How to Handle the Declining Status of SEO?

As an SEO community we are the scum of the internet, the quacks, the crooks and the swindlers. We have been accused of manipulating the web, destroying the independence of search engines and basically being a virus within the world wide web. To some, we’re like door-to-door salesmen trying to sell stuff to people who don’t want it or need it. We’re manipulating the web so we can lead people to websites where we can lure them into buying all kinds of things they would never have thought of buying if it wasn’t for us.

Of course that’s not how we see ourselves, that’s not how everyone sees us, but some people do. And that’s not just because there’s ‘crooks’ actually trying to make money by manipulating either search engines or ignorant companies wanting to profit from this magical business called SEO.

It’s also because we as a community have a hard time explaining what we actually do. It’s not without reason an important part of being an SEO is about knowing how to convince others, knowing how to persuade. That’s because it’s a difficult business. Heck, not even everyone calling themselves an SEO understands it to the fullest.

In The Netherlands, where I’m performing my SEO practices, we’re currently coping with a difficult situation where leading blogs about marketing are producing a articles about, or related to SEO which do not reflect the level of SEO they should reflect. While the quality of those articles is very varying, the quality is also slowly and steadily declining.

Some of these articles just contain wrong interpretations or useless advice. But sometimes it’s just clear nonsense. This shouldn’t be a major problem, but over the years these blogs have created an image to be of high quality. Therefore a lot of readers assume everything published there to be the truth. Those readers include our clients, but also marketers and even some (so called) SEO specialists.

I’ll give an example. Take the “over-optimization penalty” mentioned by Matt Cutts during SXSW. In a few days posts popped up like “Google fines over optimized sites”, “Google punishes optimized sites” or “Google penalizes SEO”. Luckily these posts just popped up on tech sites, but marketing sites have been caught publishing posts containing quotes like this:

“If a website with high quality content needs four SEO consultants to rank in Google, there’s something fundamentally wrong with Google”

My question to you all is how to respond to this? Should we ignore this completely and just tell our clients over and over that what they’ve read is nonsense? Or should we respond to every post which is incorrect in our eyes and try to reach out to the readers within the comments? Or should we respond on our own blogs and accept we can´t reach everybody?

We need our business to become more mature to shake off the image of a bunch of snake oil salesmen and becoming a business people want to use. But for this we need quality information, we need people to stop spreading nonsense.

About Jeroen van Eck

Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.

17 thoughts on “How to Handle the Declining Status of SEO?

  1. Why actually bother with this? We must educate our clients better to actually trust their own opinion about Search (and the articles they read) and let them figure it out for themselves. Isn’t there enough competition yet 😉 who needs a line in front of a top-position anyway.

    1. I’m not opposed to people not knowing everything, knowledge is still power. But I am opposed to people knowing the wrong things and focusing on the wrong stuff. I love educating my clients, but I shouldn’t be working on de-educating them before I can start teaching them the right stuff. 

  2. Good article and I agree with the sentiment. Unfortunately, it’s going to be impossible to stop the spread of nonsense. Just look at the number of SEO conferences and made-up awards. All the time the industry is gorging itself on this bullshit, it’s just going to continue getting worse.

  3. It doesn’t help that most of the main centres of information on the subject are shining examples of what people thing SEOs are about. While places like SEOmoz do have a wealth of useful information, they are pushing the hard-sell all the time, and most SEO blogs, instead of focusing on being properly useful to their readership, tend to just regurgitate sensationalist link-bait in an attempt to grow their readership and positioning in the search results.

    We need a centre of excellence that isn’t run for profit. Even webmasterworld, back in its hey-day, charged membership fees for all the best stuff.

    We need an open community, that is run with no agenda other than providing excellent information and industry transparency. No hard-sell, no sensationalist articles, no focusing on ad or subscription revenues; just a hub of information with an open and useful community dedicated to teaching and learning the subject.

  4. If the SEO community wants to change perception, we have the tools and knowledge to do this. We actually can reach everybody 🙂

    First step would be to change the title of this blogpost because it is contributing to the negative perception by others. Especially the not researching journalists and bloggers wrong vision and general perception about SEO.

    for instance the blog title could be even more provocative:
    Are marketing blogs in decline?
    Marketing blogs are not doing their jobs?
    Marketing blogs refuse to do proper research!
    of more positive.
    Marketing blogs; a powerhouses of perception
    The negative perception about SEO is WRONG

    We could also give a more marketing view about what SEO does.

    A SEO consultant ensures that the quality a website, the company and it’s products are actually recognized by customers, google and other search engines. He uses the knowledge about proper webdesign, webdevelopment, usability, PR, marketing and sales in order to match the proper customer to the proper supplier.

    These days the markets have become more and more competitive and professional. Companies with proper (marketing) strategy and (budget) dedication to SEO and all other ways of marketing will end up in a good spot in the search results. It is not that difficult, it’s not magic or a scam, it’s just a job.
    The best job I ever had.

