Defending SEO, Yet Again!

SEM and SEO, Rocket Science, or Just Plain Science? (Part 1) from Kevin Lee at ClickZ has Kevin jumping formally into the "SEO is easy versus SEO is rocket science debate" and digging a hole even deeper for himself, as far as I’m concerned. Sorry, Kevin.

Kevin writes:

To recap the roots of the controversy, my business partner of over 10 years, David Pasternack, touched a nerve recently when he wrote an article for his DMNews column, Troubled Times for SEO Firms, in which he stated, "SEO isn’t rocket science."

Apparently, a segment of the SEO blogosphere hopes to continue positioning SEO as just that, perhaps to justify high fees.

Sigh. No, Kevin. A segment of the SEO blogosphere dislikes the idea that real skills they have just get dismissed as if it is stuff anyone can learn by reading a few help pages at Google in a day. I already went through all this in my past post, Yes Virginia, SEO Is Rocket Science – Defending Search Engine Optimization Once Again, so I won’t belabor the point. I’ll just direct you here and here. Those are just two people having SEO issues this week. Might not be rocket science to you, but for them, it is.

I’d like Dave in particular to contact this Danish woman with the shopping site on Google that’s she’s built out of frames. Have him do that "fix it once" thing he’s talking about and make it all better and fully indexed on Google. She’s read the help pages he’s suggested:

What I am saying is that most marketers can achieve significant organic rankings without resorting to anything more mysterious than applying the basic optimization principles outlined in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Yet she’s still having trouble. Of course, in your column, you recommend:

Some sites don’t get the rankings they deserve based on the quality of their content and their reputations. Their marketers should absolutely either learn SEO or hire a professional. Courses and training are widely available.

Why would she hire a professional? Why after you and Dave have suggested that it’s all about "high fees" or "paying a fortune" or that SEO isn’t an ongoing task and that the firms out there are offering "unnecessary services" since anyone can learn this stuff. And after Dave spends the week or two — at least – it will take to clean up her mess, be sure he bills at $15 per hour. We wouldn’t want her paying a fortune.

For the record, no one is saying that SEO must be outsourced, not that I’ve seen. There’s a huge, growing number of SEOers that do work in house. Some do that exclusively. Some do that with external firms, and there’s no one perfect model. But those in housers? They have value as well and in many cases have fought to show their value and wrest control of SEO away from the IT departments. Articles that suggest what they do is a "one time" thing that the IT department could do itself in a few hours doesn’t help them any more than it helps the external SEO shops.

Kevin, I’m with you that there are plenty of bad companies and bad pitches in search marketing, and that’s on both the paid and organic side. And no, it’s not true rocket science. But SEO is indeed a skill. You can pick up basic skills and might be perfectly fine. Many do. Many should, and doing it in house is fine. That’s a perfectly good message to send. But there are advanced skills as well, and they are hugely valuable.

I can respect that Dave and you felt you were doing a wake-up call for the industry, after one single survey suggested a slowdown on the SEO side. I look forward to your part two to see if there’s more survey data that those in the SEO world will want to understand. But with respect, Dave’s first article and your follow up didn’t come across as a wake up call. They come across as an attack on the side of the search marketing house you’re not part of. Perhaps that message might have been better delivered from someone actively working on the SEO side of the house. But I also believe that if it was, it might have taken a less stereotypical view of the SEO industry.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | SEM Industry: General | SEO: General


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • FaithfulWeb

    Great post, but shouldn’t the headline say “defending” rather than “depending”? Or is that one of those fancy terms you scientists use? :-)

  • mad4

    Danny I just found this via the SEO feed from Google News. Pretty quick to be in there already. Nice one. :)

  • Lee Odden

    “digging a hole even deeper for himself”. That is exactly what I was thinking. I’m glad you wrote a post about this Danny so I now I don’t need to. :)

    As much as I respect Kevin, I think his attempt to veil SEM elitism within the “rocket science” theme is an insult to the intelligence of the people reading it. But then, maybe that’s the point.

