Like Greg Boser, I saw the articles and counter-articles emerge from Did-It’s swing at search engine optimization back in October, rolled my eyes and moved on. The argument’s been done before, done to death. But Greg’s got his back up now, and he provides an excellent read in The Half-Truths of Talking Frogs. I’ll highlight part of his post defending SEO plus jump in along with him.
I read Kevin Lee’s ClickZ column that got Greg fired up and didn’t personally take it as saying all organic results are spammers. Kevin wrote:
There’s no reason organic search should be more relevant than paid search. Quite the contrary. SEO spammers don’t care if they manage to get a high position for keywords and keywords phrases that are less than perfectly relevant, because a high SEO position delivers clicks for free, be they perfectly targeted or only marginally relevant. PPC search marketers, however, have no such luxury. They pay for every click, and any click with a poor chance of converting due to poor relevance has an ever-increasing cost.
Greg took away:
Kevin’s relevancy argument clearly implies that the sites showing up on the left side of the screen are using “risky�? spamming tactics that will ultimately cause irrelevant pages to show up. He is pushing the message that allocating money for organic SEO is synonymous with being a spammer
I took it to mean that Kevin felt there was nothing to limit the potential of spam in organic results, not that all organic results were the same as spam. In other words, since advertisers have to pay for paid listings, they don’t want to be putting up irrelevant stuff. In contrast, the organic results have no payment barrier to entry. Potentially, paid listings should be more relevant.
It’s a nice argument, and one I’ve discussed before. But the barrier for entry into the top page of search results for terms is higher than in the past — the more wild west past that Greg does an excellent job detailing. You don’t just fire up 100,000 doorway pages and say thanks for those page one results, Google. In contrast, despite the human review that is supposed to be happening, I routinely find ads showing up on Google and other search engines that seem to be nothing but broad match targeting without thought or filtering.
Here’s a search on danny at Google. In the US, it shows me:
Biography, Photo Collection, Film
List & more – Visit MovieFone Now!
Oooh. How relevant. Go on, click through on the link. I’ve removed the paid portion. There’s nothing I find particularly relevant to this page about Danny. And in the UK, I get this:
10 Years Younger
Toyboy, for those who don’t speak Brit, means a younger guy who is with an older woman. This Danny isn’t a toyboy — and I find the relevancy of the ad period to be odd. The page says nothing about Danny or Dannys on it. Do we really think someone searching on "danny" was thinking please Google, show me a toyboy ad?
So let’s dispense with the notion that either side of the screen, the organic left or the paid right, is somehow going to be more relevant that the other. For each search, various factors will come into play.
But back to the SEO argument. Here’s what Dave Pasternack wrote originally:
Sure, marketers (especially in fiercely competitive verticals) may need to consult an expert to pull ahead in a head-to-head battle with a competitor for highly contested organic rankings. But SEO isn’t rocket science, and just about every marketer who invests a bit of time, research, and elbow grease can realize its benefits without paying a fortune to an SEO firm.
Actually, it is rocket science — if you know nothing about it. Most recently, I talked about this in my SES Chicago keynote earlier this month and in a Daily SearchCast episode in November. That episode has me going on a real rant about it.
Look, I am absolutely sick and tired of the SEO community forgetting that what they know and do is NOT second nature to the vast majority of people. I’m not talking spamming or black hat stuff. I’m talking about that "simple" stuff, the loads of things that can make a real difference to how well a site does in the search results. Ignore these things on purpose or accidentally, and you miss out on valuable traffic.
Yes, you can invest time to learn these "simple" things. But if you know nothing about them, they can see like rocket science. Over the years, I’ve talked with plenty of people who weren’t even aware of the basic tip that every page should have a unique, descriptive title tag. They think "title" means the biggest text on the page, not the HTML title tag. Talk of HTML title tags – that IS rocket science to them.
In November, I was on a site review clinic at PubCon. We had one woman who was unable for some reason to access anything other than her home page. So, she put meta tags for all her other eight internal pages on the home page. She somehow thought this would magically tell the search engines the information for the other pages.
But it ain’t rocket science. Everyone knows this stuff.
Have you blocked off all your print only pages to avoid possible duplicate content issues, like Google recommends? Hey, are you delivering all your page content through AJAX now? Are you aware this means search engines might not see any of your content? Everyone knows about these things, right? How about that local listing? Did you register with Google to get your postcard allowing you to change your title and information, which can have an impact o how you rank?
This is rocket science. SEO is only not seen as rocket science BY THOSE WHO ALREADY KNOW IT. Everyone in the industry forgets how much knowledge they’ve acquired, learned, absorbed to the point it becomes second nature. I’ve joked at that some point, how second nature it is reminds me of a classic scene from The Matrix:
It’s hard when you’re in search marketing not to see all that stuff. I’ve described it to some people like that scene in the Matrix, when Cypher is staring at those three monitors with streaming code that looks like nothing. He tells Nero:
"I don’t even see the code anymore; all I see now is blonde, brunette, redhead"
When I do a search, it’s hard to look at just the content I’m being shown. All I see is seo, seo, seo.
So don’t diss SEO. I’m not having it. Don’t diss it to yourself, underestimating how much you’ve learned and how valuable you are to yourself, your clients or your company. Don’t diss it outside the industry because you think it’s so "simple." It’s not, any more than all those "simple" jobs I do around the house seem complicated to me because I don’t do them for a living.
I love both sides of the search marketing how, the ads and SEO. Both sides can and should reinforce each other.
If you want to pick up more on this most recent debate, these two threads at the Search Engine Watch Forums are good for linking to articles spurred by the original Did-It article and some responses:
And I’d really encourage you to read my Worthless Shady Criminals: A Defense Of SEO article from April 2005. It’s goes in more depth why SEO deserve greater respect plus why that’s been lost along the way.