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A Bad Month For SEO’s Reputation
We seem to be going through another wave of "SEOs are scumbags" incidents, and I find myself with little energy to push back against them with yet another
defense of the industry. It’s not that SEO doesn’t deserve better treatment.
It’s just that I feel anything I could say, I’ve said before — as have others
as well. But below, a round-up of some of the latest developments, including a
podcast defense of SEO that I did after Jeremy "Shoemoney" Schoemaker gave SEO
On January 7,
Tech ‘Solutions’ Your Small Biz Can’t Use from Gene Marks in BusinessWeek is
what I’d say was the start of the current round. Marks wrote:
Search Engine Optimization
You mean for $5,000 I can get my company’s name on the very top of Google’s
search results? Where do I sign? Many business owners have been fooled by the
allure of search engine optimization [SEO] — and I’m one of them. I forked
over a bunch of dough to a firm in California that promised to get my
company’s name on "all the major search engines" when someone was looking for
products that we sell. How did they plan to do this? I’m still not really
sure, but it had something to do with spiders, black hats, and link farms.
That should’ve been enough of a hint that witchcraft was involved. After a
brief flirtation with page 47 of MSN’s search results, I gave up. SEO probably
does the job for companies with oodles of money, but not for the typical small
Somehow, I don’t think the company actually told Marks that it had to do with
"black hats and link farms," and part of me thinks that if you’re not really
sure, maybe you don’t fork over $5,000 without better understanding what you’re
Part of me, of course, sympathizes with a bad pitch he got and a bad
experience that has him authoritatively writing off SEO as being useful to small
businesses. But that still made for bad advice.
For example, our
Pizza & Salad Gets Local Company Top Ranking In Google discussion at Sphinn
David Klein offered to help his local pizza place rank higher on Google for
some free food. Free food, folks — not $5,000. Extreme Pizza
is now tops at Google, no link farm required. So much for small businesses
not needing SEO.
Need more people who disagree with Marks? There are no lack of them:
Gene Marks is dangerously wrong about "Tech ‘solutions’ your small biz can’t
Gene Marks can’t make these technologies work, but you can, Becky McCray
Dumbass of the Week: Gene Marks, Ask Kalena
Weak, BusinessWeek, Mike Moran
- Why The SEO
Industry Needs Small Business, Search Engine Land
- Top Ten Tech ‘Solutions’
Your Small Biz Can’t Use, Sphinn Discussion Thread
A few days later, I didn’t help matters when our
Get A Free Link From
Wired story went up. As I explained in the subsequent
An Apology To Wired &
The Search Marketing Community post, it was never our intention to encourage
link spamming. But no doubt it added to the bad rep that SEO takes in some
Soon after that,
Why I do not like 95% of SEO Experts from Shoemoney, Jeremy Schoemaker, came
out. Someone gave Jeremy some unsolicited advice, causing him to have enough:
I claim all the time I am not a SEO and I have never sold SEO services. I
always get labeled as a SEO though for some reason. I actually despise being
labeled a SEO. Why? SEO’s are like the 21st century car salesmen. Most are
slimy and have no clue what they are talking about. They tell you you just
need to put spammy keywords in your title tag, keyword tag, and write a spammy
as hell description meta tag.
Jeremy might not be an SEO, but he certainly mixes with a lot of high profile
ones. That led to a number of people to view his post with disbelief. Are we
turning on ourselves now?
As the comments and reactions built up, Jeremy said he’d take on anyone in a
debate on his podcast. I said sure, and the conversation happened.
You can listen to the show
here at Shoemoney’s site or
here at WebmasterRadio.FM. Note I said conversation, not debate. That
some people, who apparently wanted me to slam a folding chair over Shoe’s
I like him too much personally to do that. Plus, when you talk to him, you
can understand his frustration. Similar to Jason Calacanis, who famously also
dismissed most SEOs as slimes, he’s constantly cold-called. Those doing cold
calling could arguably be among the worst representatives of any industry.
People who do exceptional jobs — or even just good jobs — in an industry in
demand rarely need to cold call.
It’s a long show, and we went through a variety of topics, which from memory
- Why different SEO approaches are relevant to different industries
- History of trying to get certification and the debate that has caused
- Problems with letting search engines certify "good" SEOs
There was much more, and
Jeremy, Danny and the 95% Affair gives you a written overview of the entire
At the end of January, news came out that some slimy SEO types were spamming
social media sites on behalf of the UK’s Times Online. The promotions company
accused, Sitelynx, is actually run by a friend of mine, Graham Hansell, who I
met when I first came to the UK about 13 years ago. I was both sorry to hear his
company got caught up in controversy and that the controversy hurt SEO. Some
links about it:
- The Times
(UK) Spamming Social Media Sites, Waxy.org
Times Online and the case of the site link spammer, The Guardian
Media Founders on Undisclosed Mass Promotion, Waxy.org
A key thing you’ll take away from these stories is how it was described as an
SEO issue. Wrote the Guardian:
Times Online is getting it in the neck over some search engine optimisation
techniques employed by Sitelynx, a company that the Times has used since 2004
to boost its profile on social bookmarking sites and in search engine results.
