I should start by thanking author Rebecca Lieb as I borrowed the title of one of the best SEO books for this post, because it’s very appropriate. Moving on from that, it’s been an interesting few weeks for Search Engine Optimization. Among all the nonsense of big sites getting in trouble with the almighty Google, SEOs have been placed into an extremely poor and over-generalized light by articles published on Mashable and Business Insider, to name a few.
I invite you to read these articles, but I’d highly recommend that all website owners check out Danny Sullivan’s latest post, SEO Remains A Viable Marketing Strategy For Anyone on Search Engine Land. It’s chock-full of SEO truths and nuggets of information that will help your website strategy (my attempt to help filter out the nonsense).
Aside from the posts that lead to a backlash of comments, and in both cases the authors slightly changing their tones because the “SEOs were the ones who misunderstood what was said” (please excuse the sarcasm), I’ve seen comments from the outside that have left me perturbed, to say the least. The Mashable article stands out, while reading the comments from the Facebook feed: “SEOs are spamming the internet,” “SEO is a sham,” among others. I don’t think it’s the SEOs who are misinformed.
The most important truth about SEO is that there are two types of SEOs. I’m not going to identify them as good or bad because who’s to say which process is “good” or “bad?” We’ll let the website owner decide.
The first type of SEO focuses on content strategy, best practices, website architecture, studying your audience, research, link building that is relevant to your website, social presence, usability, conversions, analytics… I can keep going if you’d like. It’s all about creating a website that has an effective marketing message, targets the most qualified audience and focuses on the long-term growth of a brand’s website. It focuses on the user and an audience, while developing a site that will have a search presence that is ready and responsive when the user types a query into the search box. In short, SEO is one form of marketing a website that should not be overlooked; no matter the size or scope.
Then there is the other type of SEO: one that manipulates the algorithms and does whatever it takes to snatch top rankings in Google-no matter what the risks-for the short-term reward. Unfortunately, this type of SEO owns about 90% of the industry, so we tend to get generalized as “spammers of the internet,” among other not-so-nice words.
I couldn’t agree more with Laura Lippay, who said, “The bottom line is that ‘SEO’ (which needs to be rebranded) has changed. It is an industry born out of manipulating search results and as search algos [algorithms] have been improved over time, they reward less content built for search engines and more content built for ‘audiences.’ The point of a site shouldn’t be to be valuable to search engines; the point of a site should be to be valuable to its audiences.”
The other truth is that this situation is akin to any other industry. You have your compassionate lawyers who strive for what is just, and those who lack any sort of conscience. Similarly, you have accountants who will work to get you the most return without worrying about the possibility of being audited, and the accountants who will move money around just so you have the largest return in your pocket (I guess, they also lack a conscience). It’s all around us.
The fact is, there are people who actually work to get the highest return on one’s investment, while following best practices and there are those who will look for any edge to get ahead of the competition. While this happens in every industry—not just SEO—we don’t seem to care as much. We all got over the fact Alex Rodriguez did steroids so he could hit a few more home runs. Next month, if our accountant tells us they can get us a few more dollars this year or our lawyer can get us out of speeding ticket, we’ll happily look the other way.
Bottom line: There are two sides to every industry, and the same applies to Search Engine Optimization. So I ask you not to generalize if you don’t understand what’s involved. Don’t take every article as fact, no matter how reputable the source, without looking at both sides of the spectrum. And in the case of some of the nonsense that has been published over the last two weeks, please read the comments, most notably from Alan Bleiweiss, Dave McClure, Laura Lippay and Steve Plunkett (among others) because they’re priceless—and the truth about SEO.