We play in our closed Facebook groups, our message boards, our emails to each other. We laugh at the SEO advice being given by “some idiot” who doesn’t know what he is talking about.
From articles that declare SEO is dead to large sites that still use meta keywords, we sit back in our chairs and gloat about how much more we know and how silly people are for hiring hacks.
In SEO circles, cynically ripping apart what we consider bad advice has become a blood sport. Mercilessly trolling “bad apples” who give out bad advice is considered fair game. And, those who do battle with ninja-guru-growth-hacker fanboys wear their scars like badges of honor.
The Amount of Bad SEO Information Online is Staggering
It’s incredibly easy to find bad SEO information online.
Part of the problem is that the Internet is forever. Bad information posted in 2005 continues to haunt us to this day. (Though honestly, if you’re basing any part of your search engine strategy on an article written in 2005, you probably deserve to fail.)
But what about the stuff that comes at us and our clients with misleading half-truths and logical conclusions that are just wrong?
To keep my faith in humanity, I must believe the authors of this false information have good intentions. I find it hard to fathom that they would be intentionally misleading someone.
But you can only hear claims about how click-through rates affect rankings so many times before your cynicism sets in, and you want to tattoo “causation is not correlation” across your forehead so you don’t have to keep repeating yourself.
The article that prompted this rant (I won’t link to it because I don’t like ruining lives) indicated that Google looked at timestamps on posts to determine which piece of content came first on the web.
He indicated that if you put a timestamp on your content, Google will see the timestamp if someone scrapes your content and Google will know you were first.
I can understand how, if you live in a vacuum, this seems logical.
But, it’s not true.
Not even close.
And that was only one of the many pieces of bad SEO information this author touted as a fact.
Even the Good Stuff Gets a Bad Rap
The proliferation of bad information, and gut-reaction bashing of it, has gotten to the point where even good information is caught in the crossfire.
Recently, a great article from SEO veteran Roger Montti was lambasted by many on SEJ’s Facebook page. Ironically, the article’s intent was to help SEOs discern good information from bad information. Roger stated that:
“Keywords in headers are not relevant to how modern search engines work today.”
Based on the comments, you would have thought that SEJ was the sister publication of the Weekly World News.
Self-righteous SEOs had to get in their two cents.
Some even posted that they had lost faith in the accuracy of the information in Search Engine Journal.
Obviously, the point of Roger’s article seemed to go right over the collective heads of the SEO inquisition mob.
(Roger is right, for the record.)
False information on the internet isn’t the SEO industry’s only problem, though it’s a symptom of the root illness.
Even more dangerous are the snake oil solicitations that innocent and naïve business owners receive every day.
It’s the Consumers of SEO That Suffer
These e-mails say something like, “Hey, guess what! I bought a tool for $99 that runs a report on your site. It says that 20 of your title tags are too long and you don’t have any Alt tags. Oh, and your PageRank is low.”
OK, they’re not quite that honest, but that assessment is factual. And, they often start with, “Greetings of the day!” Who talks like that?
Look, I expect myself, and my team, to build good enough relationships with my clients that they see these solicitations for what they are – hack jobs.
But many business owners and unsophisticated webmasters (and even some who think they are sophisticated) don’t see these solicitations as spam. They fear that something is wrong with their sites.
Then they hire these so-called SEOs who suck up both dollars and time – and just suck. They have bad experiences that color their perceptions of “the SEO industry,” and I get a prospect who wants me to discount my retainer because they had a previous bad experience.
This has actually happened.
SEOs Aren’t Special
I could rant all day, and most likely, so could you.
If you’ve been in the industry for more than five minutes you’ve read the bad advice and seen the bad email solicitations. But we aren’t special snowflakes.
There’s bad advice about every business segment and industry. Wrong and dangerous advice, even.
My doctor told me the worst thing to happen to his profession is the internet. He’s seen many people misdiagnose themselves to the point where they cause significant harm to their bodies.
As SEOs, thankfully we don’t have to worry about anyone dying. But we do see SEO traffic die all the time because of bad information.
So, we rant, and we commiserate. We make caustic remarks about how stupid people are. And year after year nothing changes. The amount of bad advice grows.
There are still uneducated, unethical people claiming to be SEOs, and our industry still has less respect than used car dealers.
I Tried to Help, I Really Did!
It’s been almost four years since I tried to do something about the bad actors in the SEO field.
Four years ago, as a newly elected board member of SEMPO, I embarked on an ambitious endeavor to create a “search congress.”
The purpose of the search congress was to create a cohesive and enforceable code of ethics for the search engine marketing industry.
My idea was that if we could get search engine marketing influencers to the table, we could come to a consensus on basic ethical guidelines. If we had a code of ethics, we could definitively call out the bad actors – the folks who intentionally abuse unsuspecting businesses, and the people who publish bad information, intentionally or not. And we could start shedding the snake-oil salesman image our industry has had since virtually its inception.
It was a noble idea.
It failed miserably.
Why did the search congress fail?
Was it because the bad actors didn’t want their lucrative schemes foiled? Was it because of a few very vocal people who thought the whole thing was a bad idea? Was it because the egos in the search marketing world couldn’t get past their own arrogance to compromise and work with others?
I wish it was one of those reasons.
The reason the search congress idea failed was because of apathy. Complete indifference. No one was interested.
The search congress site was up until about two weeks ago. The site was live for almost four years. Only four people ever filled out a form to solicit more information.
Lots of people said they were willing to help, but when it came time to do the work, no one was available.
We Deserve Our Fate
Our industry failed to take a step toward cleaning up its act because, in the end, no one cared.
We didn’t put a stake in the ground. We didn’t help the next (or current) generation. And now, we’re lying in the bed we made for ourselves.
When you’re ethically apathetic, you get what you deserve.