SEOs Are Librarians,The Net is a Library, Our Tools The Card Catalog

SEO LibrarianAn old and consistent internet meme with internet intelligentsia is the Harry Potterish sci-fi Library. Like something out of a MC Escher painting, these pics of remarkable University libraries or those built by web millionaire tycoons are rampant on hip tech blogs. They have a seemingly comfortable and empowering feeling despite their awesome and mysterious labyrinthine landscape. These fantastical landscapes capture the breadth and scope of the human mind’s potential in a photograph. The images also capture what the Internet is or could be.

The Internet to most is the screen in front of us be it a desktop, iPad, Nexus, or any other mobile device. When getting started with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a career or, as a business leader trying to understand, keep these pictures in mind. Strive to be the archetypal librarian. If you are old enough to remember the card catalogues keep this in mind as well. Books (websites) were marked with all sorts of meta information with names, titles, descriptions, and Dewy Decimal numbers(URLs) to quickly identify a book’s location and context. The actual card was the compass.

Card CatalogIn a sense this is what a Search Engine is trying to do. It will show you where to go. There is a spirit of the internet and a part of the spirit is acting and participating like a librarian. Librarians understand structure and context. They appreciate order. Logic. If they have a fault they may over-categorize. Images need to be cataloged and identified. They feel the library needs to be available for the disabled and those who are blind and those who are deaf. Access for all is the policy.

The information under the broad surface data is as important if not more than the patron-facing information. If we were to get literary an SEO is building the iceberg under the water like Hemingway’s literature. There’s more to it than what the reader sees on the surface.


Disclaimer – No discredit or judgement on Bansky, he’s awesome, and one could argue he IS the Spirit of Internet but when we talk about categorizing information… not so much.

This known iceberg is what also hinders our profession. Not everyone understands what goes on underneath the surface or even wants to understand. It is far to easy to hide under the surface and really be fake, a mirage. As the algorithms (card catalogs) get smarter Black Hat SEO is becoming increasingly harder and will likely not be the gold rush it once was. If you are a business owner a word advice is to really grill and interview your SEO agency. Do everything to understand their mentality and make sure they are a librarian and not a Bansky.

An SEO’s job is to the BE the librarian to help catalog and stay as close as they can to the Search Engines. Know and understand how the information is cataloged. SEOs think like a Search Engine and therefore do not despise them nor do they try to game them. Instead, they try to help them and order information as it should be.

So where does Paid Search and Display Advertising come in?

SEO KioskThink of a college campus library. You know all those flyers in the elevator vestibules or on the kiosk out front – that’s display advertising. It could be about anything- an emo night at a bar, a room for rent, a private tutor, or the Young Republican meeting on Tuesday night. Smart display advertising will be placed at strategic places in the library even out front. Display retargeting will know what library you are at and even what row or section you will be traveling to. 

Think of Paid Search as flyers at the end of the library bookshelf. Smart and cost-effective paid search promotes a topic for what’s in the row you are about to go down. The book section on basket weaving would have smart placed ads on the bookshelf for buying whicker in bulk. You could place an ad for Viag*r-a (deliberately misspelled) at the end of that bookshelf but you are going to pay an insane premium.

SEO BooksA shady SEO could try and get that Viag*r-a company’s website INSIDE the basket weaving section. Three or four years ago it would have been relatively easy. Not to so much anymore. If you were able to accomplish this now you would be on the 20th or 30th Search Result Page into obscurity. If you did get Viag*r-a on page 1 of a basket weaving result you are talking some serious black hat technology and you would not last.

Putting Viag*r-a on the Basket Weaving bookshelf would make an SEO twitch because the librarian in them would know it’s not right. They’d know it goes in the library down the street which has its own language and structure and they’d know… exactly where it goes. ;- )

Everything written here are the views of Tim Aten and Tim Aten only. They have no relation, nor are they the views of any of my employers past or present.


  1. Very well explained A-10!

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