totally agree with those who say content should be the main focus in regards to SEO. This is what I do, making sure my posts contain a healthy amount of keywords along with links to some other relevant blog posts by more popular bloggers (when the linkage is called for, obviously).

    I also use the Thesis theme which is suppose to be great in regards to SEO but I have read where even then, some SEO plugins should be used as reinforcement. Before I switched over to Thesis, I did use the All-In-One SEO plugin which I highly recommend!

    Wesley Craig Green
    The Geek Entrepreneur

  31. When you’re only starting out SEO definitely matters. You won’t have much (great or otherwise) content in the first place. Once you’ve built and established your brand, content matters most (and a little bit of SEO).

  32. SEO absolutely has an impact on your performance on search engines. It’s all about trying to make it easier for search engines to find stuff on your site and thus promote it. If you neglect SEO, then it’s going to be harder for them to know what you’re site’s about and direct people to it.

  33. I agree that search engines will find your site even if you don’t spend tons of time optimizing your site/blog.

    But I don’t think people want mediocre search engine results, they want to maximize their search engine results. And that requires specific optimization. If you don’t interlink posts, don’t get the backlinks, have a site full of masses of duplicate content, are targeting bad keywords, etc., your results won’t be nearly as good as they could be.

    I’d be interested to see the search engine traffic stats from the blogger you were having this discussion with and compare them to the stats of somebody who has done at least a fair amount of SEO.

  34. SEO probably does take care of itself for the person you talked to because THEY most likely have an awareness of how to format their content to be search engine friendly.

    They are probably already set up on a platform that has SEF url’s and enter keyword and description metas, and a unique title tag. Interlinking their content probably comes natural to them.

    I don’t care how good your content is, if your title tag says “Home” or “page2,” yes you need to optimize your web site.

  35. it works if you know which one to use and how to use SEO!

  36. I totally agree. I started blogging about a year ago and was very careful to design a theme for WordPress which included as much SEO optimization as I could learn and implement. It’s paid off. I get over 70% of my traffic from search engines and people are spending over 3 minutes per visit on my site. While I know that this isn’t nearly as good as some of the professional browsers out there, for a person who didn’t take writing the articles that seriously, I was very impressed.

    Now that I’ve gotten more serious about writing content, I find my articles showing up on the front page of Google more often than not. I’m a firm believer that content keeps people coming back, but proper SEO is key to ranking well in an effort to get people to come to your site in the first place.

  37. I think that if you use SEO correctly, you get everything you need out of it and it isn’t important anymore thereafter.

    12 year old tech blogger

  38. I totally agree that content is king, but if no one sees that content, then it gets dusty, which is where basic SEO comes in.

    I recently did two blog post within a week of each other, both of them featuring free events in Los Angeles. If you search “free concerts los angeles,” my article comes up on top.

    That proved very target worthy yesterday when my site received 148 search hits, a new record. It just so happens that many of the free events happen on Thursday.

    As mentioned in a few of the other comments, I use the All-In-One SEO plugin.

    The beauty of the hits were that most of the people searching are also my major target audience, LA residents.

  39. A lot seems only relevant to self-hosting type blogs – are there any tips/techniques/plugins that are specifically, or particularly relevant to blog hosting site such as wordpress.com?

    (Other than the mention of a theme that is more suitable, because if content is not necessarily king, but is still extremely relevant, then choosing a theme that suits the content is probably more important than one simply better at SEO)

  40. SEO is still important, despite the content. A nice looking car is cool, but if few people get to see it, then it doesn’t make much sense.

  41. Search engine optimization begets visitors. Great content begs readers. But people need to visit to read.

  42. Most of my traffic is “organic” traffic from SEO. It most definitely matters.

  43. Your data says it all. Anyway, I think that SEO isn’t that technical anymore. Using a PlugIn is like a Blackbox that everybody can install, but there are some little things like optimizing the meta description that really make you hit the motherload. I am all about creating value and sell your creations for as much as possible. I have written a post about what I consider SEO beyond the technical details. Have a look if you are interested and tell me what you think about it: http://richwp.com/seo-for-bloggers/

  44. I’ve been a vBSEO advocate for 2 years, I suggest it to everyone I run into with a vBulletin forum, and I wouldn’t start a forum without it.
    I’m also a strong believer the SEO is a must unless you are just building a micro site that you plan to promote with PPC

  45. SEO helps in getting Organic Traffic and thats cool thing about it…

  46. Hi Darren,

    I thing I want to ask you, “Can i use the “Joomla Templates” in place of my name “Rajput” in the above name field of this comment system ?.

    SEO Importance:

    The Searching engine Optimization has is own importance. Certainly things like SEO friendly static URL, Unique Title and appropriate keywords can make a great difference to your web traffic. Those who Ignore SEO will have to pay …later..

    Hi Darren, Tomorrow 26/07/09 is a very important day for me because tomorrow my blog is going to be 60 days old. And the current Alexa ranking is 104,899. So here the big question for me is that, can i reach the 100,000 target by the next 24 hours. Anyhow I request you to do a poll on the number of post the professional blogger do per day. If you have already done this poll, then pls give me the URL to see the results..

    Take care



  47. It is just like the bloggers using thesis theme with WordPress, which is a good theme for SEO optimization. I did see the results after installed thesis as my blog’s theme.

    The iPhone Blogging -A Blog to Review Your Apple iPhone

  48. SEO…don’t SEO. That fight has been over the blogoshpere for years. My take is that it is better to SEO your blog pages to be on the safe side – it doesn’t take more than installing plugins, treating titles and working your links afterall!

  49. Both valid points made. I agree somewhat that having quality content will sustain your search engine rankings. But how can you say that using SEO will not help your rankings even more? As a new blogger I couldn’t see myself raising in the search engines without using SEO.on my blog.

  50. It depends on how competitive the ‘market’ is on if it makes a difference in the short term….

    There have been niches in which I’ve been able to get lots of traffic from SE’s and there are niches where it’s very hard to show up in the search results -> and that’s with great content ….

    The argument that great content will just do the job is not true in the end either -> when you’re working a commercially competitive market people tend to not so easily link out to your pages … Because they treat you merely as a competitor …

    In the end SEO always matters … the reason is because technically, the web’s search and find system is based upon keywords … You just have to know where you’re at in order to effectively know how to tackle web traffic generation …

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