  • Michael Martinez

    Danny, using Sussie’s widely voice complaints as an example of how SEO is rocket science (and I’ll firmly come in on the side of it’s NOT rocket science) hurts your cause considerably. She’s been offered plenty of good free advice and took none of it.

    Nor does her site even have so much as an HTML site map, so she has not followed the advice on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

    Most practicing SEOs today don’t go very far beyond a handful of principles anyway. It works for them well enough to keep their clients happy, so why devote more words to a topic that isn’t relevant to reality?

    SEO has been declared dead many times. So what?

  • searchenginefriend

    Danny-You hit the nail on the head here. Sometimes I begin to talk about SEO and suddenly, friends and colleagues who are not anywhere near the web business- eyes glaze over. I used to be an ‘in house’ person who studied a lot and went to conventions to learn SEO-yes you can learn it, it’s not rocket science, but the amount of info is overwhelming. It takes time, energy and several conventions to really learn how do do this properly and efficiently. SEOs cut to the chase for many companies who do not have full time webmasters or web teams.

  • Mark

    SEO isn’t rocket science – but most things in life aren’t. Changing the oil in my car isn’t rocket science, but it’s something that I don’t have the time to do. Painting the exterior of my home is not rocket science, I could do it, but I would rather hire it out to a professional. After tearing my ACL I hired a physical therapist to aid in the rehabilitation of my knee. The exercises the PT put me through didn’t take a rocket scientist to come up with, but it did help the results of my knee.

    Search engine optimization, like anything else, can be learned by anyone who is willing to put forth the time and effort to learn and then do it. There are many things we choose to learn and then do on our own and then there are many other things that we decide are worth hiring someone else, someone to do the job that we simply choose not to.

    Tonight I think I will order a pizza, I don’t feel like cooking…

  • Halfdeck

    SEO 101 is easy to learn: build a spider-friendly site, build “good content”, and advertise.

    Executing SEO, on the other hand, is a never-ending rat-race against competitors who may rack up hundreds of new inbounds a day. Your job as an SEO is never done because there is no finish line.

  • Vu

    I see both of these postings from these partners about SEO nothing more than an attempt to gain some SEO/SMO exposure in the market. I believe anybody who reads these already know the facts and how SEO can not be simplified into a one-time event. Maybe Did-it partners have agreed on creating a viral campaign to bring-in some natural traffic. :)

  • Kalena

    I find this whole argument so amusing. It’s SEO snobbery at it’s finest. Of course SEO is rocket science to many, many people. To those of us who’ve been plugging away at it for over 10 years, it’s child’s play. It’s all about perspective. Why do you think I started a SEO agony aunt column? I get the same questions from people who are totally clueless about search engine marketing. It’s not a crime. But when you claim to be an SEO expert and then moan about the “uneducated masses” or fail to educate your client about the process, you are propogating SEO myth and legend. That’s the worst kind of SEO snobbery, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen quite a few SEO commentators making snide comments about the lack of complexity within our SEO courses at Search Engine College, but that is the whole point! We deliberately dumb-down the entire SEO process down to the most basic level so that anyone can understand it, grasp it and integrate it quickly. Most people don’t want to become rocket scientists, they just want their sites to be found.

  • diditcom

    Perhaps, part 2 of the column, published Friday will continue to clarify. Interestingly, I used similar analogies about professions that thrive without a need to maintain “rocket science” status. As to what prompted Dave’s initial article, he is very involved in client conversations and has been hearing over and over of SEMs charging for annual retainers, and only working for first month or two to do the basics then sitting back and waiting for the changes to have a material impact on rankings (or not). Both the SEMPO and Marketing Sherpa studies indicate that the industry is getting an image problem. Over-Charge and Under-Deliver. Clearly some SEOs charge fairly and deliver their services as promised, but take a moment and call ten active online marekters you know and ask if they have any SEO war-stories. You may be shocked at what you hear from at least some marketers I was.

  • Fionn

    Here is the latest in the saga

    I believe a better response from the DMA would have been to intervew an organic SEO specialist or Danny instead. Now he has even more publciity for his outdated view of SEO which he has not been a part of for 6 years. The industry has changed so much in 6 years it insane for the DMA to give this guy any credibility.

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