Hype and Hyperbole in SEO: It’s Not Helping Our Cause

It seems that at least once a year I need to write a post like this one, just to make sure everyone still has both legs firmly planted on the ground.

Because, yes, once again hype has taken hold of the SEO industry and we’re all running around screaming that everything we do has to radically change because Google farted and the SERPs have been turned on its head and SEO will never be the same and ohmygodwereallgoingtodie!!

Calm down, dear.

Some people seem to forget that this thing of ours is in a continuous state of flux. The specific tactics of how we get more relevant search traffic to a website have always changed. Everything from how we tackle on-site optimisation to the nature of linkbuilding has undergone change from one year to the next, and often quicker than that.

But what we actually do as SEOs, the core essence of our remit in the wider digital marketing mix, that really hasn’t changed at all. It’s still about getting relevant traffic to a site via organic search. That was true 15 years ago and it’s still true now.

Whenever a search engine changes its algorithms in an obvious way, or when a new website is launched with a novel social service, the SEO blogosphere goes mental and almost literally writes it to death. Whether it’s Panda or Pinterest, Google Plus or Posterous, whenever something new and shiny comes along SEO bloggers pounce on it and milk it for everything it’s worth.

The reasons for this hype-chasing behaviour are obvious: we’re a content-driven industry and we generate an awful lot of content ourselves. This means that pretty soon we run out of novel things to write about, and we resort to regurgigating what others have written before, only rarely bothering to find a clever angle to present the same shtick in a slightly original way.

So whenever something genuinely new comes around, we devour it so eagerly we’ve already digested and excreted it before we even fully realised what it actually was that we were stuffing down our voracious blogging throats.

BoomThis never-ending cycle of hype-chasing mania also has another side effect: in an effort to stand out from the masses of articles appearing almost simultaneously on a given hype-worthy topic, we tend to resort to hyperbole and extreme exaggerations. That’s why we get bombarded with statements like “SEO will never be the same”, “old SEO will be made redundant”, and “we need to stop calling ourselves SEOs”.

These things have been said so often before that they’ve become parodies of SEO blogging. In fact I can’t help but chuckle nowadays when someone writes something like that, because they’re obviously not getting the joke.

But those statements don’t do anyone any favours, because not only are they patently false, they’re also harmful to how our industry is perceived. We’re not peddlers of vacuous crap – we provide essential services that add genuine value to an online business.

Yet because we keep chasing those hypes and embracing hyperbolic proclamations, we aren’t being taken seriously by the wider public out there. And you can’t blame them for that. We come across like snake oil salesmen, full of self-important babble but lacking any substance.

The substance is there, though. It’s there in our work in on-page optimisation, in content strategy and linkbuilding tactics, in integration of SEO in a holistic digital marketing approach. But we don’t talk about those things very often, and when we do we do it with a softer tone of voice. Because those paths have been well-trodden, and we don’t think they’re worth screaming about anymore.

Well, I disagree. I think the ‘old SEO’, the stuff we do day in day out for our clients, is very much worth screaming about. Because while it may not be sexy, it delivers results – again and again.

And I think that is genuinely worth a hype of its own.

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About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised SEO services to clients worldwide.

  • This is well timed and much needed – I’m going to be speaking on ‘Saying Stuff is Dead is Dead’ at Think Visibility 🙂

  • Apart from quoting Michael Winner – great article 🙂

  • Hi Barry

    Liked you comments, you should come to the ionSearch SEO Conference in Leeds, 18th April and share more of them, http://www.ionsearch.co.uk – hope to see you there

    • Hello Fergus,

      Considering the kerfuffle surrounding ionSearch’s initial positioning as a conference, I sincerely doubt I will be attending the conference in the foreseeable future.


  • Word of warning to readers of this article – trying to blame farts on Google won’t cut it in most households! On a serious note, in all my readings on digital industry practices, there’s always those who write the simplest things in hyperbole terms to make what they are writing see more important – unlike this article

  • Having been in this since 2007, I know what you mean. But it doesn’t mean their are not new ways to say the same thing. That’s pretty much the point of art. And Seo is art.

    Also newbies wouldn’t necessarily know or even want to read dated Seo articles that already covered certain ideas, unless they are exceptional.

    • You’re quite right. Recently I was grumping about someone writing a blog post on a topic I had covered in-depth two years earlier, but then someone wiser than myself pointed out to me that it is necessary that these same topics get covered afresh with updated knowledge and experience. That too serves a very important function, especially for – as you say – newcomers to the industry.

  • SEO has always evolved and it’s important to keep up with industry trends, but what it comes down to is the same. Follow a white hat strategy and optimize content naturally to attract target audience members and help drive traffic to a website.

    • Exactly. Focus first on content, then SEO.

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  • This reminds me of John Calacanis and the Ranked Hard skit…http://www.rankedhard.com/jason-calacanis-seo-has-no-future.php

    There is also the pragmatic demonstration that “SEO” is not dead…since the New Year my phone hasn’t stopped ringing with new client inquiries and I’m busier than ever.

    Perhaps my competitors have fallen for the myth that SEO is “dead” and buggered off leaving the playing field to zombies like me 😉


    • Yeah it does seem to be a recurring meme. I even created a one-page site for it a long while back: SEOisnotdead.com.

      Which I actually haven’t updated in a while… There’s an ironic joke to be made there somewhere. 🙂

      • Perhaps it should be “SEOIsNotDeadItsJustResting.com 😉

  • Part of me thinks we (those in the SEO and Internet marketing industries) care far more about the public reputation of SEO that that reputation actually delivers.

    That is to say, any website owner with a brain that can open a Google Analytics report recognizes that search engines are an important potential source of traffic, new customers, engaged visitors and brand visibility. Is that same savvy business person going to say, “wait, that requires ‘SEO’ and all those guys are snake oil salesmen – screw that, I’m disavowing myself of this important opportunity because marketing activity surrounding this isn’t sufficiently sanitary”?

    Who really cares about the reputation of SEO? SEOs. And what do business owners that hire marketing pros care about? Making money. We’d probably do well to spend less time hand-wringing about the former and concentrating on the latter.

  • If we had all just listened to Eric Ward (LinkMoses) 15+ years ago, it would al be so much nicer, simpler, enjoyable, friendly, correct, interesting and so on…

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  • Argle Bargle

    What pisses me off to no end is the amount of ‘SEO Professionals’ who sit there and parrot everything they’ve read to a client, but when called out on something it’s blatantly obvious to all concerned that they can’t even write a line of code.