Sitelynx employee Piotr Wyspianski (perhaps following company SEO strategy,
or perhaps developing his own carpet bombing techniques – we don’t know yet)
has seeded "thousands of links" to Times content on sites like Yahoo! Answers,
Del.icio.us, Metafilter, StumbleUpon et al, according to Andy Baio on
Here’s the thing. Social media marketing is not SEO. If you want to be
successful with SEO, there are very compelling reasons why you should also be
doing SMM. But they aren’t the same. Nevertheless, the Guardian makes them the
same, as did many other articles, and so SEO takes another body blow.
To go back to what Greg Boser
wrote almost exactly a
Spamming Digg isn’t an SEO activity. It’s an SMO/SMM activity.
So why is it that all the hip “Social Media Marketing Consultants” struggle
with that concept? Is it because deflecting the wrath of all the top Digglets
towards the SEO community allows them to slip under the radar with their own
Since SEM/SEO is where I spend the majority of my time, I’ll take
responsibility for the guy who auto posts to 50,000 abandoned blogs with the
anchor text “Buy Viagra”. He’s an SEO spammer because his actions have the
potential to directly impact how a site ranks in a search engine for a
However, I won’t take responsibility for the people who spend their day
posting crap on Digg (on behalf of a client) that rarely produces anything
more that a
short-term flood of traffic, and almost never has any direct
impact in terms of helping a site rank for prominent phrases that people are
actually typing into the little white box.
That’s not an SEO Spammer. That’s a Social Media Spammer. Accept that fact
and move on.
Search engines, like Yahoo! and Google, are usually the first place people
will look for you. Make it easier for them to find you. Yahoo! and Google
offer tools to let them know the site map structure of your Web site. Also,
using clean U.R.L.s such as yourdomain.com/store/widgets instead of
yourdomain.com/store.php?id=42&categoryID=widgets will increase your chances
of getting indexed in a search engine. Finally, don’t waste money on so-called
Search Engine Optimization (S.E.O.) specialists. Search engines are very quick
to penalize sites that try to trick their filtering techniques, and once your
site has been put on Google’s blacklist, it will take forever to get off.
Heh. Perhaps those compiling such sage wisdom could go back and see what
says about SEOs:
SEO is an abbreviation for "search engine optimizer." Many SEOs and other
agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, from
writing copy to giving advice on site architecture and helping to find
relevant directories to which a site can be submitted. However, a few
unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly
aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to unfairly manipulate search
Warning about "A few unethical SEOs" as Google does is much different than
writing the entire industry off as a waste.
In Mark’s article, he does a good pushback on the Amex guide, plus there’s a
thread on the guide’s online forums where he’s posted and others
At least there was some good PR this month. You might figure Craig Newmark of
Craiglist would be an anti-SEO person, but not so. From a Search Engine Watch
with him last month:
What are your thoughts on the SEO community in general?
Craig: I think it’s important to get the word out about
search engine optimization. SEO is more ethical and less obtrusive than many
other online marketing methods. In comparison to many other marketing tactics,
SEO is appropriate and not spammy, and it uses sites in a positive way. With
time, people get a lot smarter about SEO.
Nice to hear!
As I start off saying, I’m fairly tired of doing long defense pieces. I’ve
done many over my years covering the space, and those who are interested can
read these from the round I did last year:
- Yes Virginia, SEO
Is Rocket Science – Defending Search Engine Optimization Once Again
- More Rounds In The
"Is SEO Overrated" Debate
- Defending SEO, Yet
- Why The SEO Folks
Were Mad At You, Jason
- From My Inbox:
More Defense Of SEO
- SEO: Real Skills
That Can Protect Your Traffic
- The Promise &
Reality Of Mixing The Social Graph With Search Engines
One of the other things I’ve done in the past was to organize panels or
summits on improving the industry’s reputation overall. As I explained in
Shoemoney’s show, some of these lead to the creation of
SEMPO, which is now the industry’s biggest
professional group, in terms of size and stature.
SEMPO deliberately stayed out of the certification or rating debate when it
began because there was enough outcry over any type of industry organization
getting started at all. "Who are you to represent me?," was a common reaction
from those already in the space and experienced.
I also found when I did these sessions that the issues were complicated.
"White hats" would be upset that tactics against search engine guidelines were
being used. But "black hats" would complain that white hats might use perfectly
safe tactics, charge a lot for them, and produce no results. And when you’d talk
further, you’d find black or white, there was often agreement, if not downright
anger, over firms using any tactics (black or white) that used heavy pitches and
charged for doing nothing. Black hats and white hats united against rip-off
hats, if you will.
Since those earlier days, a number of
training programs for search marketers have emerged. That’s why when I
drafted up the agenda for our SMX
West conference that happens later this month, I figured it was time to
revisit the issue again. On our first day, we have
Is It Time For Search Marketing Standards? – Now that
several groups and organizations are offering certifications in search
marketing without massive online debate and uproar, does that mean the
oft-discussed idea of agreeing to common search marketing standards of
behavior could happen? Let the discussion — and likely debate — begin! This
session explains the issues involved, with viewpoints all around.
The session won’t solve things overnight, but perhaps it will contribute to
improving the reputation issue. There’s no doubt that SEO has one — and it
spills over into search marketing as a whole (search marketing being both SEO
and PPC/paid search combined).
But then again, for those feeling all doomy and gloomy, all I can say is that
the reputation issue has been out there for years, yet demand for SEO services
seems as strong as ever. I doubt the bad reputation will kill SEO any time soon.
It just doesn’t make you feel good to know it’s out there.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.