Yes Virginia, SEO Is Rocket Science – Defending Search Engine Optimization Once Again
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
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
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,
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
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.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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