A lot of things happened this year in SEO and social the kind of things that might make optimizers throw their arms up in disgust and look for another line of work. In November 2011 alone, Google made at least 10 algorithmic updates, and those are just the ones they publicized.

Some of this years changes have been good for search, like detecting parked domains. Often, parked domains are full of spammy links and crap that really isnt relevant, useful or worthwhile. Google set up the detecting of parked domains to take them quickly out of the SERPs.

Other changes, not so good. An example here is when Google announced the Secure Socket Layer protection on their search results. By adding that little s to the http, Google affectively took away one of SEOs important campaign tracking metrics. More and more (not provided) instances are showing up in the analytics programs and, unless you know a work around, are essentially useless. This change on its own had a ton of people up in arms. To be sure, more changes are coming.

The biggest news this year for social is, of course, Google Plus. The question remains, How well will it do? While many have Google+ accounts, its still up in the air how many people will actually use it by itself and in conjunction with other social platforms.

Search has always been a fast-paced world; its always been a matter of watching what the search engines do, what they dont do, and keeping up with technology. Over the past two years, however, it seems to have doubled in change speed.

You Have To Love What You Do

So what keeps optimizers digging in their heels? Why are there any left? Because, with few exceptions, we love what we do. You have to love this job to keep it. Optimizers and social marketers seldom have the same opinions, but we do have three things in common:

  • We have to love what we do
  • We have to be flexible and understand what the data and the market is saying and,
  • We have to be critical thinkers.

Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO

A good friend of mine, Doc Sheldon, published an eBook in August, the title of which is the heading for this section: Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO. In the Forward, Doc writes,

I recalled the old adage about teaching a man to fish and I thought, I dont need to write about answers, I just need to write about how to find the answers. And thats when this idea really began to take shape. To learn to fish, one needs to learn how fish think.

With this in mind, Doc interviewed over two dozen practitioners of SEO, SEM, CRO, ORM, copywriters, developers and so on. The questions were many, the answers as diverse as the individuals writing them, but all gave several insights into the world of optimization and online marketing.

As well, Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO provides a look into the thought processes of those interviewed:

they dont accept anything based upon claims of what it can do for their site, or even what it did for another. They may take such testimonials into consideration, but they perform their own analysis The meat and potatoes of Critical Thinking should be the mindset demonstrated by these seasoned pros Critical Thinking. Look. Learn. Listen. Test. Analyze. Rinse and Repeat.

Differing Opinions

One of the things that stood out to us when reading the final product was the varying opinions given by the professionals. When asked what the single greatest challenge was that faced SEOs today, answers covered a slew of possibilities, such as distractions (new toys, tools, algo changes) and client education.

Dean Cruddance, 10-year SEO veteran and owner of SEO Begin LTD, brought up a challenge that all of us are facing and dealing with in our own ways:

The internet marketing industry has grown up today to be multi-disciplined, and even those individual disciplines have evolved into full time positions within their own rights. The biggest challenge today is translating to a potential customer what each and every one of those disciplines are and how they fit into their marketing strategies or technical needs.

What is the one aspect of internet marketing that you feel is most counter-productive was another question. In reading the various responses, we gained the gist of why many of our fellow marketers feel social is most counter-productive:

  • Quantity over quality: clients want numbers, and tend to think numbers means results.
  • Obsession over the next new channel: a new platform comes out and everyone rushes to be on it.
  • Reactive ORM: some companies tend to use social and other methods to drown a problem rather than deal with it.
  • Incorrectly used: some over-automate, dumping a blog into a FB feed, the FB feed into Twitter, Twitter into LinkedIn this doesnt offer followers any benefits for joining you on more than one account.

Andrew Bleakley, BigCommerce and WordPress developer, mentioned an issue, however, that is near and dear to my heart: Cheap, spun and/or poorly written articles. The major search engines and Internet users in general are getting more sophisticated and poorly written content no longer passes muster. It is quickly identified and passed over.

Doc also asked the panel what change they would mandate for the dynamics of search ranking. Survey says: links, social and rewarding great content. Danny Sulliivan, whos been involved in search as long as search has been around, says Id like to see quality content rewarded even more. I feel like sites tend to earn a reputation that lets any of their content rank well, even if its not the best.

Barry Adams, on the other hand, who started online as an intranet content manager in the mid-90s, would like to see links drop out of importance: I think links as core relevance metrics are rapidly losing their value. Search needs to take it to the next level with accurate sentiment analysis, and reliable authenticity metrics need to be invented if they dont exist already.

To Summarize:

You can go a lot of places to read about SEO, social and all things internet marketing (but youre most likely not visiting the places mentioned by the pros in this book). You can choose who youre going to believe and who youre going to call B.S. on. However, while Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO may not teach you the how-to, it does do what it set out to do: give you a guide to where you can look to learn the how. The contributors all love what they do and, given the chance to have a do over, would go right back into the world of internet marketing.

Youll read the responses from many who are so busy doing that they dont have time to talk about doing. In fact, some of the panel you may never have heard of because they arent in the public eye often. Youll find out what tools the experts use and where they go to find answers. The biggest takeaway, however, is getting an inside view of how those buried in search and social view the very industry they work in an invaluable insight if youre planning on hiring an SEO or becoming one.

All proceeds go to charity. You can get your copy of Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO at Doc Sheldons Clinic.