SEO – Love It or Hate It

by Barry Welford March 9th, 2010 

It would seem we're about ready for that biennial discussion about the state of SEO, what it is and perhaps what it should be.  John Andrews put me on this train of thought with his recent piece on Why SEO Sucks.

There is a reason why SEO sucks for many, many people. It seems SEO is HATED even, in many cases. I usually ignore that SEO Hater stuff because many, many people don’t really understand what SEO is, and some people like to foster SEO F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty,  Doubt… the same stuff that sells backup systems and certain unnecessary insurance policies). Whatever.

love hate seo

SEO Lovers versus SEO Haters

I pondered on how the world splits between SEO lovers and SEO haters.  Google Insights provides some help here if you compare how people are clicking on SEO love and SEO hate.

Perhaps surprisingly SEO love provides the 100 benchmark here and that reflects the current view.  Over the years, SEO love has been gradually picking up its adherents.

  • 2006    25
  • 2007    31
  • 2008    47
  • 2009    62
  • 2010    75

'SEO hate' was not even on the radar screen with a 0 reading until this year, 2010, where it now has a score of 7.  Clearly something is stirring here.

love hate seo

What was SEO?

Before we pile too much analysis on here, it is important to define what we're talking about.  Danny Sullivan, SEO's defender if ever there was on, has just weighed in with Does SEM = SEO + CPC Still Add Up?

I’ve found it annoying that over the years, more and more people use SEM to mean paid search, as if SEM excludes SEO. That’s not how I defined SEM — search engine marketing — back 2001. I’d still like to see the original definition retained. But I might be swimming against the tide. …

SEO has been the term used for gaining natural listings and also for people or companies who do such work. The letters stands for Search Engine Optimization. No, SEO is not about spamming the search engines. It’s an acceptable practice that search engines actively encourage. In the search world, SEO is equal to PR in the “real” world. Good SEO can’t guarantee good search engine “coverage,” any more than good PR can guarantee a favorable newspaper article. But it can increase the odds, if done within acceptable boundaries.

He goes on with some interesting information on what this all may mean.  However it focuses on definitions and perhaps the real discussion should pick up some wider issues.

What is SEO?

super human seo powers

That simple question is as difficult to answer as an exactly parallel question, What is Marketing?  There are no clear cut, black and white answers when you try to tackle apparently simple issues like this.  Every individual has by now built up a whole set of associated concepts and emotions.  Here we have prime examples of that old picture of the 7 blind men standing around an elephant and trying to explain to the others what this elephant thing is: it's a wall, it's a tree, it's a tube and so on.

When it comes to marketing, no one has been trying to promote the concept in a major way so whatever it currently is has arrived by an evolutionary process.  Different views have been debated and worked with and in society we now have a very wide mix of how people view marketing.  This society view is even to an extent created by the actions of marketing practitioners.  Hear the word marketing and some will think instantly of trying to force our children to overeat sugar and of unwanted telephone calls just as you're sitting down to supper.

The evolution of how SEO is now interpreted by the individual or entrepreneur in the street is even more complex.  SEO has not just evolved naturally by the interaction of a host of players.  In this case there is a huge gorilla sitting in the corner of the room.  For many people, SEO is synonymous with having a high ranking on the Google search engine report page (SERP) for important keyword queries.  Google sets the rules for that although it is somewhat elusive in giving guidance on how to achieve those high rankings.

How then does Google define SEO.  Here is what they currently offer:

SEO is an acronym for "search engine optimization" or "search engine optimizer." Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site.

Although many people will not have read the Google definition, perhaps that growing score for 'SEO hate' shows that more and more people are feeling as Google does and moving to that end of the scale.  What is causing society to increasingly accept that view of SEO?  Perhaps the biggest factor is the most obvious factor – how SEO gets marketed.

SEO Marketing defines SEO

checkout

Marketing is all about communicating with prospects and clients.  If there is a great deal of marketing activity, then it would not be surprising that this has a big influence on society's views and perceptions of a topic.  In this case, there are two major influences In SEO marketing.

The first major influence in creating the demand for SEO is Google itself.  It has been extremely successful in suggesting that keyword searches are the way to find information.  The word is out: your website must be visible in important keyword searches.  Having planted that idea, Google then has built a huge business on this foundation by selling ads that will help you be visible when people do keyword searches.  Unfortunately at the same time, this marketing has created a large measure of FUD.  That stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.  Google understandably cannot give out too much information since then all would know how to be at the top.

Unfortunately the Google algorithms are not perfect and do allow spamming websites created merely to be at the top of keyword queries to succeed, at least for a time.  Google may warn against SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.  They often promise thousands of content web pages and thousands of back-links for surprisingly low costs.  Such methods may work for a time but will result in long term harm.  Google is clear on this:

Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for "burn fat at night" diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.