  5. Writing content for the sake of informing people and trying to “teach” people new things has transformed in an easy method to score links. Because of that, quality doesn’t matter anymore for guestbloggers. I’m convinced that blogs that keep on posting rubbish will lose in the long end and high quality blogs will surface more and more. 

  6. Writing content for the sake of informing people and trying to “teach” people new things has transformed in an easy method to score links. Because of that, quality doesn’t matter anymore for guestbloggers. I’m convinced that blogs that keep on posting rubbish will lose in the long end and high quality blogs will surface more and more. 

  7. Hi Jeroen,

    You make a good point! As the community manager of the marketing website that published the article featuring that infamous quote, I’d like to shortly state why we chose to run the blogpost.

    Of course, there was a lot of buzz about Matt Cutts’ remarks. And we were aware of the very different ways in which these remarks were perceived. So we were actually quite glad to almost simultaneously receive posts representing two different views on this issue from both a marketeer and from a search expert (not unknown to this platform). As a platform for marketeers, we stimulate discussion about topics such as this one. So we decided to run both articles, even though we knew that they were coming from totally different sides of the spectrum.

    The most important reason to publish the marketeer’s post, was that we noticed that many people shared the sentiment represented by the article (although in a somewhat extreme fashion, perhaps). By running the SEO expert’s article shortly after the marketeer’s, we wanted to first vent the opinion we noticed around us, closely followed by the reality check.

    You can argue that this was not smart or that the way in which we presented the two was suboptimal. I’ll take full responsibility for that. However, your point that we should not represent the marketeer’s opinion is still up for discussion, if you ask me. Because maybe it’s better to have the opinion vented and then debated (which happened abundantly), then deny the opinion. As you say yourself in the opening, there are still a lot of people that don’t fully understand the value of SEO, including marketeers.

    But there might be good news for SEO (experts) coming from the articles. Because we have decided to meet up with a number of them in our community to discuss how we can improve our SEO coverage. We’ll still want to tackle the questions and doubts that marketeers have about it, but maybe we can do it without provoking too much discussion about the way in which we do so.

    Because yes, we promote discussion, but if we can keep it on-topic, that’s even better, right? And hopefully, by doing so, we can help the business mature!

    1. Hey Bram, 
      Glad to hear you are taking the comments from the community seriously. There’s a need for a high quality blog in The Netherlands that reaches out to marketers and tells them the right things about SEO. I think Marketingfacts could be that blog, if you are prepared to focus on quality instead of quantity and the need to cover all new developments.

  8. Like I said before, don’t waste your time to much on those annoying articles. There will always be persons or journalists who will write pieces of junk. Try to focus on the editors in chief of those marketingblogs. They need to be aware that there articles are declining in quality. In that way I share the opinion of Roy, inform your clients, be sure they know what your doing, be transparent.

  9. Unfortunately Google HAS created a monster – there are great SEOs out there, most of whom use great tactics all the while. But for as long as people use crap tactics that work, others will have no choice but to follow, and with so much at stake, the big companies in competitive fields have too much to lose to stand on a ‘holier than thou’ podium. 

    So whilst we all know that great page set up and the good bits of PR (earned postings in high quality blogs and news sites, linking back) are what SEOs should all be chasing, the comment spammers and nonsense spinners are going to carry on doing what they do until it stops paying. And until that day, some better SEOs are going to be tempted, and all SEOs are going to be tarred with the same brush. 

    If the industry doesn’t get its act together and create a set of signed up and regulated standards, a kind of Google approved kitemark, it’s perhaps asking to be made irrelevant later?

  10. I am optimistic that many of the snake oil types are starting to drift away from spam disguised as SEO. This could be because Google has stepped up the enforcement of the rules, and all of the publicity that has received.
    Unfortunately a new type of scammer has turned up – the ones who say “oh we have always been 100% white hat”, and start regurgitating stuff they read elsewhere about quality content, social signals or whatever they think the next big thing may be. If you take a look at their older over-optimized posts, or dig into their incoming link profile it is easy to see these are the same old webspammers who continue to do the same old black hat and spam crap. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt – that maybe they have figured out how to do things right – but I doubt it.

    There is still so much misinformation being churned out that refuting it all would be impossible. Instead, I handle it the same way I do when I see litter on the sidewalk or in a public place. I do what I can to clean it up if it isn’t going to take a lot of time. So when I see people in forums, social media or even their own site or blog putting out bad and potentially harmful information, I call them on it. Unfortunately when it is on their own turf, most of these clowns know they are wrong and the comment never gets published. That’s the cool thing about everyone getting on the guest blog bandwagon: when they put out the crap on a third party site, there is much more of an opportunity to call them out on it publicly.

  11. And by the way, when I do try to battle the bad information by commenting, it usually results in some traffic for me and even a new client or two. New clients frequently tell me they hired me because of my no nonsense approach. “Quality content” that attracts users can be in comments, too.

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