Socrates and SEO - A Match Made in Heaven


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What could Socrates and search engine optimization possibly have in common?

Lots. Let me make my case.

Consider the situation on the Internet today. At last count there were over 8 billion pages indexed on Google, and there are millions of web sites out there as well. The Internet has become a veritable digital world of commerce, education, information exchange, culture, and socialization. To stand out in amongst that crowd is at best, a formidable task, at worst, an impossible one. But with a good search engine optimization plan, you can improve your web site's ranking significantly.

And here are a few more factoids that will knock your socks off: in just one year, the number of people using search engines on a daily basis has increased by 38 million to 60 million daily users today, and 41% of today's Internet users use search engines (, “Search Use Still Soaring Researchers Find").

Now, what the heck does Socrates have to do with all of this? For those of you who don't know, Socrates is credited with being the father of Western philosophical thought, and the originator of the “Socratic Method" of learning, which involves gaining truth and knowledge through question and answer. Okay, still haven’t quite gotten the SEO connection? How about this – Socrates was also one of the world's first real rhetoricians. What the heck is a rhetorician? It is someone who practices the art and science of rhetoric, otherwise known as “the art of speaking or writing effectively and convincingly" ( stm), or also as “language in a dress suit" ( Others see rhetoric as the skillful and logical use of language for persuasion.

Socrates had a real beef with the way rhetoric was practiced in his day. Most rhetoricians back then were more interested in winning their arguments than in practicing ethical rhetoric. (Are you beginning to see the connection?) These artists of the language were masters of manipulation, of twisting and combining words in ways that did not necessarily represent truth, but that made their arguments irrefutable. Socrates took issue with this and believed in using argument, not as an end unto itself, but as a vehicle to discovering truth.

Okay, I know, you're getting impatient. So let's jettison forward from Socrates’ time of 469 B. C. to 2006 A. D. You know how many web pages there are out there in cyber land, and how many use the search engines on any given day. Thus, doing the math, to get out of the mire of the masses and into the light of the search engine top 10 will take some masterful persuasion in the form of your web site design. And here's where the rhetoric comes in – we call it digital rhetoric – and it is all those things that make your site valuable and usable for visitors, and favorably rated by the search engines.

Now, let's think about Socrates again. He was a man of ethics and integrity, a believer in using language honestly and not merely for the purpose of winning. Enter organic SEO. The search engines continuously adjust their algorithms to prevent devious and unethical practices such as doorway pages, hidden text, and cloaking – those devices used strictly to “win" as opposed to presenting a truthful, content-rich, “what-you-see-is-what-you-get" web site. Indeed, the search engines’ goal is to provide users with quality results to keep them from going elsewhere.

Okay, so before we close, let's review this Socrates SEO connection. Socrates was a man of ethics and integrity, a master of rhetoric – the art or persuasion – as a means of discovering the truth and enriching the stores of knowledge during his time. Likewise, to make it amidst the search engines throngs requires the use of masterful digital rhetoric – rich, truthful content; legitimate use of keywords; and honest, straight-forward page design.

Mary Anne Donovan is both a scholar and a practitioner, a balance that “gives her the best of both worlds: the theory behind digital communications and the hands-on experience to know what really works and what doesn't. "

She is in her tenth year as a professor of technical writing and business communications at St. John Fisher College while at the same time serves as Vice President and Director of U. S. Operations for SEOLinkingCourses, Inc., a search engine optimization consulting and training company .

Mary Anne has worked with computers since they first came out of the closet and into more general application, starting with computerized quality control systems for Kodak photographic and printing processes and now with the fine points of SEO theory and application.


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