Despite all this, the SEO market place is largely defined by these high output/low cost SEO 'experts'.  It will not be surprising to see that 'SEO hate' grows even more.

How to preserve your SEO Sanity

seo sanity

One might be depressed by this worsening situation for SEO.  So many thought SEO was the magical silver bullet that would bring Internet success.  How does one keep whatever good may be represented by SEO and ignore the irrelevant and possibly damaging aspects of SEO.

It really is very simple.  It is important to remember:

SEO is necessary but not sufficient.

SEO is only part of the toolkit that must be kept in the marketing box.  There are many other aspects to developing websites that perform and achieve a company's goals. It should not be a company goal to get a high ranking in a Google keyword search.  It should be a company goal to be in contact with as many potential prospects as possible and convert as many of them as possible into customers who make purchases.

This involves the look and feel of the website, the usability of the website as visitors explore what is there and the ability of the website to create trust and convert visitors to buyers.  All these other dimensions must be optimized in a way that does not jeopardize the search engine friendly aspects of the website.

Perhaps a final confirmation of this view can come from Google itself.  It provides tools for measuring a website's performance with its Google Analytics metrics.  Here is how they describe what they measure:

Improve your site and increase marketing ROI.

Google wants you to attract more of the traffic you are looking for, and help you turn more visitors into customers.  Use Google Analytics to learn which online marketing initiatives are cost effective and see how visitors actually interact with your site. Make informed site design improvements, drive targeted traffic, and increase your conversions and profits.

There's not a mention of SEO there, even though many of the resulting improvement ideas may fall under that topic.  That's the way to love SEO.  It has its place, but it's not the be-all and end-all.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

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10 Responses to “SEO – Love It or Hate It”

  1. [...] SEO – Love It or Hate It, Search Engine People [...]

  2. A good seo has to have a grasp on marketing and comprehend his client's business. Dealing with the suspicions created in business can be a real pain. Half or more of the website owners who got bad seo services got them because they bought the cheap lies of cheap seo because they were too cheap to pay even reasonable fees. I have no pity on them.
    .-= Warner Carter recently posted: What do the Academy Awards have to do with SEO? =-.

  3. I wish more people would talk about SEO in a sane way and describe it in human terms. So many people make it seem like the big bad wolf, or pretend to know what they are doing because they heard a few tips and now they are experts. Unfortunately the SEO community doesn't seem to be as open about sharing as the social media, and for good reason it is their livelihood. Great posts, keep sharing.

    • Paul McEwan says:

      I also wish for more sane post about SEO. And yes, the SEO community seems to play their cards close to their chests which adds to this Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt the post brings up.

      SEO, becoming part of a well rounded marketing campaign is what I offer clients. One thing to remember when it comes to providing a visible website for a client is that Google is trying it's best not to fail. Organically finding what you are looking for is their goal. If an SEO sends people to your site that don't want to go there, it's a fail.
      .-= Paul McEwan recently posted: Handling duplicate content =-.

  4. As ever Barry a thought provoking post, i just wanted to highlight again this part;

    "SEO is only part of the toolkit that must be kept in the marketing box. There are many other aspects to developing websites that perform and achieve a company's goals"

    Over the years i have found that proficiency in SEO was and still is a must. There has been a steady rise in concentration on conversion optimisation and this is great to see, after all it is about yours or your clients bottom line.

    SEO is still the same it is the channels visitors are using to tune in that are different.
    .-= Dean Cruddace recently posted: Alan Bleiweiss True SEO Wisdom Shared =-.

  5. [...] Welford wrote a through-provoking article this week about the state of SEO. Barry uses Google Insights to reflect on the comparison between [...]

  6. Excellent post, it's almost enough to be a small ebook in itself! I think people believe SEO is a lot harder than it is, and therefor are too afraid to even try it. If they just spent a little time researching, they'd realize there isn't all that much to it. You laid out all the basic concepts in one blog post, it's not exactly a full college course.

    Anyways, nice work!

  7. Hey Barry,
    Thanks for sharing your insights and experience. I'm fairly new to marketing, and I'm just getting introduced to SEO. There seem to be many differing opinions as to what methods work best, but all agree that when you get it right, it works. That's good enough to get me started!
    Thanks again.

  8. [...] SEO – Love It or Hate It – SEO People [...]

  9. [...] and URL structures. Read the post to find out more.SEO – Love It or Hate ItBarry Welford wrote a through-provoking article this week about the state of SEO. Barry uses Google Insights to reflect on the comparison between [...]