Learning is a fundamental and highly adaptive function in human beings. More than any other species, humans are designed to be flexible learners and active agents in how we go about acquiring knowledge and skills. Yet much of what people learn happens without any formal instruction.
Think about it. When we’re kids, we learn not to put our hands into the fire by (a) putting our hands into the fire, or (b) watching someone else put their hand into the fire. When we’re teens, we have plenty of time to cogitate over what not to do and how not to do it ever again—while we’re grounded. When we’re young adults, we learn what not to do from watching Jackass DVDs.
The fact of the matter is, we learn from observation; it’s a fundamental part of the human condition. And now that we’ve evolved into search engine marketers extraordinare, sites like Search Engine Land and events like SMX provide critical venues for us in our ongoing quest for knowledge, wisdom, and self actualization.
Recently, Danny Sullivan took some flak for providing a venue for “black hat” tactics at SMX Advanced in Seattle. This seems strange to me, as there are few folks in the industry that stand as firmly behind “white hat” tactics as Danny and much of the SEL/SMX gang.
Danny has defended the industry’s reputation time and time again. He’s built venues that provide us all with a sense of community, rather than fostering its disparities. He’s gained the respect of genius search engine engineers from Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, and beyond. And he’s walked these fine lines with a measure of humility and grace that few could match.
I, for one, am thankful to Danny for providing us with yet another venue for experiencing and learning about all the shades of SEO, even if it makes some folks in the industry a little blue about the experience. The fact of the matter is, white hat SEOs have no other way to learn about the dark side without exposure to black hat tactics and tacticians.
In the SEO business, knowledge is earned, learned, and accrued over time. If that makes some readers blue, so be it. For folks new to the industry, you need to understand that your SEO learning curve is steep and potentially fraught with blisters if you decide to touch the fire.
Most of us in the business whole-heartedly embrace white hat SEO best practices, even though the idea of “best practices” is a moving target. We SEOs learn what we learn by being inquisitive, practicing tactics, monitoring results, and accruing knowledge and experience that can be applied successfully to our employers’ and clients’ benefit over time. Those that desire magical (albeit short-term) results choose another path.
Before the mistaken notion that SMX and Danny Sullivan support or endorse black hat tactics gets “read all over” the blogosphere, I think the industry needs to take stock of itself. Stop huffing, puffing, and posturing about what is right and what is good. We need to be guided by our own internal compass and the desire to “do no harm.” Adam Audette’s “Six Principles of Ethical SEO” can serve as an excellent framework in our quest to better ourselves and the Web. Toward this end, I’m going to continue to study, practice, and learn how to “move the needle” ethically for our clients using a natural search focused, white hat, pay-for-performance business model.
I think each individual needs to consider what’s right for them. What’s right depends on what each of us is willing to do to get our search marketing programs to perform over the long term, not about judging the practices of others. When we provide our clients with demonstrable, repeatable, and sustainable results and we do it with integrity, then everybody wins. And letting folks know what not to do just helps make our industry more reputable, not less.
Keep up the great work, Danny. Continue to challenge us to learn new things and to think critically. Your efforts are much appreciated, even if it sometimes leaves us a little black, blue, and read all over.
Stephan Spencer is founder and president of natural search marketing firm Netconcepts and inventor of the GravityStream SEO proxy technology. He’s currently authoring the upcoming O’Reilly book “The Art of SEO” along with co-authors Rand Fishkin and Jessie Stricchiola. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.